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Porches, Part 3: Life on the Big Screen


Marvelous creatures make their way to both sides of our screened porch in a never ending parade of beauty and variety. Our outdoor porch is made entirely of screen except for the wall where it meets the house, the roof, and the wooden framing that holds everything together. A total of 66,156 square inches of screen, to be exact, which comes to 5,513 square feet. Over one mile of screen makes up our humble screen porch, and that’s if you include only one side of the screen! But the plants and animals that come to explore / visit / invade / live on our screens do so from both the inside and the outside, so really, it’s two miles of screen.

The animal life on our screened porch is every bit as lush and prolific as the plant life, but it comes and goes rather than sitting in pots on benches (See Porches, Part 1: Porches Come in Many Forms). About eight months after the porch was constructed there appeared one morning a fully grown, outspread-winged Luna moth (Actias luna) perched on the inside. This moth, whose spirit had already flown to Moth Heaven by the time I found it, is the one and only Luna moth I’ve seen in 18 years in South Louisiana. Females of this species lay their eggs on the underside of leaves of trees preferred by the larvae. There were no trees on our porch in the spring of 2007, so we’ll never know how this individual ended up on our porch screen. She was a unique and lovely visitor.

Luna moth

She was also not the only large and beautiful moth to grace our screens. One spring we briefly hosted a Pandora sphinx moth (Eumorpha pandorus). Coincidentally, this type of moth, like the Luna moth, is one of the relatively few lepidopterans (that is, of the moth/butterfly persuasion) that is decidedly green. The light on the porch isn’t great for picture-taking so my photo doesn’t do justice to the deep, mossy green hue of this female’s wings and abdomen. Beautiful!

Pandora sphinx moth
Pandora sphinx moth

Another greenie often seen on both sides of our porch screens is the Green anole lizard (Anolis carolinensis). With the chameleon-like ability to change color to match their substrate, these lizards are champions of camouflage. They are also well equipped to live with only part of a tail, and their dexterity in handling the screened substrate sometimes makes it look like they’re climbing right into the clouds.

Other climbers who’ve found their way to our porch include a Gray rat snake (Pantherophis spiloides) that entered through one of the drainage holes that were (intentionally!) left in the framework along the floor’s perimeter.

Many-jointed Gray rat snake on the ledge between the dog kennel and the porch screen

This non-venomous explorer kicked up quite a fuss with our two dogs, who were in their porch kennel when he arrived. They were quickly relieved of their hysteria by being in the house during the half hour it took for the snake to figure out how to get back outside. I watched him leave, not through one of the drainage holes but through a small hole in one of the screens.

A larger hole in one screen gives occasional entry to a squirrel who has so far been unsuccessful in removing the lid from the bucket where we keep birdseed.

A frustrated squirrel

Other animals come and go from the drainage holes as well, including a pair of Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) that have nested more than once in the Hoya plant (Hoya carnosa) that hangs above the picnic table. The male likes to declare himself.

Male Carolina wren singing his morning song

The small holes in the screens present their own challenges as well – – for example, to this Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) whose bill got caught before he realized there was a screen in front of him. I was able to free him in good order and he lived to hover another day.

A hummingbird in need of help

Occasionally the screen itself offers new possibilities, other than the growth of a green algal film that can only be removed by power washing. This delicate spiral of eggs could be from any of six species of Green lacewings (family Chrysopidae) found in Louisiana, all of which lay their eggs on hair-like filaments such as these. Green lacewings are so beneficial that they’re raised commercially for biological control of various pest species, so we’re happy to host these young ones, should they be lucky enough to hatch and grow to adulthood.

A spiral of lacewing eggs

Of course, that would mean surviving the gauntlet of Green anole lizards and assorted other predators-in-waiting who’d like nothing better than to make a meal of a larval lacewing. May they hatch well, grow big, and add their adult presence to the multivaried community of creatures that find their way to our screens!

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One Comment

  1. Fun post, Neens. That rat snake is really interesting, with all his joints! What a lovely lovely place to spend time. I can see why you love to be out there day or night. It’s funny, when I visited we really didn’t spend time out there. As I recall you and Tom were just finishing up with the remodel from the first post flood rebuild, and all the plants were inside on the new burl kitchen counter which was covered with a cloth. Something like that. But if I visit again, I can guarantee we’ll spend lots of time out there enjoying the miles of view as we watch critters and wile away the hours together!

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