Small-mouthed Salamander

As of 2012, we have had three sightings of Small-mouthed Salamanders at Chert Hollow Farm. All observations have been in the spring in moist permanent beds. We generally find them when hoeing beds in preparation for planting. Fortunately, all of the ones we’ve found have escaped a direct encounter with the hoe. The one in the photograph sat still for a while in the sun, semi-encrusted in soil, before warming up enough to scurry off through the weeds.

Western Painted Turtle

We’ve had two observations of the Western Painted Turtle at Chert Hollow Farm between 2007 & 2012, both times near the house, and both times moving fast. Their primary habitat tends to be aquatic, so the ones we’ve seen are probably just passing through. They certainly seemed in a hurry to get somewhere else, and aren’t at all shy.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtails are common butterflies at Chert Hollow Farm.

This individual made its way into our greenhouse but couldn’t figure out how to get out. So in the cool morning, when it was moving slowly, I took it out of the greenhouse (minimizing contact with the delicate wings) and snapped a few photos.

Western Earth Snake

As of 2012, we have one recorded observation of this snake on the farm. Our indoor cat somehow found this one; we promptly took it away from her, photographed it, and released it outdoors. From the MDC description:

This nondescript little snake is a woodland species and usually remains hidden under rocks or logs or in leaf litter….It feeds chiefly on earthworms.


Gray Treefrog

Gray treefrogs are relatively common amphibians at Chert Hollow Farm. We often hear their trill in the spring. They are hard to spot in the woods due to their excellent camouflage, but we often see them clinging to walls of farm buildings during the warm months of the year. We’re happy to have them around eating insects & other invertebrates.

Confusingly, some gray treefrogs, such as the one below, are green; these are not to be confused with green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea), which do not generally occur in Boone County.


Tobacco Hornworm

Hornworms of the genus Manduca can be a major pest of tomato plants. Contrary to the claims of this Mother Earth News letter, hornworms can and do eat the fruit of tomato plants. Our hornworm population was happy to provide photographic opportunities to set the record straight, as we did here.

The species shown here is Manduca sexta, which (according to reference books) goes by the common name of Tobacco Hornworm, even though this is the species that we invariably find on our tomato plants. (This is confirmed in David L. Wagner’s excellent book, Caterpillars of Eastern North America.)

To minimize hornworm damage, we pick them off by hand and smush them with a boot. The trails of droppings are often the first sign that these well camouflaged moth larvae are present.

The photo below shows what hornworms are capable of doing to a tomato planting if populations are left uncontrolled. We didn’t check on this planting for about a week and a half before taking this photo (due to family visits, the fact that this is a winter-keeping variety of tomato that doesn’t need to be harvested until later in the fall, and the slightly out-of-the-way placement of the planting since it was being isolated for seed saving).

In early fall 2013, I “adopted” a Tobacco Hornworm so I could watch its life stages. Having to feed it indoors gave me even more appreciation of just how much one can eat! In October, it formed its pupa:


I kept the pupa in a pot of soil indoors over the winter. In April or May, I unearthed it to check on it. Twitching of the pupa upon contact convinced me it was still alive. I kept an eye on it, and in the days prior to emergence of the adult, the color noticeably darkened and shriveled slightly. This photo was taken on the morning of emergence (on May 27):


It emerged sometime that afternoon, but I missed the actual event.


Here’s the recently emerged adult:

bio_Carolina_sphinx bio_adult_sphinx

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Rabbits deserve their reputation as enemies of vegetable growers.

We’ve seen populations vary over time at Chert Hollow Farm. They were minimally problematic during our first few years (to the extent that we didn’t even list them with other pesky mammals on our first organic certification form). But there was a population explosion during the summer of 2011. The 2011 spring peas grew with no protection from rabbits and an early summer edamame planting was fine, but they devoured late edamame plantings several times over and barely minded an electric line that we put up around the plantings for protection.

Here’s a baby:bio_rabbit_baby

Populations boomed in spring 2014, with a rabbit even coming into the greenhouse to nibble on plants. We accidentally discovered a relatively effective trap bait to catch rabbits: sweet potatoes. (Some roots that had failed to produce slips were sitting on the patio, where a rabbit came to gnaw on them, thus the idea.)


Rabbits do provide food to keep the local predator populations happy. That’s almost certainly a rabbit in the mouth of a coyote in this nighttime trail cam photo: