Reflections on the Passing of an Old Friend: Harold Henderson

By Bill Bouie, Chairman, Park Authority Board

The Park Authority lost a stalwart advocate with the recent passing of Harold Henderson, a former Lee District Representative to the Fairfax County Park Authority Board. We lost of man of vision and a dedicated volunteer who understood the importance of public service. Many of us simply lost a friend.

Harold HendersonThe Alexandria resident was appointed to the Board in 1997 and reappointed in 2000. He left the board in January 2003 for personal reasons.

Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay noted, “Harold Henderson dedicated his life to making our community a better place. When I reflect on his memory, I remember fondly his love of our parks and recreation areas. While on the Park Authority Board, and for many years before and after his term, Harold was a staple all across Lee District. I can say – without question – that Harold played a large role in making our world-class parks what they are today, and his legacy will live on forever.”

I echo Jeff’s sentiments and believe that we were incredibly lucky to have found a person willing to serve who could see the possibilities that existed in places like Lee District Park, the Banks and Berman-Gerber properties, Huntley Meadows, local stream valley parks and Greendale Golf Course. Did I mention that Harold loved to play golf? He served as an ambassador for golfers throughout our park system.

Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer said, “Success depends less on strength of body than upon strength of mind and character.”

Harold lived that ethos and served the residents of Fairfax County with distinction. He endeavored to find a way to make the park system better for all providing facilities and protecting natural and cultural resources. He worked closely with the Board of Supervisors and fellow members of the Park Authority Board, helping to establish a more harmonious relationship that has benefited all residents. This was a critical first step that has resulted in a Gold Medal, nationally renowned park system that is about to receive its second accreditation, having met every single criteria – all 144. Thank you Harold for laying the groundwork!

Under his leadership as committee chair of the Administration/Management Committee, he also helped guide the selection of top-notch directors of the agency. He has been at the forefront of our success and even after his tenure Harold’s expertise did not relate only to the park system. A Certified Fraud Examiner, Henderson had a long career in conducting, supervising and managing criminal, civil and administrative investigations and security programs, including Hotline programs for the reporting of crime, fraud, waste, abuse and/or mismanagement.

He was also a Former Commissioner/Chairman of the Fairfax County Civil Service Commission and served as Lee District Chairman of the Park and Recreation Advisory Board. He was active in local civic and athletic organizations and received the Lord Fairfax Citizenship Award, among other honors.

Even after he left our Board he was still interested in parks and attended many functions, accompanied by his family who looked after his needs. I will miss his warm smile and his wry sense of humor. An anonymous author wrote,” It takes just a minute to find and recognize a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them. However, it takes an entire lifetime to forget them.” Harold will not be forgotten and his legacy will serve the residents of Lee District well into the future.

A memorial service and gathering of friends and family will be held on Saturday, August 25, 2018 (1 to 4 p.m.), at Twin Lakes Golf Course in the Oaks Room. Twin Lakes is located at 6201 Union Mill Road, Clifton, VA.

For more information, contact the Public Information Office at 703-324-8702.

Former FCPA Director Bill Beckner Remembered

Bill BecknerA man who brought national honors to the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) and devoted his entire career to the field of parks, recreation, and interpretation of the natural world has passed away. Former FCPA Director William C. Beckner died on July 27, 2018, at the age of 70.

Beckner joined the Park Authority in 1977 as the agency’s chief naturalist. Eight years later, he led the agency’s detailed strategic planning process, and in February of 1989, he was named the Park Authority’s director. He served in that post until December of 1993, when he left the FCPA to establish his own consulting business.

In 1990, Beckner advocated for the Park Authority to have the ability to control park proffers that developers donate to the county. He wanted to ensure a balance between parks and buildings. Beckner stated that if the Park Authority oversaw the donated land, “…then we would be doing what we’re supposed to be doing: protecting and preserving environmental and cultural resources. That’s our mission.”

Beckner remained an advocate for a robust park system throughout his tenure. Upon his resignation in 1993, then Park Authority Board Chairman Gregory C. Evans said Beckner had been instrumental in the repair of major park facilities, downsizing of the agency, and planning for new public golf courses. The Washington Post quoted Evans as saying, “Mr. Beckner has shown great vision during his tenure as director and placed the Park Authority in an excellent position to continue as one of the leading park systems in the nation.”

Most recently, Beckner was President of Conservation, Environment and Historic Preservation Incorporated of Chevy Chase, Maryland, a company that provided management, planning, and consulting services to park, recreation and resource management organizations.

Brenda Adams-Weyant, Executive Director of the National Association of County Park and Recreation Professionals (NACPRO), remembered Beckner for his service and expertise. “He had a long and accomplished career in parks and recreation, and I am glad that I had the chance to work with him. Bill served on the NACPRO Board in the late 1980s and in recent years was an advisor to the board.”

Adams-Weyant added, “When a member contacted me with a challenging management issue, Bill had the experience and resources to help.”

Beckner was also inducted into the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA), a group of distinguished practitioners and scholars in parks and recreation management who are committed to the advancement of that field.

According to his AAPRA bio, the Iowa native began his career in parks and recreation in 1966 as a Recreation Specialist in the United States Air Force. After military service, he studied recreation administration at Iowa State and environmental science at Clemson. During his Master’s research, he worked for the National Park Service on the Blue Ridge Parkway as a ranger/naturalist.

Beckner also spent time with the Mississippi State Park Commission and the Oregon State Park System before coming to Fairfax County.

While Beckner was director of the FPCA, the Park Authority:

  • Was a 1993 NRPA Gold Medal finalist for Special Recreation
  • Earned the National Golf Foundation’s 1991 and 1992 Golf and the Environment Award
  • Earned the NRPA 1991 National Aquatic Program of the Year Honor
  • Won two National Association of Counties Awards for Excellence and Innovation

AAPRA notes that he made multiple presentations for park organizations and spent much of his time helping improve park and recreation opportunities and resources.

Among the committees on which Beckner served:

  • The President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, Land Resources Committee
  • The Planning Regulations Team for the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Act
  • The National Urban Recreation Study
  • The Nationwide Outdoor Recreation Plan.
  • The Professional Services Committee, Professional Ethics Committee and Education Committee for AIN (chair)
  • The Legislative and Education Committees for NACPRO (chair)
  • Program Committee for NRPA
  • The Natural Resource Council of America
  • The Advisory Committee for the Virginia Tech Natural Resource Management Graduate School.

He also he worked for the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) conducting research. In this role, Beckner facilitated research in the parks and recreation field that served as a tool for agencies nationwide.

Nancy Magill, Beckner’s partner of 32 years, is planning a tribute to Beckner in the fall.

Beckner talks about the creation of the Park Authority’s first donated park, Eakin Park: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iohBvTO-khc&feature=youtu.be

David Ochs, Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority, and Judy Pedersen, Public Information Officer for the Park Authority, contributed to this blog. Photo provided by AAPRA.

Wildlife in the Backyard

DSC_0816_edited-2Fairfax County residents are blessed with both the conveniences of an urban life and an environment that supports a wide range of wildlife. We don’t have to go far from home to see deer, eagles, fox, frogs, snakes, fish, coyotes, salamanders, geese, ducks and other bird species numbering over 200 that have been spotted in parks. A former county wildlife biologist once said there may not be a yard in Fairfax County that isn’t crossed by a fox at night.

Generally, our interactions with wildlife are mild and relatively uneventful. They go their way and we go ours. There’s nothing here trying to eat us. Occasionally we are rewarded with a sighting that brings us closer to nature. Once in a while we’re too close to nature and we clash – a car accident with a deer, a snake bite, a bee sting or a hissing goose.

When nature gets a little close for your comfort, you don’t have to turn into a snake handler like some of our nature center volunteers. There are steps you can take that will keep you safe and in your wildlife comfort zone.

Garter Snake 4First and foremost, do not approach any wild animal. Don’t pick up a snake to be cool, don’t pick up a newborn that looks like it’s alone, don’t try to help an injured creature of the wild. Any animal that’s out of its comfort zone and facing an unusual situation might lash out. Rabies is also a possibility in Virginia.

If you have any reason to think you may be dealing with a rabid or dangerous animal, get away from it and call either the police non-emergency number, 703-691-2131, or 911. Report any wildlife acting in a dangerous manner, whether or not it’s on parkland, to the Police Department’s Animal Control Division at 703-691-2131.

RaccoonWhat about an animal that repeatedly returns and causes problems? Why not trap or relocate a nuisance beast? For one, it’s against the law, a violation of state game regulations, and relocation rarely works. The animal may return to the site of the problem, may start a conflict in a new place, or may not survive the stress of the move. In addition, if the animal was there because the habitat was good for it, another animal of the same species may move in. And once you trap an animal, what are you going to do with it? There’s no place to put it because, except for catch and release fishing, it is against Park Authority regulations, state law, and sound wildlife management to release any animal, wild or domestic, on parkland.

There are, however, people who can help. The non-profit Wildlife Rescue League provides wildlife rehabilitation services in Fairfax County. The Rescue League hotline number is 703-440-0800. It’s usually best for wildlife to be left in the wild, and sometimes an injured animal may not recover. However, we understand there are people who want to help animals. Do it the right way. Wildlife rehabilitation is not an amateur hobby. It is regulated and licensed by the state. Call the Wildlife Rescue League.

Dealing with a Nuisance Animal

The best action for avoiding wildlife conflict is preventive. Animal-proof your home or yard. No single action will work every time, and you may have to try several things. Here are some ideas that may keep wildlife away.

Don’t Feed the Bears, So To Speak
Remove food sources. Keep pet foods (and pets!) indoors; secure trash; fence gardens.

Remove Sources of Shelter
Wood piles, mounds of yard clippings, and other vegetative debris can attract rodents and reptiles.

Claim Your Territory

Fences, chemical deterrents, and creative plantings may prevent wildlife from trespassing.

BatBATS: For such a tiny, gentle, and relatively rare animal, nuisance bats cause a lot of concern. Remember, bats can carry rabies, so use caution.

If you have a bat in your house, contact the Wildlife Rescue League, 703-440-0800, and immediately speak with bat experts. Don’t wait overnight to see if a bat will leave on its own. Some bats can enter buildings in openings as small as ½ inch, so it may take a specialist to ensure that the area is truly bat-proof.

If a bat is someplace people don’t go (behind shutters, in an attic), you can wait for all the bats to leave and then seal the area. If bats are in an area such as the space between your house and shutters, contact a bat specialist. If you try to remove it yourself, you may injure the bat or it may become aggressive. More about bats. Field Guide.

BeaverBEAVERS: Beavers are a source of frequent nuisance complaints. They play a key role in Eastern temperate deciduous forests by changing the habitat and thus help reduce the effect of flooding, remove pollutants and sediment from water, and create wetlands habitat for wildlife.

The key to keeping beaver out of an area is to make it harder for them to get food. Wrap the bottom four feet of trees in hardware cloth. Leave enough space between the tree bark and the cloth to allow the tree to grow. Here are three links for more information about beavers: Wildlife/BeaverBeaver Facts, printable card;  Field Guide.

DeerDEER: Residents tell us that besides damaging their plants, deer make their dogs “go nuts.”

In many places, there are too many deer for the habitat available. This forces deer into dangerous situations. They may share the road with your car, and they may become more susceptible to disease. Experts recommend an eight-foot tall fence to exclude deer.

The county’s Animal Control Department has a deer management program on public lands. More about deer.

FoxFOXES: Foxes frequent Fairfax County yards, and we’ve had reports of them stealing newspapers, tampering with bird feeders, and just sitting and staring as if to say, “Really? You know if you chase me off again I’m just going to come back later.”

Foxes, like other canines, have an excellent sense of smell. They can be discouraged by strong odors (ammonia-soaked cotton balls or pepper scents) and by proper sanitation. They’ll feed on trash or on the rodents that trash attracts. Learn what attracted the animal in the first place, because removing it might be enough to encourage the critter to move on. More about foxes and a video about foxes. Field Guide.

SkunkSKUNKS: Skunks help us by eating insects and rodents, but they smell bad. A skunk burrow under a deck, although not common, can be a rather unpleasant wildlife experience.

Before blocking a skunk’s access to its burrow, first make sure all the animals in the burrow, including the young, are out. Block or screen the entry point to prevent them from returning. Moth balls may prevent skunks from returning home, but don’t leave them out in the open. Place the balls near the opening of the burrow in a weatherproof container with holes to allow the odor to disperse. More about skunks. Field guide.

SquirrelSQUIRRELS: Squirrels are year-round residents, but that doesn’t mean they stay in one place. Migrations in spring and fall help disperse the young into new areas, which may include attics, sheds, and basements. Squirrels can be common in your yard if it contains their natural food sources of bark, flower buds, insects and nuts. More about squirrels. Field Guide.

WoodchuckWOODCHUCKS: It is usually the burrow, not the woodchuck, that produces the ankle-twisting curses we hear throughout the county.

Woodchucks, or groundhogs, are closely related to squirrels and can climb trees. They’re also very good burrowers. Keep them out of your yard with a fence that reaches 18 inches below ground level. If you know where the animal’s burrow is, you can block its entry points.

Contacts

There are several resources for help on nuisance animals:

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries maintains the legal list of nuisance wildlife on its wildlife web page. The department also provides tips and advice for homeowners. If you see someone committing a wildlife crime, report it to the Wildlife Crime Line at 1-800-237-5712.

Fairfax County’s wildlife biologist in the Animal Control Division of the Police Department can help.

The Fairfax County Park Authority Nature Centers have expert staff that can answer backyard wildlife questions.

If you have any question whether you may have a rabid or dangerous animal nearby, call the police non-emergency phone number, 703-691-2131.

Copperheads in Fairfax County

Garter Snake 11Garter Snake

Maybe it goes back to Adam and Eve, this fear of snakes that humans often have; that and the fact that we generally don’t like things to bite us. But if you take the time to learn about snakes, that fear might diminish when you realize it’s just another animal that eats, poops, moves around and makes little babies like the rest of us. Okay, maybe they don’t put their pants on one leg at a time like you and me, but you get the point.

Fairfax County Park Authority nature centers are convenient local places to learn about snakes. Among the things you’ll learn – Northern copperheads are the only venomous snakes in Fairfax County. Rattlesnakes are as close as Bull Run Mountain in Prince William County, but water moccasins are centered near the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.

Northern copperheadNorthern Copperhead

Copperheads are rather heavy-bodied snakes and are beautifully marked with dark brown, hourglass-shaped cross bands on a light tan or gray background. Adult snakes are usually two to three feet long, and the belly is a mix of white and black markings. They are eight to ten inches at birth, about the size of a pencil.

Baby copperheads look just like their parents, but they have a bright yellow or green tail that they wiggle and use to lure lizards and frogs within striking range. Like other pit vipers, copperheads have a triangular head with facial pits and vertical pupils, just like a cat.

Northern water snakeNorthern Water Snake

Non-venomous snakes are often mistaken for copperheads, especially the Northern water snake and Eastern rat snake. If you see a patterned snake totally submerged in water, chances are it is not a Northern copperhead.

Copperheads are most active at night but also can move around or bask in sunshine during the daytime. In the hot summer, the woods are quite barren compared with our lush, irrigated yards, and various food sources around homes can easily draw rodents and snakes to your neighborhood.

What about snake bites?

The clear majority of snake bites occur when snakes are deliberately handled or poked by curious humans or curious pets.  The Johnson Lab at the University of Florida says about 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year. That’s fewer than one strike for every 37,500 people.  Typically, unless you accidentally contact a snake, you can avoid being bitten by maintaining a respectful distance from any snake that you see. In short, if you see one, just stay away from it. Most snakes will remain motionless when you come upon them and will allow you to pass by safely. The best precautions you can take are to wear proper footwear, such as closed-toe shoes on trails, wear fitted gloves when gardening or clearing areas of heavy foliage, and don long pants. Be aware of rock or wood piles outdoors. Snakes may hide there. Snakes also can be hard to see in tall grass and under ground cover such as invasive English ivy.

Bitten

About a decade ago, I was bitten by a juvenile copperhead snake with a bright yellow tail. I was walking my dog at dusk on an asphalt trail through a wooded suburban park wearing flip-flops, and I probably stepped directly on the snake. It was just after a heavy storm, and leaves and mulch were scattered on the pavement, making the snake difficult to see. The snake bit me just below the ankle. I probably could have prevented a bite if I had been wearing any kind of hiking or athletic shoe. As an ecologist, I always wear proper footwear and clothing when I’m in the field, but I had let my guard down since I was at home in my own neighborhood. This taught me to take the same basic precautions whenever in the outdoors. If you or a pet are bitten by a venomous snake, seek immediate medical treatment. I received anti-venom at the hospital and have no lingering effects from the bite.

When not dealing with an emergency, if you get a photo of a snake and would like it identified, take the photo to a nature center or email parkmail@fairfaxcounty.gov.  Staff will gladly try to identify the snake and share information about why it was where you saw it.

The Virginia Herpetological Society is a good source of information about snakes in Virginia.

Author Kristen Sinclair is an Ecologist with the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Sully Takes Swift Action to Protect Migratory Birds

Sully Birds157Sully Historic Site has new residents. More than 200 years after the first residents moved in, a new family calls it home. Chimney swifts have lodged in, well, the chimney of Sully’s original 18th century kitchen. Their temporary nesting site selection means there will be programming changes at the historic park.

Sully chimney Swallow_080118_0017Chimney swifts are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It’s illegal to disturb them, their nests or their eggs. To protect the birds for the next six to eight weeks, Sully will make some changes. For one, no fires in the fireplace until they leave.

sully-birds162.jpgTaking photos of Sully’s new residents

Sully’s original kitchen hearth and chimney have been usable for centuries, and kitchen programs often include a hearth fire demonstration. To prevent disturbing the birds’ nesting cycle, no fires for the time being. Sully’s primary focus is the preservation of the site’s historic structures and resources, but as part of the Fairfax County Park Authority, there’s pride in the responsibility of protecting natural resources, too.

When they do leave this fall, the chimney swifts will use their stiff, nearly non-stop wingbeats to carry them to Central America, Peru or elsewhere in South America’s Amazon Basin. While they are here, you might spy them flying over towns or across bodies of water. They seldom rest, and they can only hold onto vertical surfaces because of their long claws. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says the population of these “flying cigars” rose when Europeans brought building styles that included chimneys, and those numbers may fall again as we shift to covered, narrow flues.

To learn more about swifts, stop by any of Fairfax County Park Authority’s five nature centers for a visit.

Sully Historic Site is located at 3650 Historic Sully Way, Chantilly, VA 20151, off Rt. 28 (Sully Road), ¼ mile north of Rt. 50 and five miles south of the Dulles Toll Road. Get information about Sully online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/sully or by calling 703-437-1794.

Invasive Species Spotlight: English Ivy

DSC_0008It is often described as a lovely, evergreen groundcover. It is also a damaging, invasive species.

English ivy is widely planted, probably ever since ornamental plants were first imported to the United States. Because it is a ground-covering vine that smothers anything in its path, English ivy has been linked to the loss of plant diversity. Winter is the time of year that Hedera helix, or English ivy, makes its presence known. It stays green all year, which is probably one of the reasons why county residents like it in their yards or climbing their mailboxes. English ivy also stands out in natural areas during winter and often is the only green in the forest after native plants have died back for the year.

DSC_0010English ivy is especially dangerous to trees. Once the vine reaches branches, its extra weight can cause those branches to break, injuring the tree and opening an entry point for pathogens or fungus infections. Even if the tree can manage the extra weight from the vines, English ivy will eventually cover all the branches, shading leaves and leading to the tree’s death. English ivy growing on private property can spread to natural areas where it can grow unchecked.

DSCN1481Invasive species are widely considered to be the second-worst cause of ecosystem function degradation. The first is habitat loss, however, invasive species and habitat loss often go hand in hand. To learn more about invasive species removal in Fairfax County parks, visit the Invasive Management Area (IMA) website. IMA has 60 habitat restoration sites around the county, and the Park Authority is always looking for additional IMA volunteers.

Healthy ecosystems provide better air quality, better water quality, more opportunities for wildlife, and plant diversity. All of that means more opportunities for us to discover new things in our natural world. In Fairfax County, with less than 10% of the land protected in natural areas, it is even more important that our natural areas function as best they can.

English Ivy 2, Mail PostTake time to assess the area around your house. Can you spot English ivy creeping up trees or mailboxes, or did you plant English ivy in your yard? We have suggestions on our website for replacement plants.

Learn more about English ivy in this online field guide and more about invasive plants in this online discussion archive. Our colleagues in King County, Washington, also have an excellent web page with information about English ivy.

Remove English ivy and replant with a mix of native ground covers like ferns, spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches and trillium. The native plants will be a much more interesting bunch — and not invasive.

This blog was compiled from Park Authority files and edited by Park Authority Ecologist Erin Stockschlaeder.

 

Caterpillars are Taking off Their Skeletons at Hidden Oaks!

DSC_0268The race is on to see who will become a butterfly or moth first. There are Monarchs, Pipevine Swallowtail, and Tobacco Hornworm caterpillars at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale.

If you happen to visit at the right time, you may see the Monarchs and Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies being released. The Tobacco Hornworm moths will be kept at the nature center to exhibit as adults.

 Monarchs

A natural wonder that typically enjoys great favor with humans, the monarch butterfly makes headlines across North America. As an ambassador insect, or one that represents a genre such as pollinators, these insects often are used to teach about life cycles. Ask any second grader, and she will tell you about the struggles of this tenacious insect that depends on one plant, milkweed, for survival.

As wild milkweed decreases, national organizations and neighborhood nature centers encourage people to plant milkweed varieties to support monarchs and other pollinators. With their widespread popularity, it’s no surprise children delight in observing monarch caterpillars being raised at Hidden Oaks.

monarch cat.-aHidden Oaks has championed monarch butterfly awareness and stewardship since 1996. Monarchs usually do not arrive in the Washington area before July, and this year the first batch arrived at the nature center on July 9. Journey North, an online science education project, records the first spotting of monarch eggs throughout the country. Normally, the D.C. area spots monarch eggs on milkweed after June 20. Recently, the date has been creeping earlier on the calendar, with this year’s mid-April sighting the earliest on record. The earlier arrivals may be due to warmer weather and a reduction of milkweed in wintering habitats.

Monarch 2017-aOften the monarchs winging their way through the D.C. area are the last of four generations produced over a calendar year. The last generation is physiologically different from the previous three. The last generation does not typically have the benefit of fresh milkweed and is generally in a nonproductive mode until after their diapause, or overwintering, in Mexico. The previous three generations, which can mate within a week of emerging from their chrysalids, have a life span of about six weeks. The fourth generation, which can live six to eight months, mates after spending months resting – with millions of other monarchs – in the Transvolcanic Mountain range about 60 miles northwest of Mexico City.

More about monarchs

Pipevine Swallowtail

The pipevine swallowtail begins life as a small, black and red caterpillar. This caterpillar has a strict diet, but is a little more flexible than the monarch. It feeds on many varieties of plants in the Aristolochiaceae family, commonly known as the pipevine family of plants. Aside from being delicious for the caterpillar, these plants also contain a toxin that is harmful to many animals, but the pipevine swallowtail is an exception. The caterpillars use this to their advantage and incorporate the toxin into their body where it becomes a defense against predators.

The toxin stays in the caterpillars’ bodies as they go through metamorphosis and turn into butterflies. When the butterflies are old enough to lay eggs, they choose the pipevine plant as their landing pad. This provides some protection to the eggs and ensures that they have something to eat the moment they hatch. Once they hatch, the young larvae remain together and feed as a group. This defense strategy confuses predators, since a group of caterpillars may look like too big of a bite. Once they are older and their bodies possess warning signs of bright orange spikes, they split from the group and feed alone. Pipevine swallowtails are found from the northeastern United States south and west to New Mexico and Arizona as well as in parts of California.

More about swallowtails

Tobacco Hornworm

Hornworms at WRTobacco Hornworm caterpillars are rather striking in appearance, starting out almost translucent, turning bright aqua blue, and then altering to a bright green with white stripes. The caterpillar also has a red “horn” at the posterior end. The caterpillars grow rapidly, starting at around a half-inch and growing to about three and a-quarter inches.

They grow this big because they voraciously munch on tomato plants, much to the dismay of farmers and gardeners. Although tomatoes are their preferred food, they will eat anything in the family Solanaceae, which includes tobacco, pepper, eggplant, and various ornamentals and weeds. The tobacco hornworms at Hidden Oaks have munched through many of the tomato plants, sometimes in as little as a day. After they’ve eaten their fill, they are ready to become moths.

hornwormsWhile the monarch butterfly hangs from a leaf or branch to create its chrysalis, the tobacco hornworm moth forms a pupal cell below the leaf litter or just under the top layer of soil. It is a dark reddish-brown, with a maxillary loop at the anterior (front) end and a pointed posterior (rear) end. Sometimes these pupae can spend an entire winter underground, with the moth emerging in the spring.

Once they have gone through metamorphosis, the adult moth emerges. The wings are mottled black, brown, and white, and fold under in a triangular manner to help provide camouflage. The hornworm is sometimes called a hummingbird moth due to its tendency to fly nimbly among flowers and hover over them to extract nectar with their proboscis.

More about tobacco hornworm

Visit Hidden Oaks to pick up a free packet of native swamp milkweed seeds to attract butterflies and other pollinators to your backyard or school. Share the joy and wonder with your family and friends by experiencing first-hand the variety of native butterflies, and marvel at the mysteries of caterpillars that scientists have yet to completely unravel.

Author Fiona Davies is the Volunteer Coordinator at Hidden Oaks Nature Center.

Sources: University of Florida, Grow Garden Tomatoes, Butterflies and Moths of North America, and GotScience Magazine.