“I have these flowers in my yard that popped up overnight, it seems, and I don’t know what they are!”

“Naked ladies” is a common name — along with surprise lilies, spider lilies, or magic lilies — given to “Lycoris squamigera.” I have seen them in abundance as I drive around town. In the spring they come up with strap-like leaves, which die away. Then, seemingly overnight, a lone stem springs up, topped with the promise of a flower. Starting in late summer you can see these pretty pink faces bobbing in the breeze – thus naked ladies. By the way, many of them will begin to clothe themselves with foliage, following their dance. Dry years may delay their appearance or they may not show at all. If you’re interested in sharing or moving them, do so after the flowers fade.

… A question from a little girl … “Why do you have flying flowers?”

The “flying flowers” are butterflies and the like. Some ways to distinguish one species from the other: butterflies stretch their wings out to soak up the sun, balance, or fly, but they usually rest them over their bodies otherwise. A moth is more apt to rest with its wings outstretched. A moth’s antennae appear feathery/fuzzy and are knobless on the ends, while butterfly antennae appear smooth and knobbed on the ends.

On any given late-summer day there can be 25–50 species of moths and butterflies in a “friendly” yard. How do they feed? After a few false tries they learn how to stand properly and operate their proboscis (their tongue) just right to get the sweet nectar. They start out having to spend 10–20 sec. groping around but soon figure it out, and thereafter they become efficient feeders. They tend to seek out flowers they know well.

Butterflies and moths like a little water, but they want something they can stand on and feel safe. Fill a low dish with rocks and soil, then add just enough water to make it muddy. They’ll stand on the solid places and sip thru their “straw”. This is a good use for old potting soil because of the high level of salts, which male butterflies, in particular, will seek out.

Dragonflies are larger and their eyes come almost together on top of their heads, and their wings usually rest outstretched. The smaller damselfly has distinctively separated eyes, are much thinner, and usually rest with their wings held close together.

August would be a perfect time to get a book on “Lepidoptera” and her kin, and become an avid “flying flower” watcher. What fun, especially for an interested child!

“What is a bagworm, and how do you get rid of them?”

The bagworm, usually most evident in late summer, is larvae hatched in May/June. Look for a dangling, often twitching, bag, almost like an ornament, on the tip of a branch. It’s made up of a tough silk-like fiber, incorporating pieces of whatever the caterpillar that lives inside has been munching on.

Bagworms are opportunists and will feed on many plants. Inside the bag lives the larvae of a small moth which will eat voraciously until late summer, at which time the bag will resemble a strange 2-inch long pinecone shaped object. They can defoliate and kill a shrub/tree.

The larvae fastens itself to a branch and closes the opening of the bag to pupate for about a month. Male bagworms will emerge as small black moths with fuzzy antennae and translucent wings; the female remains in the sac, never developing wings, eyes, mouthparts. She emits a pheromone to attract the male, they mate through a small hole in the bag, then the female will lay about 1,000 eggs and die. The male also lacks mouthparts and dies shortly after mating. The eggs will overwinter inside the sac, often in leaf litter, before emerging in the spring. There is only one generation of bagworms per year, thank goodness.

Spraying dormant oil early in the spring will kill some. The sac becomes tougher and nearly impervious with age, and blend in with their surroundings. Several predatory insects will feed on the larvae, and a few birds find them tasty. Anything you spray will affect your “friendlies” as well as the target, often causing more harm in the long run. Numbers of “friendlies” don’t recover as fast as those of a pest. I pick off bagworms and drown them in soapy water, and watch for them always!

Sherrie Ottinger, aka: “The TN Dirtgirl,” is a regenerative Earth thinker, teacher, columnist, author and speaker. Her passion is all things “dirt.” She may be reached at velokigate@yahoo.com with comments or questions.