OSMETERIUMS AND ORANGE DOGS JULY 3, 2014 #1339

B.G. Smith of Port Neches came to Cooper Lake a few years ago to catch largemouth bass. While he was here he bought a copy of The Cooper Review, liked the paper, and bought a subscription. Every few weeks he sends me an email and his love of the outdoors is evident. Recently he saw strange looking caterpillars on his lemon tree and after searching the internet found they change into swallowtail butterflies. These caterpillars have a head that seems too large for their body. The species he found is colored to look a lot like bird poop that has fallen on a leaf. There is the typical dark gray punctuated with white, which in real bird poop is urine. If the camouflage/mimicry doesn’t work, two reddish “horns” pop out of the body to scare any predator that is coming too close.
These caterpillars are called orange dogs, not because of their color but because they attack orange (and other citrus) trees. The two reddish “horns” that appear when a predator comes near normally are hidden in a gland called an osmeterium. The horns resemble a snake’s forked tongue. The gland also produces a rotten butter smell that is poisonous to many insects. The adult form of the orange dog is the giant swallowtail, largest butterfly in North America. Gardeners sometimes plant citrus trees simply to attract the beautiful butterflies that will lay eggs and produce more orange dogs and adult swallowtails. Now you know all about the orange dog with its bird poop appearance and two red horns and a bad smell. Thanks B.G. for sending pictures and asking about the critter.

Once or twice a week someone asks me about a snake they caught, killed, or saw. Most of the 20-25 kinds of snakes in our area have simple distinguishing marks. Following is an identification guide you may want to keep handy to help identify the next one you run across. The number after the name tells the normal maximum size. The record will be a few more inches. Then there is the chance that a small snake could be the young of a larger species. The poisonous snakes are listed at the end so all the others are nonvenomous.

Diamondback water snake. 48. Very common. Row of fence posts down sides. Skunk smell. X’s on back.
Yellow bellied water snake. 48. Very common. Usually no markings. Skunk smell. Solid yellow belly.
Broad banded water snake. 36. Broad dark irregular bands separated by copper color.
Texas brown snake. 13. Tiny. Two rows of parallel dots down back.
Garter snake. 25. Striped. Shorter and stockier than ribbon snake.
Ribbon snake. 30. Long and slender. Striped.
Lined snake. 15. Tiny. Two rows of half-moons down belly.
Earth Snake. 10. Tiny. Reddish brown or gray. No other markings.
Hognose snake. 33. Hisses. Plays dead. Vomits. Harmless. Pig nose. The “spread nadder.”
Ring neck snake. 14. Tiny. Stripe across back of neck.
Mud snake. 54. Shiny black back. Red and black checkerboard on belly. “Spike” on tail tip.
Racer. 50. Solid black or blue back. Light yellow belly. No pattern. Bad temper.
Coach whip. 60. Black on head and neck gradually changes to chalky white at tail. Bad temper.
Green snake. 32. Beautiful solid green color.
Texas rat snake. 72. “Chicken snake.” Red between the scales.
Speckled king snake. 48. Dark green with a yellow polka dot in almost every scale. Pet store favorite.
Prairie king snake. 42. Very shiny. Similar to rat snake. About 60 reddish brown blotches down back, each circled by a thin black line. Another favorite of pet shops.

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