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Houston Naturama Reboot. Week 1 redux.

April 21, 2020

Houston Naturama has been a huge source of amusement for me, however, I sense that the rest of you are not swept up in the excitement. That’s on me, let me explain.

I am a nature nerd. No surprise there, you don’t end up writing a nature blog for fame and fortune. My greatest joy comes not simply from nature but from experiencing nature with others. So, I sent you on a series of weed hunts.

Weed hunts make me happy. I like knowing each of their names and taking macro photos of their blooms because they are so lovely. That’s oxalis at the top of the post.

I share photos of birds because seeing them up close, in sharp focus, frozen in time helps me know them better. 

This American robin was perched on a phone pole outside my house. Until I took this photo, I never noticed that tiny little hook at the end of his bill. That’s a killing hook! You forget this cheery harbinger of spring is death from above for worms.

I began Houston Naturama so that we could, together, explore the world and share with each other the wonders it holds.

My mistake was starting at the end rather than the beginning. You’re not ready for a full-on weed hunt. We need to start at the beginning, not just rush to the fun stuff. So I am rebooting the Houston Naturama. 

To recognize the achievements of the three beta testers who jumped right into the deep end, there will now be a pro-level for those who complete a 3 out of 5 challenge. Everyone will have a chance to get there. But first, the new beginning.

Week 1. 

Step 1: Get an account on iNaturalist. 

Step 2: Submit three observations. Pick whatever you want – insects, fish, plants, birds. If it’s wandering around or in the ground, submit it. 

Step 3: Send me an email at with your iNaturalist screen name so I can look at what you submitted and be amazed.

Once you’ve done that, your name will be  added to the honor roll of Houston Naturamatists and you shall attain all the rights and honors that attend that distinction (listed on the Houston Naturama honor roll and recognition on Buffalo Bayou Park facebook feed). 

This little hairy woodpecker was pecking away on a tree a few blocks from my house. There are two, almost identical, woodpeckers like this Houston: the hairy and the downy woodpecker. The downy is a smaller bird with a thinner bill. I was pretty convinced this was a downy, but a downy will have some spots on the outer tail feather (the white one). This fellow’s spotless tail makes him a hairy, despite his sweet, small bill. Woodpeckers peck for a variety of reasons. They peck to find bugs below the bark. They peck on something resonant and hollow to loudly announce their claim to their territory, and they peck to drill a hole in which to nest.

Week 2 will have a new challenge, but whenever you start, feel free to start at week 1.

Who knows what you’re going to discover. This is a photo taken near The Dunlavy by Ashley Atkins with an inexpensive macro lens. It’s a unicorn caterpillar moth caterpillar. That’s the coolest name. Most caterpillars are known by the name of the butterfly they turn into. In this way, your milkweed is being nibbled by monarch butterfly caterpillars.

Unicorn caterpillar moth caterpillar. That green band is not a leaf, it is part of the caterpillar, notice the feet sticking out the bottom. That is his head near the green band and that hump on its back is the formic-acid shooting horn!

This caterpillar is so amazing looking and the moth itself rather plain, that they named the moth after the caterpillar. It is a unicorn caterpillar moth. Using familiar naming conventions, that makes this the unicorn caterpillar moth caterpillar!

By the way, if you stumble on another of these, take precautions. That hump (unicorn horn?) on its back can shoot formic acid for several inches. That’s the same irritating stuff ants deliver in their bites.

There has been only one of these beauties reported to iNaturalist inside the loop in Houston. I posted it from my account because Ashley and her boyfriend William asked me for a bit of help. They are still both going on the honor roll! Amazing caterpillar.