Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cleaning up the world - one piece of excrement at a time.

On my walk last week, I glanced down and saw something that stopped me in my tracks. Two black  beetles were crossing the street while pushing a giant ball of – wait for it – dung.

“Darn it, where’s my camera when I need it?” I asked my faithful companion, Iris the dog. Her answer was a impenetrable glance, which I interpreted as “Well, you’re the blogger – it’s your responsibility” or maybe “Don’t look at me – I didn’t eat it.”

Being the technology maven I am, I whipped out the cell phone and snapped this picture. And being a cell phone picture, it does not tell the whole story. You will have to trust me that there were two beetles involved.

I first thought these two beetles were working cooperatively to move the ball back to their larder. Very impressive! Of course, ants work cooperatively, but I was surprised to see the beetles working in tandem.

But upon closer examination, I decided something else entirely was going on. One of the beetles was pushing the ball, while the other was clinging to it, riding round and round, scuttling like a lumberjack on a log to keep from being brushed off or crushed.

I imagined the conversation:

“Hey, this is my ball of dung! Leggo!

“No, finders keepers, it’s mine. Get off, it’s mine!”

“It’s mine! Stop pushing! I won’t let go!”


Or maybe this is the explanation (from Wikipedia):

The dung beetles roll and bury the ball for food or for a "brood ball." If for the latter, a male and female beetle will roll the ball. Usually the male rolls the ball and the female hitches a ride or follows along, but sometimes they will roll together. When they find a place with soft enough soil, they bury the ball, mate underground and prepare the ball; then the female lays eggs inside it. The ball provides food for the offspring. Some kinds of beetles will stick around to safeguard their young.

Oh. Apparently it was foreplay.

"Rainbow scarab," a dung beetle,  
Phanaeus vindex MacLachlan 
(Coleoptera: Scarabeidae), male (horned) and 
female. Photo by Drees. From
According to Texas A &M, there are a number of “tumblebugs” in the subfamily Scarabaeinae. Not all of them roll dung, some just burrow down in the dirt under poop piles.

Did you know that dung beetles dispose of 80 percent of the cattle droppings in some parts of Texas? These are beneficial bugs: since they reduce the amount of animal feces, they also reduce habitat needed by “filth-breeding flies.” I think we can all support that.

So if you see a beetle rolling a ball of poop along in your path, please don’t disturb him. He’s cleaning up the world, one piece of excrement at a time.

Favorite spot in the garden:

The day flowers  (Commelina erecta) seem to be at their peak right now. This patch is along (and in) a walkway near my porch – perfectly sited for viewing and appreciating! Day flowers bloom in the morning then close up, blooming for just one day (hence their name). They can be invasive, but aren’t at my house; perhaps because, according to the Wildflower Center, they prefer sandy soil, which I do not have.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pretty, pretty.

I don't have a lot of these morning glories blooming now;
but the ones that are - are striking!

Well, it's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day again, and boy, do things look better around here than last year. In fact, I am a day late posting because we got an inch of rain yesterday - hurrah!

It has been a tremendous year in my area for Indian blankets (Gaillardia pulchella). I would show you a lovely picture, only they don't grow on our place! We have a few this year that popped up from seeds thrown a year and a half ago. Maybe they will spread seeds, and their offspring will be ready the next time perfect conditions arise.

Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum) taking over the septic drain field
Horsemint (Monarda citriodora),
also on the drain field.

Even without the gaillardias, the wildflowers are lovely here. As is usually the case, the flowers are best over the septic tank, with thistles, horsemint and Mexican hat taking center stage. I mowed out there a couple of months ago - but you would never know it. With the rain, however, we have things blooming in other places, too!

Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera)
does well here.
Lady Bird's centaury (Centaurium 
texense) named for our beloved
Lady Bird Johnson.

Blackfoot daisies (Melampodium leucanthum)
are still blooming!

Dahlburg daisies (Thymophylla 
tenuiloba) are not native here,
but have naturalized in my yard.

Day flower (Commelina erecta) with rain lilies (Cooperia sp.),
naturally occurring in a flowerbed.

I hope you've enjoyed my blooms! Now head over to May Dreams Gardens to see what is happening in other gardens this month.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Farewell, trusty helpers.

I am mourning today the loss of . . . my favorite gardening gloves.

You have served me well, you lovely, spring green gloves emblazoned with the word “GARDENER” across the knuckles. You fit so well, and remained at the ready for any task, large or small, over the last few years. How will I go on? Something vital will be missing from my garden endeavors. I fear I will be less productive, and I hope that my garden will not suffer as a result of this tragic loss.

Yes, I have a picture of my garden gloves - what of it?
How could such a thing happen, you ask? Every gardener knows she must guard and protect her precious helpers.  Alas, I was careless.

After working on the gardens at our neighborhood club on Monday, I removed my trusty gloves and placed them on the hood of the Beast (my SUV). I know, I know, I hear your indrawn breaths of horror. I think I retrieved them from this dangerous spot, but . . .

When I arrived home I realized I could not find my friends. I searched in the car and in the house, to no avail. My daughter and I revisited at the club, and then scoured the roadside to see if I had indeed left them in that terrible place and they had blown off – again, to no avail.

Maybe they have run away and are hiding, in retaliation for my carelessness in placing them – even for a few moments – in such a dangerous situation. If that’s so, and they somehow hear about this post, I say to them, “I’M SO SORRY, SO SO SORRY! PLEASE COME HOME! I NEED YOU!”

Perhaps you think I am being melodramatic. I assure you, this is not the case. I don’t know about other gardeners, but my garden gloves usually do not last long:  the fingertips wear out or they split between the thumb and first finger.  They are too large or too small; too heavy or too thin.

These are the perfect gloves. I bought them at that behemoth W**M*** - not normally where one finds fine gardening tools. I bought a first pair, and they lasted for much longer than other gloves. Several years later, I found another pair there – only one – and brought them home. We have been very happy together, these past two years. They were aging, like me, but still (like me!) had some good years left.

Now they are gone, GONE, I TELL YOU.

I’ve not been able to find the next generation at the behemoth, nor on the Internet. If I could find them, I would buy a dozen and hand them out at Christmas to those who would appreciate such paragons. (If you are rolling your eyes at my histrionics, and muttering “Good grief,” you are not on that Christmas list.)

I hope you don’t think I am being heartless in my speedy quest to replace my old and trusty friends.  It is the sincerest form of appreciation, knowing that my life will not be the same without these companions.

And after all, they are just gloves.

Favorite spot in the garden:

It’s raining as I type, a slow gentle rain tapping on the tin roof. I have finished planting (except for two silver dianthus). All of the new (and established) plants are bedded down out there, soaking up the good rain and enjoying a respite from the beaming rays of the sun. My favorite spot today is all of my garden and property, happily sucking up the good rain. I can almost hear it happening over the  drumming on the roof!

You see here my highly sophisticated rainwater collection system. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Enter the ravenous hordes.

Variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia).
These beautiful creatures really love
violas, and have stripped mine bare!
In a previous post, I wrote about the butterfly brigades conducting maneuvers at our house.  Since then, we have spotted more types of butterflies here, including monarchs and a new one for me:  variegated fritillary.

A little later, a light bulb illuminated the dim recesses of my brain:  all these butterflies are probably laying eggs, and caterpillars will follow.

Sure enough, we started seeing the larval forms of the butterflies. Unfortunately, we don’t really know one caterpillar from the next.  Also, unless you really lean over and peer, you won’t see most caterpillars.

So the little darling and I decided to go on a caterpillar hunt one evening. I grabbed Butterfly Gardening for the South, by Geyata Ajilvsgi, which contained a short list of larval food plants. Smarty that I am, I thought I could look at plants listed there, find caterpillars, take photos and positively identify our visitors. Easy, right?

This is either a monarch (Danaus plexippus)
or a queen (Danaus gilippus); a strategically placed leaf
conceals whether it has the third pair of tentacles of a queen.
It is happily dining on antelope horns, a native milkweed.
Unfortunately for me, the list that I remembered as short was in fact pages and pages long. Instead, we checked some plants we knew we had seen caterpillars munching on, and looked up some others that looked tasty to us. We were wrong on some of those, as indeed, we are not caterpillars and probably don’t have the same taste preferences. (I will note that a caterpillar of some sort really likes the Swiss chard, which I also like. My daughter would note that Swiss chard is disgusting.)

Eight-spotted forester moth larva
(Alypia octomaculata) enjoys
Virginia creeper for dinner.

The genista moth caterpillar
(Uresiphita reversalis) is a pest
 on Texas mountain laurel,
but I saw only a few this time.

These photos portray some of our findings from that evening and other outings. We saw some interesting ones when we had no camera, one of which was white with long hairs and very, very cool. And of course, a number of the caterpillars are moth larvae.
This bristly fellow is possibly
a giant leopard moth
(Hypercompe scribonia).

Our fascination with caterpillars is not universal. I hear and read fellow gardeners lamenting the onslaught of caterpillars decimating precious plants. Our main casualties have been the aforementioned chard, and the Johnny-jump-ups, which have been completely stripped of foliage.

Mystery caterpillar. Any ideas?
For me, the joy of having masses of butterflies in my garden far outweighs the dismay at the damage their larvae can do.  They are welcome here any time

 Favorite spot in the garden:

The lantana are are dry enough that they continue to bloom, and are beautiful next to the artemisia. The Mexican feather grass in the rear self-sowed serendipitously and forms a graceful background, providing movement to the grouping.  Behind the grass is our lovely little native prairie Brazoria.