More than meets the eye…

Wow, y’all! After our 2.5 inches of rain last week, it’s been HOT and MUGGY (welcome to the south in the summertime), and the plants have responded to the moisture with wild abandon! We got another inch of rain yesterday, and the gardens are really beginning to hit their blooming strides. The black-eyed susans, Coreopsis, Echinacea, bee balm, borage, calendula, cosmos, four-o-clocks, squash, peppers, tomatoes, and yarrow are all bursting with color and pollen. It’s flower power all the way. So, the bees and butterflies and other insect critters are happily foraging among the bounty.

During the past few days, as I headed out to the yarden to check for pests and do some upkeep, I found myself sidetracked more than once (indeed, for hours) by the many insects among the foliage. Until you really stop to observe, focusing on a single plant or leaf for awhile, you don’t realize just how much is going on right under your nose – or leaf! So many cool critters…

I spotted the first pesky Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) of the season on June 6th – a full week before they typically arrive. Sneaky little buggers… when approached they will play dead then drop to the ground (where it’s near impossible to find them) or fly away. Since these beetles do a LOT of damage to plants in a very short time, I try to capture them in a jar of soapy water to reduce their numbers. I’ve learned to hold the jar lid above them and the jar below so they cannot escape my soapy trap. It’s a labor-intensive control method, but it gets me out in the gardens early each day and gives me a good excuse to inspect every plant thoroughly for any problems. It also allows me to spot a lot of other very cool insect interactions among the leaves.

This katydid nymph (the Seek app identified it as an “oblong-winged katydid”) was hiding in the aromatic asters, nearly invisible until I got close enough to it, looking for other bugs. I love the very long, stilted back legs in two colors and the green eye. Best that this one stay hidden or it might become food for all the birds trying to parent babies right now!

I first saw only one of these pink spotted lady beetles (Coleomegilla maculate), but as I followed its movement I saw it hop onto a second beetle. Clearly this amorous pair had plans. I’ve noticed a lot more of these smaller, pinker, more teardrop-shaped lady beetles around this year than last year. They move quickly and hide under leaves as soon as they detect a threat (i.e. me). So I was lucky to finally get a photo of these two. They feed on aphids, other insect eggs, mites, and more – a welcome beneficial insect to have around the gardens.

Several zebra flower longhorn beetles (Typocerus zebra) have been hanging out around the yard, often on flowers, but this time hiding among the shade of the leaves. I have watched them feed on nectar and pollen among the flowers. I’ve found very little about the natural history of these beetles on the internet, so if you know something about them, please share! They sure look cool.

We have so many different kinds of bees around the yard and garden that I wonder if I’ll ever be able to identify all of them. When I was growing up, I always called this small (1/4 inch long) bee-looking insect a “sweat bee”. This is NOT a bee, however. This is a type of hover fly or flower fly (also known as a Syrphid fly) that mimics a bee. It has one of the coolest names – a Margined Calligrapher (Toxomerus marginatus). Notice the single pair of wings (not two pair like bees have) and short, stubby antennae. They are everywhere in the garden right now because they feed on the nectar and pollen of flowers. Another beneficial insect for pollinating my garden plants, their larvae also eat aphids.

A welcome sight, this parasitic wasp on a squash leaf. One of over 200 species of parasitic wasps, it lays eggs inside host (pest) insects, and the hatched young consume the host insects from the inside out. Sounds painful for sure. I’ve heard that these wasp behaviors inspired the movie Aliens. They help control aphids, cabbage worms, potato and cucumber beetles, and dozen of other potential garden pests like the sawfly larvae pictured below.

This sawfly larva on our buttonbush is a pretty thing but can damage plants. I’ve seen them regularly on my precious young elder trees, and nobody messes with my Elders!

This prominent moth caterpillar follows the leaf veins as it munches through the green leaf of this redbud. They do little damage in small numbers, so we leave them alone and enjoy watching them grow.

The past few days we’ve seen more and more cabbage white butterflies flitting around the backyard and gardens. As their name indicates, their caterpillars love to eat cabbages and other cruciferous vegetables. I’ve given up trying to grow broccoli because of the damage they do to the food plant, but I love seeing the butterflies in the yard, and so far our cabbages are holding their own.

One morning I found a spider and a beetle on the same pawpaw leaf. Each appeared to not know the other was nearby. I wonder if they ever met up and what happened if they did.

This leaf-footed bug was sunning on the leaf in our pollinator garden. The aptly-named bug has piercing-sucking mouth parts that pierce a hole in the plant leaf, seed, stem, or fruit and suck up its juices. They are not numerous though and do little damage to the plants in our garden.

Long-legged flies like this one are abundant and busy. They are predators to thrips, aphids, and spider mites. I love watching them walk around on their long legs, which they seem to do much of the time in spite of their ability to fly. Apparently these long legs are important. The male long-legged flies strut around showing off their limbs during elaborate courtship rituals when in search of a mate. They actually produce some pretty cool shadows in the early morning light, as you can see below.

This is just a sampling of the living relationships that grace our garden ecosystem. So much activity going on all the time and often hidden from plain sight. I’m grateful for all of them and glad to help provide habitat for such an amazing and diverse bunch of cool critters.

What are you seeing in your gardens these days… Or what is hiding from you?

P.S. this is my 500th post on EndlessSeeker. Wow…

2 comments

  1. Wow so much great information and beautiful photos, thanks! We lived in NC from 1983- 1988. We are now is Canton, SD living on a farm until we retire. Planted my biggest garden ever this year 25 X 25. Any suggestions for Squash Vine Borer? They killed my plants last year when we lived in town. Always looking forward to your posts/emails!

    • Hey, Robin. That’s great! What a big garden. Squash vine borers killed my squash last year, too, but this year I made sure that the plants had plenty of space, stayed well supported, and I sprinkled bacillus theragensis (BT) around the stem near the soil as a deterrent. So far, they are doing well. I’ve also read that you can wrap aluminum foil around the stems near the soil, too, as a barrier. Good luck. Let me know how it goes! Thanks for reading and sharing.

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