Saturday, August 6, 2016

Garden Visitors

Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver, the other gold. Old friends, I'm assuming, are golden, new ones silvery.

We've had both kinds in the yard in recent months: recurring visitors I expect to see each year and would worry about if they did not show up, as well as unexpected sightings of life forms I may have heard about -- or not -- but haven't personally encountered in our garden.

One old friend, seen last April, was truly golden:

The golden tortoise beetle makes infrequent appearances; only once or twice before have I come upon one. Evidently they like to chew on members of the morning glory family, such as the ubiquitous and ineradicable bindweed, so be assured that this year's little fellow is finding plenty to eat. It's said they will change color when disturbed, shifting from shiny metallic gold to a flat orange with spots to fool predators who know how tasty they are but will avoid unpalatable but similarly shaped lady bugs. I guess this bug trusted me, as he stayed shiny on my palm.

I don't think I would worry if the golden tortoise beetle did not appear one year; but I would greatly miss his cousin, the lady bug, scourge of aphids and other bothersome guests. Fortunately, lady bugs seem to like our garden and are regular patrons. I've heard that they are attracted by brassicas and it's true that in the spring of 2015, when we had an especially abundant crop of broccoli, two beds worth, plus another bed of kale nearby, we also saw an explosion of the lady bug population. They were everywhere; I had to brush myself off before coming into the house. This year is back to normal with fewer brassicas and only occasional bug sightings, such as, in early July, a lone lady resting on some lady-like Queen Anne's Lace.

Another strikingly patterned orange and black visitor, the notorious harlequin beetle, has been appearing in the last couple of years in early spring. It also seems drawn by brassicas, especially the cover crop mustards I started planting in the same time period. Although it has a bad reputation for sipping juices out of a wide range of garden plants, dining on stems and leaves as well as fruit, weakening and discoloring plant tissues as it goes, I haven't noticed a lot of damage beyond a few holes in the mustard leaves.

What to say about a new bug found this year in the dried up, two-year-old fava bean pods, saved for cover cropping? In late March, when I dug into the bag of old pods and started shelling out the beans, I noticed some little beetles scurrying for cover. I also noticed lots of little holes dug into the fat tawny seeds.

One of the pods yielded up a pale, translucent, tiny worm, no doubt the larval form of this new insect.

It did not take much searching online to identify these bugs as broad bean weevils, a type of beetle and member of a family of weevily critters who feed on dried legumes and grains. The adults lay their eggs on the surface of pods or seeds, then the larva burrows down into the seed and consumes what it needs before pupating in place. The hatched adult crawls out of the little seed tunnel hollowed out by the larva and the beat goes on.

The bugs were indeed feasting on my fava bean seeds, but as everything I planted sprouted and grew without problems, I nonetheless count them as new and interesting friends.

Old or new, silver or gold, it's always a treat to encounter the many varieties of life forms that abound in our backyard abundance.

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