I’ve lived in Virginia for over 14 years now and I’ve grown pretty fond of it. However, I loathe their travel and tourism slogan “Virginia is for Lovers“. LOATHE it. I can pretty much nail my distaste for the phrase down to the word “lovers”. Blame it on me watching too many soap operas during the awkward teenage years, but I just don’t think real people use that word. (Do they?) I can’t say it without squirming.
Anyway, I spent my first 13 years as a Virginian in northern Virginia (NoVa), which is completely different from the rest of the state and probably doesn’t even count in most native Virginians’ eyes. For the past year, however, I’ve had the pleasure of living in central Virginia and it is absolutely beautiful. In fact, I think West Virginia’s travel and tourism slogan “Wild and Wonderful” is a much better fit than anything having to do with lovers and I think we should steal it. Though the beauty of this area is kind of romantic. (There’s another squirmy word!)
Nonetheless… walking out our back door and just looking around the house, we’re bound to find all kinds of interesting natural and wild critters. We don’t have to go far or look very hard. When we wandered around our small yard in NoVa, we wouldn’t find much of anything that was really natural–and certainly nothing that was wonderful. And the wildest thing we would encounter, in my opinion, were those darn camel crickets! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed living in NoVa and I miss it, but there is much more life underfoot here and the kid in me loves it!
The plants and animals we encounter around here may not even exist in NoVa and they are different than what I remember seeing in Pennsylvania, where I grew up. Whenever we find a new and unfamiliar creature, I grab the camera as fast as I can and try to get a photo. This is where my inner photographer and my inner treehugger come together. I get to practice my photography skills while making a record of the critter to compare to our Audobon Field Guides later. And I love making it a learning experience for my kids.
Last year Declan had his first lesson in nature’s camouflage right here on our back porch. There was a moth on the side of the house that perfectly mimicked the appearance of the changing tulip poplar leaves. How cool is that?
I was reminded of the tulip poplar moth a week ago when I came home and found these guys on our front porch. At first glance, they looked like leaves–complete with a vein running down the middle! The color and texture were perfect and they even looked like they had a water stain near the head… just like an old leaf that had been laying on the ground for a while might have. Come on, people…. that’s cool! All these guys have to do is work on finding a better place to hang out, because their camouflage isn’t as helpful when they perch on the side of my house!
The white moth below looked like it could be an immature version of, or related to, the two brown ones above, based on the wing shape and the vein, but he was doing a better job of blending into the painted wood trim.
It’s not only the moths that are trying to hide in plain sight. This guy almost looked like a rock, all curled up and sitting perfectly still on the side of my husband’s gas grill. Except there was no reason for a rock to be sitting there, so we took a closer look.
And then there are the spiders. They are all over the place, and some of them are HUGE! Last fall this wolf spider staked his claim on the hole at the base of a tree in our back yard. If you include his legs, he was probably almost the size of the palm of your hand. We visited that tree often to try to catch a peek at him, but we kept our distance.
Our back yard has a gate at the back that opens up to the woods. We like to take walks back there, but almost always carry some unwanted freeloaders back to the house with us, to include chiggers and ticks. Immediate baths or showers are often required. In the spring Shane was back there mulching up a pile of leaves for our garden and encountered this beauty, a northern black widow.
This garden (cross) spider recently spun its web, which was about 2 feet by 2 feet, right across our sliding glass doors that lead from our kitchen to our back porch. It made for interesting dinnertime entertainment one night a few weeks ago when it was busily spinning its web at dusk. It was fascinating to watch actually, since usually I only see the finished product and instantly wonder “how do they do that?”
Then there are the insects that just leave us scratching our heads. Like this one. Seriously, I don’t even know where to begin. What IS this?
While we can find numerous interesting insects right outside our door, some of the larger animals are usually a little more distant. We found this sweet thing trapped in the corner of our raised garden bed after some heavy rains in the spring. It seemed like he found his way in but couldn’t find his way out. We’ve come across several box turtles over the past year, but this little guy was by far the cutest!
Of course, not all of the animals are afraid to come close to the house. This summer a bear climbed the fence around our yard and came up on the porch in the middle of the night to ransack our grill. He even left behind paw prints!
Ok, maybe Virginia isn’t AS wild as West Virginia, but having bear footprints on your porch is pretty wild. I’ll keep working on a new slogan. In the meantime, we’ll continue to explore all of the interesting plants and animals that live around here. They certainly are wonderful!