Tag Archive | Insects

A Voice for the Unloved

My long-time readers know how much I love ants. I think they are they greatest insects. And while we don’t ever want to go overboard and say, “Oh heck, ants are just like us!,” it’s true that if you want to compare a bug to human beings, ants are not a bad bug to start with and here’s why: they live in communities (that’s what those anthills are all about); they have defined roles (did you know that there are such things as “nurse” ants, “forager” ants and “soldier” ants, for example? In other words, ants have jobs to do just like we do!

And ants are pollinators as my long time readers know. They pollinate all sorts of spring wild flowers. But many of you have probably reaped the benefits of ant pollination in a more practical sense–I know I have.

If you grow grape hyacinth (muscari species) ants actually pollinate those. Ever wonder how or why they suddenly show up in strange places you didn’t plant them? You can thank the ants.

Ant pollination occurs in a rather unusual way. Certain plants have a structure called an eliaosome attached to their seeds. This structure is rich in lipids and proteins and attracts the ants, who pick up the seeds for these eliaosomes.

Once they carry the seeds back to their nests, the seeds are dispersed and the plants are transported–and in the process, pollinated. Pretty fascinating stuff.

I am not going to ask you to put up with ants all over your kitchen. Even I don’t do that. But please, if the ants are outside and safely away from your home, please let them be. This very active ant hill is on the edge of my driveway,  bothering no one.

And speaking of that, on Monday, we’ll talk about bees!

Wordless Wednesday–Hibernation?

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I always talk about leaving leaf litter and brush piles so insects can over-winter.

We recently installed a new garage door opener and it has a keypad on the outside of the door. This milkweed bug apparently thinks the keypad is going to make a nice sheltered place to over-winter. I don’t necessarily disagree .  I took the photo and shut it back inside safely .

Space Invaders

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No, this is not some weird, pixilated version of fall foliage. It’s actually a great shot of a window screen with, of all things, one of those pesky fall invaders that are just looking to make a nice home inside your home.

This is the Western Conifer Seed Bug, a leaf footed bug (see how its back two feet have what look to be sort of protuberances on them? They are designed to mimic leaves).

This bug is an invasive species in my part of the world but other than finding its way into homes, it doesn’t seem to do a lot of damage where I live–it’s not like the Emerald Ash Borer or the Asian Longhorned Beetle both of which actually kill trees.

And once they’re inside, they seem to be fairly dumb and slow for a bug. This is one of the ones I always catch and throw outside for the birds. Then again, I’ve never stopped to ask what bugs think of us?

Wordless Wednesday

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These days, I can’t even park my car overnight without having a spider make a little home for itself.  I’ve remarked before that I know the seasons are changing when I start seeing all these spiders all over. There’s a huge one out the back door of my screen porch. It’s body and legs together are larger than a silver dollar. That’s one web–or worse yet, spider–I don’t want to encounter accidentally.

This actually looks almost like a double web.  There’s one web that stretches from my car to the outer edge of the mirror, and a second that stretches from the lower right hand corner to the upper. I didn’t notice that when I originally took the photo.

Either way, I always feel bad when I have to get in the car and drive. The morning I took this photo, I used the passenger door so that I could alert the spider that something was happening. I went into hiding behind the mirror. I never noticed what happened to the web, but I am sure it was gone by the time I got to work.

These spiders will be around until the first hard freezes. And then, if it warms back up, many of them will be around until the snows. We’ve had a lot of foggy mornings so far so I fear we will have a snowy winter. But that will mean the end to this punishing drought at least.  There are always blessings. I just have to try to remember to tell myself that when it’s snowing!

 

Wordless Wednesday

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I found this peculiar moth on my front door (which is why the photo is so strange–I was photographing the moth on the glass).

It took me 3 days to identify it, which is unusual for me. It’s called the Beautiful Wood Nymph. One of its host plants is Virginia creeper so it’s very clear why it’s at my house.

Many commenters remark that because the moth folds its wings when resting, it looks like bird poop. I think it looks just lovely!

The Good Guys

I said a week or so ago that it wasn’t really the Dog Days of summer at my house  but rather the “bug” days. So anything that helps me with bugs in the garden is a good thing by me.

 

20160722_104502This time of year, the spiders begin taking over everything.  And as much as I hate that (I used to have true arachnaphobia. Just the mere mention of spiders would be enough to give me goose bumps!), I am smart enough to know that these relatively small critters are my garden friends  (and no, we don’t generally have the  venomous type here. It’s  generally too cold ).

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So I have learned to make my peace whenever I see spiders outside  and to even avoid watering their  webs. It doesn’t help–the webs generally are back the next day. Or in a few scary instances,  it drives the spiders inside.  Why would I want that, when they should be outside catching bugs?

I can even appreciate the difference between the orb weavers (the traditional spider webs), the sheet weavers, (spiders that make webs on grass or shrubs), the funnel web weavers (like a sheet weaver with a funnel). The ones that I am still not quite happy about are the ones that don’t make website and just jump on their prey. I mostly just stumble upon them in the garden,  and while they do their best to scurry away,  I still wish we hadn’t crossed paths to begin with.

Overall, I no longer scream when a spider and I cross paths although I might still jump. Thank goodness for both the spider and the neighbors.

 

Bug Magnets

If you go to the tab at the top of the blog header that says introduction, you can read a little bit about me. The second paragraph says that my first paying job in horticulture began at 11 years old when I was paid $1.00 a week to deadhead my neighbor’s yard full of petunias.

Mind you, this was in the days of the old-fashioned petunias–the kind that still had a scent, got you covered in sappy goo when you deadheaded–and in fact, still had to be deadheaded or they wouldn’t re-bloom.

Now, with all the fast growing new varieties like supertunia™ and of course the one everyone knows, the Wave™ petunia, deadheading is a thing of the past–unless of course, you are a sucker like me and still buy the old-fashioned,  scented petunias.

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But every year I swear that “this year will be my last!” Because as much as I love them, for me, these lovely, scented petunias are bug magnets!

I mentioned this at a lecture this spring and I got a lot of blank stares. So I think this is a bit of a regional–or perhaps even local thing–at least here in Connecticut. Yet whenever I post about it, I get a lot of hits on the post. So I know a lot of you out there share my pain.

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This year, I hadn’t even owned my pot for 2 weeks when it began to look like this! What are these things? At this point, they’re a little small to see, but there are caterpillars, pretty much the same color as the foliage of the plant, eating into the buds and pretty much ruining all the future flowers.

They go by the name petunia bud worm. And lest you think that’s all they affect, they also like geraniums (at which point, they become called geranium bud worms).

They are the larva of a nondescript moth, the tobacco moth. Apparently they also affect caibrachoa (million bells) which explains why my million bells are starting to show tiny holes and of course nicotiana (the flowering or ornamental tobacco) plants.

To get a better look at a more mature version of these critters, you can see my post from a few years ago here. But apparently, they are becoming pesticide resistant and once they are in the bud even Bt is not terribly effective.

My answer–rather than to load up annuals with a bunch of pesticides–is to just compost the plant. However, perhaps I should trash it instead. Maybe I am unwittingly maintaining the problem on my own property.

But, I think the answer is simpler than that: no more petunias or million bells for me. No plants means no bugs!