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Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.



Monday, May 18, 2015

Bug nuts

It has been raining here, quite a lot, in amounts unusual even for May in Central Texas. The good news is the oak pollen is not only off the trees, but has been washed away well out of breathing range for those of us sensitive to its grainy gifts. The not as good news is, with all this rain, the garden has been too soggy for me to knock all the leftover chores off my list.  There is one job I have not neglected, rain or shine.  Pest patrols simply will not wait for good weather.

It is caterpillar season, and though I gave up trying to properly identify most of what I found creep-crawling around the garden in between rain showers, I feel certain each of these caterpillars knows just what to do, what to eat, and exactly what it is shaping up to become.
Chevron Striped Whatchamacallit
TeeWeeny Tiny Yellow Thingie
Sphinx Moth Cat on Fennel
In one of those contradictions that seems to define my gardening efforts, though I keep parsley and fennel around precisely so they can be eaten by the caterpillars of moths and butterflies I admire, I was not at all satisfied with leaving certain other larvae alone to decimate their targeted plant hosts.

An infestation of Colorado Potato Beetle larvae was alarmingly sudden, but fortunately close enough to the house to trigger my awareness and ongoing response.  Once I realized the numbers I was dealing with, the soapy bath of death came into play, and I am optimistic I put a significant dent in this large but very localized population.  I don't grow potatoes, but have been known to toss a sprouted tuber into the ground covers out back for the occasional flowers they provide.  I'm not sure if one of those vines pulled these bad players into our beds, but lesson learned.  I won't be so careless with future spud rejects - they will all go straight into the compost bin.
Colorado Potato Beetle Larvae - two different hatches
In larval form, I found their lumbering shapes and varying sizes, each representing a differently timed batch of hatched eggs, to be oddly appealing. The damage they cause is not appealing at all however, so I made repeat visits back to the area where they first appeared until I couldn't find a single one of any size.  I'm pretty sure I'll reflexively check for them everywhere until the shock of their showing up by the dozens fades.
Another unwelcome (though admittedly attractive) visitor is this Aztec Spur-throated Grasshopper, first instar stage.  When they are this tiny I try to catch and squish, but they are lightning fast and this little guy escaped to eat another day.  Seeing him I know there will be more, many more, so grasshopper patrols have been duly reinstated for the season.

A new (to me) visitor recently was this master of mimicry.  A Large Maple Spanworm Moth took refuge on the tiles close to our front door.  I was out sweeping leaves away from the house and it would be hard to say who was more startled.  Me, when the leaf I was sweeping literally flew across the porch, or this nocturnal moth, who figured it had secured a good spot to wait out the return of night.
Pretty good camouflage.  Once I saw it fly I could easily tell it apart from the oak leaves, but up until then it completely escaped my notice.

Of course if I'm going to feature creatures that blend in, there's no escaping including these photo bombers.
Nobody here but us heartleaf skullcap leaves, boss.

Begging your indulgence, I must include what is for me an obligatory Honeybee on Opuntia blossom shot.  Rain or shine, the flowers on the spineless opuntia are putting on quite the show this year.  Given any reasonable break in the cloud cover, the bees are quick to take advantage.
And who could blame them?  I find even the tightly wrapped buds attractive.

Finally, the Poppa and Momma mockingbird who set up shop across the street have successfully fledged at least one baby this year.  They have relaxed just a little, finally allowing most regular street traffic to pass unmolested.

There is one particular male squirrel that seemed to take pleasure in being chased, going out repeatedly and keeping a fairly precise distance ahead of his pursuers.  Days of rain seem to have interrupted the antics, but I have a feeling this bird and that squirrel have formed a chase challenge bond that will be playing out all summer long.
The mockingbird and I, we are keeping a close eye out for trouble makers of all sorts.  Vigilance, that's the key.

20 comments:

Tina said...

Bad players, indeed. There seem to be an excess of them this spring, owing I suppose, to our wet weather pattern and plenty of available munchies. I haven't had the potato beetle, but another food-named one, the cucumber beetle. Not in droves, but on many different plants and inflicting damage.

I must admit that I'm impressed that you can actually catch your Aztec Grasshopper--you have quick reflexes, lady!

That moth--just, wow! I love that kind of camouflaged insect. I guess they love it too.

My neighbor has opuntia and she always informs me when they open because "my" bees are there, enjoying the bounty of the blooms. Great anole shot, btw!

TexasDeb said...

Tina: I don't "catch" the aztecs so much as try to anticipate their leaps, ricocheting them into a soapy water bath. Grasshoppers are an ongoing challenge, year to year. I attempt to keep the numbers low enough that I can stand to look at the foliage they enjoy eating SO much.

The anole was a bit of a surprise, thank you. I didn't see him until he moved. As to bees on opuntia - they get so focused, often hanging in the air before diving in to the blossom itself. My first half decent bee shot was under those circumstances and I just can't pass up the chance to get another.

Kris Peterson said...

A brilliant collection of photos. It's hard for me not to have some sympathy for these bad boys of the garden who've adapted so well to their environment but I understand the antipathy of the gardener. I imagine your emotions are similar to mine when viewing evidence of yet another raccoon incursion.

TexasDeb said...

Kris: I'm content to co-exist with many plant eating creatures, but take issue with the ones that inundate a particular plant and strip it bare, especially those that are known to be agricultural threats.

At least with the bugs, I can attempt to manually remove the offenders. I can't imagine what would happen if you tried to dunk a raccoon in a soapy water solution! : )

Debra said...

What a fun post to read! I like the names you have given to your caterpillars. All this rain promises good things like lots of fireflies and dragonflies but it has also meant some problem bugs are here in big numbers. One of my neighbours at the community garden has beetles. LOTS of beetles ...
(That leaf moth is amazing!) And thanks for the photobomb laughs. Pretty cute.

TexasDeb said...

Debra: Thank you! I can get so frustrated trying to identify some larval stages, it is better to let that go some days and simply admit defeat. And, have a little fun with that, you know, because why not?

There are beetles in record numbers, for sure. I'm despairing a bit about even keeping up. And the mosquitoes have already sampled my entire family. And oh - fleas...I don't even want to think about it!

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

Right now I am battling the lily beetle new to our garden and quite the decimator of many plants...usually most unwanted and even wanted pests are taken care of by the birds and frogs...the mosquitoes are my nemesis right now...big and swarming in large numbers...

TexasDeb said...

Donna: Birds/lizards get first (and sometimes only) crack at most of our bugs, too. These potato beetles were munching on vines and crawling up on a deck close to our rain gauge in a spot I can see from where I'm seated. There was no way I was going to let them set up camp right under my nose!

The mosquitoes are awful here already. Local bats and birds must be VERY happy. And, full!

Jenn B said...

I sure do love those sassy mocking birds! You should have continual summer entertainment with him and the squirrel. :)

Linda/patchwork said...

Seems we have the same names for some of these creatures....Thingie..Whatchamacallit.

You do make them look better than they are, with your photos.

Always love the Anoles.

TexasDeb said...

Jenn: Thanks for dropping in. Mockingbirds have long been a favorite of mine and they are always putting on some sort of a show, year 'round. If this bird-chases-squirrel routine keeps up, I hope to get a good photo of their antics before summer is over!

TexasDeb said...

Linda: Well thank you lady, I'm happy you enjoyed the photos.

I'm one of -those- people, bad with names, but I rarely forget a face, or how the bugs looked that ate an entire vine in one morning...

Rock rose said...

Keen observations. Especially the leaf impersonator. I have never seen one of those. At least never observed one. Nor have I ever seen the Colorado potato beetle. I did grow potatoes last year but none this year. I saw a harlequin bug yesterday. That struck fear in me but then I should have been worrying about the attack of flea beetle. Annihilated my pink primroses. Wonder if they will move on to something else. But the biggest problem of all are chiggers and fire ants and they are after me. Today I am wearing long pants with socks over the top. Another soggy day in paradise!

dryheatblog said...

That's an interesting moth, able to hide like that!

Hopefully your lakes don't fill up too much, so more than 110 people / day move to ATX. At least your area has a land and conservation ethic, though...not in the desert SW, except Tucson and a few other pockets.

TexasDeb said...

RockRose: Flea beetles are giving my primroses fits this year as well. I noticed them last year and tried to knock a lot of them into soapy water, but it only takes a few mating survivors to repopulate. Fire ants are awful - so aggressive! And chiggers (shudder)...I have nightmares about those from childhood. They were always part of summer in Austin, part of every park and lake experience. We used to swear by the fingernail polish patch trick for their bites. : )

TexasDeb said...

DHB: Our lakes are not the ones getting the most rain - that is still to our east (and north and south). Yes, what I am saying is that everybody all around us is getting more rain than the Highland Lakes. It isn't time to start shopping for tropical plants quite yet....

Pam/Digging said...

Constant vigilance! It is certainly a most buggy spring, one downside of all the rain. Unless you're a bird, in which case it must seem an unbelievable feast.

TexasDeb said...

Pam: It is as if Nature is one of those insistent hosts who keeps ordering another (and another!) round of drinks for Central Texas.

I hope folks won't use these rains as excuse/rationale to keep water thirsty landscaping elements in place. We may be soggy at the moment, but I don't think anybody is ready to declare Texas out of drought troubles just yet!

Rebecca Newcomb said...

I love your Large Maple Spanworm moth and the Sphinx moth cat! Such cool lookin' little critters. Unfortunately, the bug that is ruling my yard right now are the fleas. Every time I go out to the garden or my dogs run outside, we are bombarded by the little pests. The vet said it was a really bad year for them with all the rain we've been getting. My dogs and I are not too pleased that we'll have to put up with their nuisance for another couple of months. I MUCH rather have the bugs that are filling your garden.

TexasDeb said...

Rebecca: Ooof. I hear you on that score. We haven't owned a dog for years and our cats are all inside-only so I guess a lot of our resident fleas moved on to more highly populated territory. (You'd think the fleas all would have drowned by now...)

I'm not a habitual bug spray user, I more typically dress to avoid mosquito access and/or limit my forays outside once I begin to be inundated, but this year all that may change. It feels like all I have to do is LOOK outside and mosquitoes show up right at the doors! At this point I'm just hoping it will also be a banner year for frogs, bats and swallows!