Walk in the Woods presents Damselflies and Dragonflies

Kick off the Fall Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture Series from the comfort of your couch. The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department now presents one of our most popular programs online. The entire family is invited the second Thursday of the month, September through November, as local experts explore the wonders of the natural world.   

Be a part of  the fun on Thursday, September 10 at 6:30 p.m. when Bob Honig presents on Damselflies and Dragonflies. Over the course of an hour, Bob provides an up-close look at their predatory behavior, explains the “killer lip,” takes a deep dive into their unique mating rituals, and more.  

Registration is required for this free presentation. 

Questions or comments? Contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Earn cash by gardening

That’s not a misprint. Thanks to our sponsors, The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N., and Project PolliNation, cash awards will be given to the three village associations with the most points earned in the Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. First place will be awarded $750, second place $500 and third place $250. These funds support village association scholarship programs. Simply put, your garden can grow money.  

Since the Village Challenge began in June 2020, residents have reached out to learn more about the program. We’re answering your most asked questions below. 

What is the Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge?  

This community challenge, created by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department, encourages residents to support pollinators by providing food, shelter and a space free of harmful chemicals. Residents register their garden and share actions they’ve taken to provide a habitat for bees, butterflies, moths and more.   

Just like the Water-Wise and Recycling Village Challenges, residents earn points which equal cash for scholarships. Registrations submitted June 1 through December 1, 2020 earn a point for the village where the garden is located.  

The Challenge is part of the Plant for Pollinators Program, which supports Township-wide efforts to support and increase our pollinator populations. On-going efforts include distribution of milkweed to the public, installation of pollinator gardens in parks and schools, and educational outreach. 

I’m not a fan of insects. Why would I want to attract them to my yard? 

Pollinator gardens attract bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, bats, and even hummingbirds. These beneficial insects go to work in your garden pollinating flowers, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Did you know that we rely on pollinators for roughly one third of the food that we eat? Our natural environment is even more reliant on their services.  

Maybe you’re having trouble with nuisance insects in your yard. Pollinator gardening can help. The native plants you add will attract birds and bats to control those unwanted pests. They’ll increase your biodiversity so that no single pest takes over. And, you’ll love the year-round flowers. 

I’ve never gardened before. Where do I start? 

We suggest starting with the Plant for Pollinators Garden Registration Form.  Each section (Shelter, Nectar Plants, Host Plants, Water Source) highlights essential elements for a pollinator garden. You likely have many of these in your yard already. For example, a loblolly pine tree is a host plant for elfin butterflies. Your wooden fence provides covered space for a caterpillar to form a chrysalis. Bare ground serves as a nesting site for native bees. And your fountain, provided its chemical-free, is an excellent source of water.  

Determine how much space you want to dedicate to your garden, how much sun that area receives and how what the soil is like. Is it sandy, full of clay or a mix of both? Does it stay moist or dry quickly? This is all important information to lead you to your next step – plant selection. 

To attract a specific pollinator to your yard, find out what plants they need or are most drawn to. Monarch butterflies enjoy nectar from many plants but only lay their eggs on milkweed. The color red attracts hummingbirds and bees are drawn to a variety of flowers, especially blue, purple, white and yellow.  

 Make a list and then head out to a local garden center or nursery.  A few things to keep in mind:  

  • Plant flowers in groups. Pollinators are drawn to bunches of flowering plants; much easier than  searching through the garden for a single plant.   
  • Provide flowering plants for each season. Some pollinators do migrate, so you may only see them once or twice a year as they pass through. However, there are plenty of pollinators that will visit year-round in search of food. As flowers die back in spring, add plants that will bloom throughout the summer, and so on. 

Start simple. Do you have plants that provide pollen and nectar? Does your yard provide shelter and water? Is your garden safe from harsh chemicals? Great! Sounds like you’ve started a pollinator garden.   

I live in an apartment or condo. How can I help pollinators?  

Good news! While bigger is better, small spaces can still provide value for pollinators. Container gardens work well on balconies and patios, especially if they are complemented by a nearby water source and wild native vegetation like oak trees and beautyberry. And they count towards the Village Challenge, too – don’t forget to register!  

I registered my garden before June 1, 2020. Do I need to register it again? 

No need to register again. While the Village Challenge officially kicked off on June 1, 2020, nearly 40 residents had already registered their gardens. Those registrations have been counted towards the 2020 Village Challenge. However, if you’ve made improvements to your pollinator garden since you registered, we would love to hear about it. Send us an email, or better yet, share a photo with us at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

As of August 1, more than 100 residents have registered their pollinator gardens as part of the village challenge. Photo credit: Sarah Ferderer

How do I register my garden 

There are two options. You can submit your registration online, or you can download the form here and then send your completed registration to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.  Be sure to submit your garden registration by December 1, 2020 to be included in this year’s Village Challenge.   

So, register today, earn a point for your village and support pollinators. There are cash prizes on the line along with bragging rights for your village. Most importantly, you’ll be rewarded with a garden buzzing with activity you can enjoy year-round.   

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Creature Feature: Skunks

“Do you smell that?” One whiff and your alarm bells start ringing – skunk!  Like all skunks, our two local species, Striped and Spotted, are equipped with an unforgettable sulphuric spray. While we may not appreciate their smell, skunks have plenty of likeable qualities. Keep reading to learn more about our odiferous neighbors. 

Fast Facts: 

  1. Skunks are omnivorous.  Their diet varies with the season – insects and bugs during the spring and summer, small animals in the fall and winter – and the occasional berry or leaf. Like most urban wildlife, they’re opportunistic and will take a quick snack from the garbage can, pet food bowl or garden. 
  1. Their spray isn’t a weapon, it’s a warning. Spraying is about defense, not offense. The organic sulphur compound ejected from two small glands (known as a musk) tells potential predators that they taste bad, don’t waste your time.  
  1. It takes 10 to 12 days to replenish their stinky supply. Their spray supply isn’t endless. It can take nearly two weeks to produce enough for a few more shots. 

Why do we need them? 

Valuable garden allies, these natural pest control heroes feast on crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, grubs, small rodents and moles. Should the insects feasting in your garden seemingly disappear overnight, you might have a skunk to thank.

Defensive Behavior 

Skunks are passive, shy animals, who would rather flee than fight. Their bold white stripes or spots are all the warning most animals need. When their markings don’t get the message across, skunks give additional warnings with agitated foot stamping, hissing and growling. If the aggressor continues, the skunk will form his body into a “U” shape with both head and tail aimed at the attacker. 

Skunks spray their musk only as a last resort and are impressively accurate up to about 10 feet. Spray that enters the eyes causes temporary blindness. Combined with the lingering malodor, it’s likely their attacker learned a lesson it won’t soon forget. 

A nosy family dog is a common spray victim. If yours takes a hit, mix up the following remedy. Wear rubber gloves and do NOT get the solution in the dog’s eyes. Also, do NOT store this mixture or make it ahead of time, as it is not stable. If your dog has been sprayed in the eyes, call your veterinarian for appropriate care. 

Remedy 

Mix together: 
1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (available at a pharmacy) 
¼ cup baking soda 
1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid soap 
 
Rub the mixture all over and scrub deep to neutralize the odor. Leave it on until the smell abates – but no longer, peroxide can bleach fur. Rinse thoroughly. 
 

Avoid A Conflict 

It’s more likely that you’ll smell a skunk rather than see one. A persistent, faint musky smell under a structure or woodpile may suggest a skunk has taken up residence. During breeding season, males can spray frequently when fighting over females.

Deter skunks from your yard: 

  • Keep a tight lid on garbage cans or pull them inside. 
  • Remove pet food before nightfall. 
  • Remove boards or debris where skunks may hide. 
  • Close off openings under decks, patios, or sheds.  Use ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth, burying the wire at least 6 inches to prevent skunks from digging underneath. 
  • If you think a skunk has already taken up residence, it’s essential to be sure the animal (and any young) have left the den before blocking the entrance.  

If you come upon a skunk, simply move away slowly and quietly. 

Threat of Rabies 

Skunks are one of four animals (including the fox, raccoon, and bat) considered primary carriers of the rabies virus and is classified as a rabies vector species.  

Though mostly active at night, skunks sometimes look for food during the day, particularly in the spring when they have young to feed. Don’t be concerned if you see a skunk in the daytime unless they also show abnormal behaviors, such as: 

  • Limb paralysis 
  • Circling 
  • Unprovoked aggression 
  • Disorientation or staggering 
  • Uncharacteristic tameness 

If you witness any of these signs, don’t approach the skunk.  For assistance, call the Montgomery County Animal Control Authority at 936-442-7738, or Harris County Veterinary Public Health at 281-999-3191. 

Removal 

Under state law, a person may trap a fur-bearing animal at any time if it is causing damage or creating a nuisance. If you live trap a skunk, you must notify the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department before relocating the animal.  A permit must be obtained and permission granted from the property owner where you plan to release the live animal.  Always contact a professional wildlife specialist if unable to safely remove wildlife on your own. 

Skunks have a single litter of 4-6 kits around May-June. The young stay in the den until around 8 weeks old. 

Yes, skunks are a bit smelly. But, these impressive animals are important members of our ecosystem. Most of the time, skunks simply pass through your yard at night and you’ll never encounter them.  Make the compassionate choice to live in harmony with nature. After all, they’ve learned to live with us. 


Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

Backyard Mothing: Easy, Enjoyable and Exciting

Moths are everywhere, including your own backyard. In fact, more than 11,000 species of moths have been identified in North America. An astonishing number, considering there are a “mere” 575 species of butterflies. Despite their diversity and abundance, moths have attracted less study than their more glamorous cousin, the butterfly. That leaves a lot yet to be discovered about moths – perhaps by you! 

National Moth Week, July 18-26, is a great time to try “Mothing”. This easy, inexpensive hobby can be pursued right at home. With a few simple pieces of equipment, you can take an up-close look at our fascinating neighbors and share observations that build our understanding of the magnificent, mysterious moth. 

Outside the polar regions, moths are found across the Earth (their abundance makes them an important pollinator of flowering plants) and in all sizes and colors. They range from the 6” long Cecropia moth to the tiny (1.2 mm) Stigmella maya. Some vibrate with color. Others are drab to better blend with their environment.  

Moths are distinguished from butterflies by a stout body covered in dusty scales, and feathery, thick antennae. Look but do not touch. Touching can easily damage a moth’s wings. A resting moth extends its wings to the side or holds them tent-like over the body, unlike butterflies which hold their wings vertically.  

Like butterflies, moths develop through the process of metamorphosis.  An egg hatches into a tiny caterpillar (the larval stage).  Eating voraciously, the caterpillar develops through several growth stages called instars. At the end of the final instar, the caterpillar either spins a cocoon or splits its outer skin to expose the chrysalis beneath. The cocoon or chrysalis protects the insect while the transformation from pupae to adult occurs.  When metamorphosis is complete, the adult moth emerges and completes the life cycle by laying the next generation of eggs.  

Moths can be highly destructive in their larval stage. Vegetable gardeners dread the appearance of the tomato hornworm.  These large green horned caterpillars can quickly consume tomato plants. In the adult stage, the tomato hornworm transforms into the beautiful sphynx moth. Also known as “hummingbird moths” due to their size and flight pattern, sphynx moths are important pollinators of summer flowering plants. 

Photo of a Tomato Hornworm
Photo of a White-lined Sphynx Moth

Mothing can be done any time of day, though nighttime provides the easiest viewing. Start by simply turning on your porch light; a number of moth species are attracted by white light (LED or CFL work best). Use a black light and a sheet to attract additional species. Hang a white sheet (cotton works best to reflect the UV rays) between two trees or attach it to your fence. Be sure all four corners are secured as moths prefer a stable surface for landing. Place a black light or a plant grow light next to it and wait a few minutes for these beautiful insects to arrive. Your mothing endeavors will be off to a flying start.  

Shine a light on a white, cotton sheet to attract a variety of moths to your backyard for observation

You may also want to experiment with sugar bait in order to attract nectar feeding moths. Homemade sugar bait can be fashioned from ingredients on hand in your kitchen.  Try blending together a ripe banana, one cup of brown sugar, two tablespoons of molasses and a half cup of flat beer or apple cider. For best results, allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for a day prior to your planned observation. Paint the mixture onto the trunk of a tree or two and wait for nectar feeding moths to land. Check with mothscount.org for more ideas on attracting moths.   

A moth feeds on sugar bait

For identification help, choose a good quality moth guide such as the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Southeastern America, by Seabrooke Leckie and David Beadle (cost about $30).  Small laminated moth guides are easy for children to use.  Try Texas Butterflies and Moths: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species, by James Kavanaugh. This guide is often available in local groceries or may be purchased online.   

Share your backyard moth observations with other citizen scientists by joining National Moth Week July 18-26. The information you submit will be used to help map moth distribution and collect other data.  Join today and have fun mothing! 

Learn more about moths: 

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


Did you like this article? Subscribe here to receive weekly articles right to your inbox

Creature Feature: Coyotes

Trickster, creator, messenger and symbol of death, the coyote appears often in the tales and traditions of Native Americans. Most stories focus on the coyotes’ cleverness in achieving victory. These mythological portrayals have seeped into our perception of who the coyote is, for better or worse.  

Modern coyotes do display an impressive level of cleverness, continually adapting to the changing American landscape. These members of the dog family once lived primarily in open prairies and deserts. Now they are found across North America, including densely populated, urban areas. You might spot one running across a golf course or city park or in a culvert alongside a busy road.

Urban areas offer a steady supply of food for these opportunistic eaters. With plenty of rodents, rabbits, deer and vegetation cover around our community, it’s no wonder that coyotes have chosen to call The Woodlands home.

Be sure to look for the Creature Feature article in the upcoming July Community Magazine for more coyote facts and highlights.

Largely nocturnal hunters, seeing a coyote is rare, however it is possible that you may cross paths one day. Unexpected encounters with wildlife can cause confusion and invoke fear for both you and the animal! Familiarize yourself with the following responses and be prepared to act calmly and responsibly if you find yourself in one of these situations.  

If you hear or see a coyote, follow these best practices:

Utilize TheWoodlands311 app service request system (the app will pinpoint lyour location and allow for comments)

Hazing Techniques 

Pathways, Parks, Forested Areas, Open Spaces: Slowly and calmly walk away. If approached, DON’T RUN. Wave arms, make noise and walk toward the coyote until it retreats. Thrown rocks and sticks can be effective. The goal is not to hit the animal, but to scare it away. Be “Big, Bad and Loud.”  

At Home:  Do not approach animal. Wave arms and make loud noise (air horns, car horns, banging pots and pans, whistles). Throw rocks and sticks toward the animal. Water hoses can be effective. 

Pet Safety 

Though naturally timid, a coyote may see your pet as a threat, especially during breeding season, when pups are nearby, or when defending a source of food. Coyotes will try to intimidate your dog by baring their teeth and hunching their backs. This threat display is an attempt to scare your dog away without making any physical contact. If your dog does not move on, the possibility of a physical conflict is more likely. 

Ensure your pet’s safety and follow these guidelines: 

  • Never let your dog chase or play with a coyote.  
  • In an area where coyotes have been seen, keep your dog under full control at all times.  
  • To protect your small dog in coyote areas: 
    • Avoid using a flexi-leash  
    • Avoid walking near bushy areas  
    • Stand or walk with other people or larger dogs  
    • Avoid walking small dogs at dawn 
  • If a coyote gets too close for your comfort make eye contact with  
    it. Leash larger dogs and pick up small dogs. Haze the coyote (see above).  
  • If the coyote doesn’t leave, it’s likely there’s a den, pups, or food source nearby. Don’t run. Leave the area calmly. Change your routine to avoid this area for a while.  
  • If a coyote performs a threat display, or two or more coyotes charge your larger dog(s), leash up, leave the area calmly, and report it to 3-1-1. 

At home, reduce the chances of a coyote encounter by doing this simple yard audit:  

Want more information? 

Coyotes are clever. They have managed to adapt to an evolving landscape, raise their young in densely populated areas and find food and shelter in unexpected places. Understanding how to live with our wild neighbors creates a safe home for all of us. There’s much to appreciate and learn from coyotes on how to adapt to an ever-changing world. 

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov