Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Eventful Gardening Day

Call me crazy, but some weeds are just too pretty to cull. I haven't bothered to look up what this one is. I know it grows pretty tall (sunflower height) and has heart-shaped leaves and seeds long with pretty cup-shaped, buttery-yellow flowers. And that's all I care to know about it for now.

Tomato hornworm on tomatillo sprig, with tomatilllos.

We found a large hornworm when watering this morning. It is now living in a giant emptied peanut butter jar with holes in hopes that it will metamorphose inside said jar. Then I plan on murdering it and mounting it for display.  Honrworms turn in to sphinx moths; this one is the kind that would metamorphose into a Five-spotted Hawkmoth.

Cucumber beetle on stevia plant. 
I spent an hour or so engrossed in mass-murder of squash bugs and cucumber beetles. They're pretty; the cucumber beetles, that is. I really hope these ones aren't carriers for bacterial wilt or my hopes for more zucchini are toast. 

Male mantis on stevia plant. 
Not all the critters I find on the garden plants are bad. This guy got an impromptu spray-bottle shower after I had accidentally doused him in insecticidal soap. Luckily he didn't get a strong enough dose that he keeled over right away. I sprayed him with a mist of water until I figured he was dripping enough that all of the soap has washed off. I had also found a tiny (~0.5cm) brown mantis with fuzzy-looking protrusions coming out of its sides earlier in the day, but I didn't have the camera on me and by the time I went and got it the wee one had vanished.

Male mantis on stevia plant.
I actually did not know straight away that this little guy was actually a guy. After my attempted mantid-slaughter and his subsequent shower, he wiped droplets of water off his eyes, drank them, and then was then On. A. Mission. He had some place to be whether I was there bothering him with spraying devices and snapping photos or not. It wasn't until after he jumped (Did you know mantids could jump? I certainly didn't!) from one plant to another that I saw some movement further to the left in my field of vision and figured it out. Did you know mantids could jump? I certainly didn't!

Female mantis on stevia plant.
And here is the destination. Can you see her? She immediately stopped moving and swiveled her head around to face me as soon as I moved to photograph her. I'm fairly certain she's the little 1" long mantis a friend spotted while here visiting a few weeks ago, just all grown up. I am surprised, actually, that I did not get the mantis threat display as close and intrusive as I was with this photo.

Female and male mantises on stevia plant.
It was not a jovial meeting and he has his work cut out for him if he intends to actually procreate instead of becoming her dinner. They were both half-way into threat displays when I took this photo. Admittedly, my first thoughts when I saw there were two praying mantises in my stevia plants were along the lines of "ohemgee this is going to be epic; one of them is going to eat the other" and "mantids: nature's snuff porn professionals."

Male and female mantises on stevia plant.
I can watch certain insects for hours at a time; including mantids, large beetles, and all sorts of bees. I don't know exactly what it is about them, but they are fascinating enough to me that my normally gnat-short attention span is no more. It was not unknown for me to be up to 45 minutes late for a class or appointment at uni because I came across some utterly hypnotic invertebrate. I stuck around watching these two for over an hour before the sun had set far enough that I could no longer see. I was hoping I could witness the inevitable in person, but with so little light and a multitude of hungry mosquitoes devouring my bodily fluids it was not to be.

I'm hoping to find an ootheca (fancy word for a type of egg mass) somewhere in the stevia in the near future so I can help protect it and hatch out more beautifully hypnotizing carnivorous insects to set loose in my garden and yard. Yes, I play favorites and no, I'm ashamed to admit so. Hawkmoths would be killed and gruesomely mounted; mantises sheltered and freed.

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