The Good Guys

I know, I know….one of the creepiest feelings is witnessing a spider race across your bedroom floor.  Personally, I can’t stand spiders inside my house.  It is simply no fun to be awakened by a brown recluse dancing on your leg…eek!  Outside it is a completely different story.  While fully recognizing their importance,  I also understand that, generally speaking, they are entirely harmless.  I love to watch them design their webs, using trial and error when finding their anchor points.  The Wolf Spider is amazing the way she protects her egg sac and then carries her young on her back until they are able to fend for themselves.  They are avid hunters and will even catch and eat other spiders.  For this reason, I try to respect their space and leave them completely alone.

My absolute favorite spider in the garden has been sorely missed this year.  Normally I would find numerous guardians protecting my beds from the

annual grasshopper onslaught.  This year, however, I have not seen even one!  The wonderful spider I am speaking of is the Argiope (an orb weaver or writing spider).  When not positioned in the web, this spider is a bit of a awkward creature, requiring slow and deliberate movements. 
They are non-aggressive and very goal oriented (eat, breed, reproduce).  The female will die as cold weather moves in, so she must insure her egg sac is placed in a viable position to be safe until the spring.  The color of the egg sac can vary from milky white to a dark brown (as seen in the picture), resembling a speed bag (used in boxing) and she will most likely situate it against a structure (if available) or under some type of shelter.  If she chooses the spot wisely, the entire brood will hatch in the fall, hibernate within the sac and then emerge the following spring.  The egg sac contains approximately 500 young but very few will survive to adulthood.

Speaking of creepy creatures, this next “good guy” is commonly victim of mistaken identity.  As you watch this video, understand that this is the larvae of one our favorite insects.  Impossible as it seems, this is a young Ladybug feasting on a meal of aphids.  We know how beneficial they are for cleaning aphids off of our beloved plants and the larvae have an equally insatiable appetite.  As the Ladybug is transforming into the adult, be careful not to destroy the pupa which is equally as unattractive as the larvae!  An interesting fact is that the majority of the Ladybugs we see are not native to this country, they are native to Japan.  In the 1980’s, the USDA performed a “successful” introduction of this insect into North America.  It is now considered a “pest” in some areas because this species prefers to hibernate inside our homes.  They will seek a nice warm place on a south or west wall or ceiling to rest for winter.  Unfortunately, there is usually not enough humidity to maintain their moisture needs and many will perish.  If you find them in your house, they will not bother anything and, provided they survive, will leave on their own.

One final good guy I feel the need to mention is the Praying Mantis.  Probably the most animated insect I can think of, the movements and personality of this creature warrant our undivided attention.   Known for their cannibalistic behavior, the young mantis quickly places distance between themselves and their birth place.  They immediately begin seeking their own territory as they understand that two mantises can not reside on one prime piece of real estate.  The size of these creatures can vary greatly.  I have seen a few that measured a full 4 inches long, while the majority were quite a bit smaller.  They are quite proficient hunters and will even use their “hands” as spears to impale and pluck their pray out of the air.  Grasshoppers, flies, moths and crickets are their favorite foods, but every once in a while, they will score a butterfly, hummingbird or another mantis.

As I wander though my gardens collecting seed or pulling weeds, I am always on the lookout for fascinating creatures.  In a normal year, I find many beneficial friends and usually discover something “new”, as well.  My son (who just turned two) is beginning to notice very subtle differences and details and will be ready to “hunt” with me next year.  I can’t wait!!

As always:

The Garden that is Finished is Dead

WHAT IS THAT?!?!

Summer is finally here! There are so many things to do outside in this wonderful weather. Hopefully you will enjoy yourself and toss a bit of gardening into your schedule!!! As you are in a meditative state, you may happen across one of the following fascinating creatures:

First up is the Wheel Bug, which is not meant to be touched. This little critter, while not aggressive, can be defensive if disturbed. He is a beneficial insect, dining on critters who will do harm to your prize plants.

 

Now this next little fellow should be left completely alone, as well.  Commonly referred to as the Velvet Ant, it is actually a wingless wasp. Many refer to this one as the “Cow Killer” as the bite/sting is definitely something you won’t soon forget.

 

 

This next item is completely harmless. You may, from time to time, find fungus or mushroom plants growing in items made of old wood. It is entirely unnecessary to attempt to remove them and they may not even come back every year. If they add interest, then you are lucky for the season!

You may or may not have seen this little contraption before. This is a mantid egg case which may contain lots of baby Praying Mantis who are hungry and ready to munch on your plant destroying insects.

Now…is this a hummingbird? It flies like one, hovers like one and feeds like one….must be one. Actually this is the Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth. They are fascinating to watch and it makes me wonder if they are less noticeable to predators when they perform every action like a bird.

Finally…I know you are thinking “What IS THAT!?” Well, believe it or not, almost exactly what it looks like (at least in name). This is called Dog Vomit Fungus….actually a slime mold you may find growing on the surface of your mulch. Rather harmless, actually, just highly unsightly. Starting out bright yellow, it will change colors dulling to a brown blending in with the surroundings. At this point it is full of spores ready to fly through the air and settle into another neighboring area.

Happy Gardening!!! And remember……

The Garden that is Finished is Dead