My Native Front Yard Wildlife Edition – Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

watercolor sketch of a black swallowtail caterpillar eating golden alexander leaf
sketch of the black swallowtail caterpillar

The native plants are working! Look who I found munching on some leaves…. a big juicy black swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes). That means a black swallowtail butterfly must have laid an egg under the leaf of my Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) plant when I wasn’t looking. I’m so excited! See my sketch and story about the Golden Alexander plant here.

black swallowtail caterpillar

Isn’t it beautiful?!? I found it about a week ago. He or she is eating everyday and growing bigger and bigger. I will keep my eyes on it to see where it forms its chrysalis. 

eaten leaves and flowers from the golden alexander plant

I know this is pretty difficult to see, but inside the red circle the leaves and flowers have been chewed off. This is a BIG clue that you have a caterpillar on your plant. Never get upset if your native plants have holes or missing parts all together. It’s a GOOD thing! The native insects need food. They’re just doing their job.

Black swallowtail caterpillars can be found on any plant in the carrot family: Golden Alexander, Queen Anne’s Lace, Parsley, Carrot, Parsnip, Dill, Celery.
A shout out to my nature friends in Oklahoma and New Jersey…..the black swallowtail butterfly is your state butterfly!

When my butterfly emerges, he or she is going to need nectar from milkweed, clover, or thistle. I’VE GOT YOU COVERED….THERE IS MILKWEED IN THE BACKYARD! 



I’ve been trying to record all of the insects that visit the Golden Alexander. Here we have some type of bee to the left and a hover fly to the right. Both are excellent pollinators.

On a side note…I have a girlfriend who has been having a lot of anxiety about the world and the various headline catastrophes in the media lately. I tried to calm her fears and point her in the direction to pray and have faith because God is an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:4).

She denied this advice claiming that God is not here. You can not see Him, therefore He does not help her.

Oh, but can I lovingly plead my case??

Jesus told us: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).


Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5).

When I sketch nature, I study every inch of my subject. Today I learned that the black swallowtail caterpillar has some black spots that touch each other with a very thin line on the dorsal part of the body, some that don’t, and on the sides the black dots are always separate. Why? I don’t know. But God does. Can man create a butterfly from an egg? No, it must go through stages. Every stage is necessary. The whole life-cycle is a plan.

There remains a plan to the chaos in the world. God is in control yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Do not fear.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:6-8).

When I paint nature, I am meditating on those things that are lovely…
May the peace of God protect and guide you. And may you never lose your mustard seed of faith.

Update on the black swallowtail caterpillar:
Unfortunately it’s gone as of July 7, 2020. No chrysalis, no relocation to another plant. Just gone. In my human  failings I anthropomorphized my caterpillar, like it was my baby. I was so upset!! Like really upset. Birds do not eat this caterpillar because of its bitter taste. Perhaps a raccoon came by to have a juicy meal. They’re omnivores and will eat just about anything. I have many raccoons in the neighborhood. I don’t know.

Bottom line is: God’s ways are not my ways. This caterpillar was needed elsewhere. It is well with my soul. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD. Job 1:21

Whether a happy ending or not, I am thankful to be able to share my nature adventures with everyone through this platform. Truly thankful.


It’s a Boy! Update on Polyphemus Cocoon

Do you remember last year when a Polyphemus caterpillar visited my house? (Click on the link to see post with video of caterpillar eating maple leaves.) I was completely shocked as I just happened to find it on my siding. Suddenly, in a matter of minutes it spun a silk cocoon right there. Worried a racoon would eat the cocoon before it hatched because it was so close to the ground, I protected it with a barrier.

That was August 15, 2019. I had no idea it would overwinter! I assumed it would emerge in a couple of weeks, but it did not.

Sometime during December or January, we had a sever winter storm with strong winds. The gust knocked down my barrier AND the cocoon. I just happened to find the cocoon about 20 feet away. As I picked it up, the cocoon rattled inside. As if there was a hard ball inside…you could literally shake the cocoon and hear something inside. Wanting to protect this cocoon, not knowing if it would even make it, I placed it inside a flower box.

It remained for 10 months….until TODAY!!!!! He emerged!! And it’s a boy!!

Funny, I didn’t even recognize him hanging from the ceiling of my front porch. I asked my son, who is 6’5″, to knock off that brown leaf. He said, “That’s not a leaf, that’s a moth.”

Me: “What?!?” Could it? Is it? Is it my Polyphemus? It’s huge!

I ran to the flower box to examine the old cocoon. Sure enough I found an exit hole!

(cocoon is on the far right)

IT IS HIM!!!! ❤ ❤ ❤

I know it’s a male because his antennae are huge, like giant feathers. He is beautiful, but he wont live long. As a matter of fact, this moth will only live about 1-2 weeks. His sole mission is to find a female and mate. He wont even eat a speck during this time.

I am so thankful to my Heavenly Father for allowing me to host a place where this Polyphemus moth can overwinter, emerge, and fly away. He should leave tonight as they are nocturnal.

Well wishes my moth friend.


My Native Front Yard – Golden Alexander and Prairie Alumroot

Build it (a native garden) and they will come (insects)! He he he. That was the famous quote from the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, without the garden and insects insert. But in all seriousness, they will come. Why do we need to help the insects? Because they’re disappearing and they pollinate our food. More details on the Wild Geranium post. Not only that, but grass does not serve much good. It costs time and money to maintain but doesn’t do much for wildlife.

Today Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) and Prairie Alumroot (Heuchera richardsonii) are in bloom.

Both are super easy to grow. They can tolerate bad soil and drought.These plants are on year two of growth. I have witnessed strange bees on the golden Alexander already! Hopefully one day I will capture their photo, research, and sketch them.

Prairie Alumroot has the most delicate tiny green bells as flowers that have brilliant red anthers which hang below the bell shape. I have witnessed the tiniest of flying insects pollinating the bells. Like the other plant, I wish to record and research all of the native insects visiting this plant.

The non-native plants that we purchase at nurseries do not attract native insects. Sometimes, they don’t attract any insects at all and they’re genetically engineered that way. Beautiful flowers with no visitors. That’s not how a healthy ecosystem was designed.


Here are the photos. On the left: Golden Alexander (3 of them), on the right: Prairie Alumroot. These spring-time blooming natives are a joy to watch grow.

UPDATE: To see what insects are visiting the Golden Alexander and what caterpillar is eating its leaves click here.

All insect facts on the sketches were taken from the site: Illinois Wildflowers

Breakfast on the Grill

This is a true story of love and provision.

My husband is a truck driver. Wednesday, his truck broke down about an hour and a half away from home. Wanting to save money on a tow, I hopped in the car at 5 am with a bag of tools in the hopes that he could fix the problem himself.

I arrived at a truck stop in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Indiana, gave my husband his tools and waited in my car. Suddenly, my eyes locked onto a pair of sparrows. I watched as they flew from one truck grill, to the next truck grill, to the next, all the way down a line of parked trucks a half mile long.

What in the world are they doing?

Then, I noticed something big on the truck grill in front of me. I got out of my car, approached closer, and instantly knew…

They’re eating breakfast!!
They eat insects from one truck, then they fly to the next eating more insects. On down the line… What a wonderful mutual symbiosis, really a +/+ situation. The truck gets cleaned and the sparrows are fed.

So why is this a story of love and provision?

Because of this…

“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10:29-31

Especially during this global pandemic, there are many who are afraid. Many have been laid off from work or lost their job all together. But take heart, you are loved and your Father is strong to provide. He wants you to know that you are more valuable than even these sparrows. And look, look how they feast on their breakfast buffet!

But you have a job to do. You must employ that tiny, tiny, mustard seed of faith. Switch fear for prayer. Hold on to that mustard seed and don’t let go!

My Native Front Yard – Wild Geranium

Last year I converted my front yard into a native habitat. Goodbye grass, hello native plants! Why? To save the insects.

First, lawn grass does not benefit much in nature. If there is little rain, you must supplement with water from your hose. Water is very costly. Next, you must buy gas for your lawnmower so that you can spend some time each week mowing. Finally, to keep it weed free and healthy, you must buy fertilizer and some type of weed blocker. You do this, your neighbors as well….now times that by every household, park, school, and commercial property. The insects are wondering…where did our food go?…where did our habitat go?

Recently an article came out which gave a figure to the current insect collapse: 27% in the last 30 years. Why is this significant? Why should we care? Because insects pollinate our food. Insects are necessary for a healthy ecosystem.

If you are at middle age or older, think about your childhood. Do you remember all the fire flies on a summer night? So many that you couldn’t count? Do you remember being constantly chased by bees? I do. Not any more, however.

Native plants not only provide food, shelter, and a breeding ground for insects, but the roots of the native plants are much longer than lawn grass. Long roots filter pollutants and provides clean water. Best of all, native plants do not require extra water or fertilizers. Once established there’s no need to water because they are drought tolerant. Win for humans – win for insects.  +/+

My native front lawn is being planted in stages. A few last year were planted, a few this year. Eventually the plants will cover the area. The neat thing about this yard is that something will be blooming in every season. When it blooms, I will feature the plant and provide some neat facts. Today, wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) is in bloom. This is the second year of its growth.

Wild geranium is easy to grow. It has beautiful leaves and it supports a host of insects. On the pink flower, you will find stripes leading to the center. This is called the nectar guide.
Insects that benefit from nectar and pollen:

  • bumblebees
  • mason bees
  • cuckoo bees
  • long-horned bees
  • Halictid bees
  • Andronid bees
  • Syrphid flies
  • dance flies
  • butterflies
  • skippers

Insects that benefit from the leaves and stems:

  • Leaf-mining larvae of the beetle Pachyshelus purpureus
  • geranium aphids
  • yellow plant bug
  • burrowing bug
  • stink bug
  • moth caterpillars

These insect stats were taken from the Illinois Wildflower site.

If you are interested in creating a native habitat, small or large, and you live in the Chicagoland area, Denise from Good-Natured Landscapes can help with your design. She knows native plants…which ones thrive in shade/sun or a combination of both. Which ones work well together, what season they bloom, and what insects they benefit.

Where can you find native plants to buy? The Growing Place (Naperville and Aurora, IL) or on-line at Prairie Moon Nursery.

Soon my golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) will bloom! I can see the buds! To be continued…


Cup Fungi Watercolor

What a mouth-opening surprise I had when I found these cute cup fungi growing in my own yard! What’s so neat about these fungi? Why, let me explain their coolness. First, they look like tiny cups on the ground. Awwwwwww. Second, they want it to rain. For when it rains, drops hit the inside of the cup splashing spores out of the cup and onto the ground. What a neat reproductive strategy. Most fungi use wind as a means of spore dispersal. I believe these are common brown cup (Peziza badioconfusa), but there are many different types so I could be wrong.

Yesterday it had rained the whole day. I went outside to see if the cups were filled with water, and sure enough they were…

Can you see the rainwater in the cup?

They come in amazing twisted cup shapes. Each cup looks slightly different. I have about 7 of them in my mulch.

I hope you are able to find this beautiful and neat fungus where you are at and I hope you find some water inside!

Chorus Frogs Sing – Watercolor

That song.
The chant of chorus frogs that stops you in your tracks as you hike in the woods. Such a bold sound coming from such a tiny frog…so small your eyes can’t find them even if you try and I did try. When you hear this sound, you know it’s spring.

The watercolor sketch is of the frogs’ vernal pool. I learned that it’s proper to call it a vernal pool and not an ephemeral pond. An ephemeral pond describes a temporary pond any time of the year but a vernal pool only exists in the springtime. And that is exactly what we have.

I hope this post uplifts your spirits at this time. The chorus frogs are doing their job out there…reproducing! And if you cannot get out to hear them, you can do so here.
Happy spring.

Great Horned Owl Watercolor

I’ve always wanted to see an owl in the wild while hiking. The natural way…not with a local bird group nor some Audubon field-trip, but surprisingly caught off guard while walking through the woods. For years, I’ve prayed for it. Then it happened. And it all started with, “You wanna play Tarzan?”

That was my husband’s question to me when he saw a long vine hanging from a dead tree.

“Heck yeah, I wanna play,” I shouted. Who wouldn’t?

He grabbed the vine and pulled down to see if it would hold his weight. It started making loud noises. I thought it was going to immediately break….but I’ll let him test it first. He, he, he.

Suddenly, he looked up and his eyes grew wide as he excitingly clamored, “THERE’S AN OWL STARING RIGHT AT ME!”

“You lie,” I said as I started to walk over.

“No, no! Don’t move,” he replied.

“Whatever!” Rolling my eyes as I walked closer. (He’s usually a jokester and tries to trick me all the time.)

But this was no joke. For a beautiful, mystical, larger than life, great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) swooped out of that dead tree and landed a few feet in another tree.

Yes, my mouth was hanging open.
Without words, we just stood there, amazed. Staring. The owl stared back. Until some songbirds noticed its unwelcome arrival and started to mob the poor owl. It flew to another tree, where a pair of jays took over mobbing duties. They are much more loud and aggressive.

“We must leave,” I said.
I did not want the owl to be bothered and I’m pretty sure by this time of year, there’s probably an owlet or two inside the tree. But before we left, I remembered to do something very important!

Look under the tree for an owl pellet!!!!! YES!
I found one and we quickly left.

And immediately it went back inside the dead tree.

I am still in shock over the whole, unexpected event….how just by chance we flushed out a great horned owl trying to play Tarzan.
I will treasure this day forever.

Unbound and off trail – watercolor

Like many of you, I’m home bound. My state of Illinois issued an order last Friday that restricts residents from venturing out except for necessary grocery trips or doctor visits. But Governor Pritzker said the magic words on television last Friday: “You many go for a walk or go hiking.”


So as I went hiking, with this whole scenario in mind, I wanted to be unbound and off trail…as unrestricted as possible. There are discoveries to be found when unrestricted. And I found many.

If you see a field, winter/early spring is the perfect time to explore it. Too cold for ticks.The dried grasses do not hinder you. The ground is clearly visible. Everything that is hiding becomes revealed when you find it.

There are bones to be found. What an exciting discovery! Even though these bones seem useless, having its meat stripped cleaned, it is very important for small animals.

Do you see the tiny scrape marks? These are gnaw marks left by small rodents who are getting their calcium from the bone. Very important indeed!

I made other such discoveries such as this female duck strike. You can see her brown feathers everywhere. I didn’t realize it was a female duck until I found her head. This may be gruesome for some, but I find it fascinating. If you would like to see her head, click on the photo and look near the upper right hand side of the photo. I believe you can zoom in some after opening the photo. If you do not want to see her head, let’s proceed to the next photo.

I also found evidence of a male cardinal strike. Several red feathers in the mud.

But the mosses I found to be most exotic. It was 35°F when I took this hike. Quite cold. But in a section on the edge of the field, where trees and shrubs are found, the ground has its own ecosystem. The ground is a great deal warmer where these mosses grow.

And on these mosses there truly is another world.

The last two pictures are mature sporophytes on the moss. When the sporophyte is ready, it will release spores from that capsule at the top. Phyte means plant, so a sporophyte is just a spore plant. The green part of the moss is the gametophyte.

What I enjoyed the most was this part of a dead tree that a woodpecker drilled massive holes in. It could have been from a pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), they make huge holes, but their holes are somewhat rectangular, so maybe this is from another woodpecker. In any case some thing lives inside. Some thing made a home.

I asked it, “Are you in quarantine?”

It replied, “Never.”

“Oh yes.” I answered, “You may fly where ever you like.”

With all kidding aside, some people may be frightened by the events that are unfolding lately. But take courage, God is in control. He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.
When I start to feel my anxiety rise, I draw near to Him.

Jesus said:

I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have he light of life.
John 8:12

Being afraid is like walking in darkness. But we don’t need to stay there.

The other day I read the story of the woman who was caught in the very act of adultery. The men who caught her brought her to Jesus and said that Moses’ law commands that this woman be stoned for her sin. Stoned to death. Jesus, bent down and started drawing on the ground. (I always wondered what He drew.) Anyway, after some time, He told the men: Those of you that have no sin, cast the first stone. Nobody did. They walked away, one by one.

Here’s the thing… Jesus could have. He could have thrown a stone because He’s without sin. But he didn’t. He instead chose mercy. He looked at her and chose compassion. He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more”

I am that woman – figuratively

All of us are that woman in some way, whether we’ve lied or hurt someone. But Jesus chooses mercy. If we repent and accept that He died for our sins, we are forgiven and made clean in God’s eyes. A gift. And once you’re made clean to God, nothing shall put you in fear. Not your past life, not the current pandemic, and no event in the future. No one needs to remain in darkness. A free gift of light and life.

I like it.



Time for Skunk Cabbage – Watercolor

Eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is the earliest ephemeral spring wildflower to appear. Yes, this odd plant is a wildflower! And I found it while hiking just yesterday. Actually, I found tons of them! Skunk cabbage is a very unique plant. It generates its own heat by using oxygen to break down starches that it stored, in a process called thermogenesis. For two weeks, it can maintain an internal temperature of 60-70°F (15.56-21.11°C) while the outside temperature fluctuates in extreme cold. Because of this, skunk cabbage can melt the snow around it or create a dome under a thick blanket of snow. The goal is for the plant to be the very first to offer pollen to the early emerging insects. What an amazing plan and amazing plant.

On the day I found them, there was no snow on the ground. If you gently place your finger in the opening of the skunk cabbage you can begin to feel some warmth. The plants emit a fowl odor of rotting meat when their leaves are bruised or crushed. I did not smell anything foul when I saw them, then again, I was very careful where I stepped. You can find skunk cabbage near water in moist soil and only in the early spring.

Happy hunting and sketching!