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.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The beauty in the beast

A hunting we will go....a hunting we will go, hi ho the derry-o, a hunting we will go.
If you are hunting snails (and I have been), then you want to do so fairly promptly after any reasonable amount of rain has fallen.  Snails turn out in droves when the world is wet, rendering it easy to pick them up and off various surfaces, to either relocate them to an area where they will do no harm to your most coveted plants, or (ahem! cough!) alternately to utilize a beer "bath" to reduce their numbers.

Some might consider snail hunting an unpleasant task, but I do not.  Call me crazy but I've been enjoying my snail hunts immensely.

Snails are so much easier to capture than the grasshoppers I'd been hunting previously.  If I don't find many snails I feel great, because, hey!  My efforts to knock down their numbers are obviously working.  If I do find lots of snails then Yay!  I'm spending my time well and accomplishing what is clearly a necessary task.  As long as I am snail hunting rather than, say, weeding, I'm a happy gardener.

A side benefit to snail hunting is finding hidden treasure. When I'm paying close attention to everything happening from ground level traveling up some two feet or so?  I discover a lot that I'd ordinarily miss when taking the longer or more elevated view.

Case in point?  This is a time of year when we have a lot of annual cicadas caroming around. There are four or five types commonly found in our area, each with a slightly different song. They bounce into walls and fences and at times even people, sometimes rendering them a bit insensate.  The bugs, I mean, I've never known one to harm a human.  A couple of years ago this cicada slammed into me and fell dazed to the ground at which point I picked it up and took this photo.  A few seconds later it recovered and flew noisily away.
Please focus only on the insect and we'll just ignore that pinkish alien looking hand for the moment, yes?

These insects raise a great racket as the weather warms, but in doing so they have become what many consider to be an essential part of the Central Texas summertime sound track.  The designation for their genus, Tibicen, comes from the Latin for flute-player or piper.  (Some entomologist out there had a very wry sense of humor.)

Due to their speed and erratic flight paths it is somewhat rare to get a good look at the insect itself.  What Texans are much more familiar with are the discarded exuvia, or abandoned exoskeletons, skins the nymph sheds after it emerges from up to eight feet underground, to take its place as a mating adult.
These beastly discards are to be found everywhere this time of year.  Visible signs that an adult annual cicada emerged, dried its exoskeleton, and noisily moved on.

That's why I was excited out snail hunting today when I discovered a newly "hatched" adult cicada, clinging to its recently shed exoskeleton.  As the insect's exterior hardened off and dried out, the coloration became more distinct.  Aaaaand as is usual with identification, I immediately ran into trouble trying to narrow the field for this specimen.  It is clearly an annual cicada, a Tibicen, and past that?  Your guess is probably better than mine.

No matter what specific type it is, here's how it looked this morning when I first spotted it at 9AM:
Mostly green.  Then I went back to check in on it at 11:30:
Now the darker patches are becoming more distinct.

It was still close to the same spot at 2:30 in the afternoon and had likely achieved what to a more discerning eye than mine is its distinctive adult coloration.  By 4:00 PM it had flown away.
In their more voracious nymphal stage these insects can cause tree or crop damage if present in large numbers but the adults don't feed.  They are only interested in one thing:attracting a mate to reproduce which for the cicada means sing-sing-singing, all day and all night.

Cicada mating songs are a familiar and dare I say even comforting aural backdrop to summer in Austin though I'd be lying if I didn't admit there are some hot humid afternoons when I wish they'd just shut UP! Just for a moment.

That said, I'm grateful to the cicada's more silent garden partners, the snails, for getting me out and forcing me to pay attention after last night's rain. Without the snails I would have missed the entire show today and that would have been a shame, don't you agree?  In their own very noisy way, annual cicadas are about as beautiful as they come.  And that is something worth singing about.


Tina said...

Incredible photos of the cicada shedding its skin! Wow! I haven't heard many this year and like you, I think there's just something so...Texan about having them hum in the background. Mostly after the rains, my garden has mosquitoes--lots and lots!

TexasDeb said...

Tina: Luck of the draw and I owe it all to the snails.

But boy oh boy did I get chomped while taking those photos yesterday. Our garden has a bumper crop of mosquitoes this year as well but since they seem to be following unexpected rains I'm trying to keep my complaints mostly to myself. Mostly....

Linda/patchwork said...

Great shots! And, interesting.
Yes, that sound says 'Texas Summer'.

We have a bumper crop of mosquitoes over here, too.

TexasDeb said...

Linda: Thank you! I was so happy for the rain but now - the mosquitoes! I hate to sound ungrateful but caramba. Every time we go outside we get eaten alive.