Friday, August 20, 2010

Backyard Bullies

As summer winds down, we are finishing up gardening projects and planning new ones for spring.  On Monday I will return to the classroom where my duties there will take most of my energy—good energy. I have solved one garden mystery: identifying a bug that has inundated my flowerbeds. Over the summer I have found dead insects on my zinnia heads. It seems as though the little critters just went to sleep on the spot and never woke up. I wasn’t too distressed to see dead miller moths, but then I began to see dead little bees, and finally a dead painted lady butterfly and then another dead one. Thinking the first butterfly had just reached the end of her life’s cycle, I brought her in the house to perhaps preserve, but then I found another. On a walk through the vegetable garden one afternoon, I watched one painted lady furtively flapping her wings and then fall to the ground dead.

There are many varieties of assassin bugs. Essentially, they are lethal predators in the flowerbeds Not harmful to the flower, they are deadly to other insects—both the good and the bad. After a bit of research on how to control them, I realized that I would just have to live with them. One entomologist wrote that a garden has its own ecosystem and once we tamper with that ecosystem with chemicals, we upset that balance and could end up with worse problems. So I will live with the assassin bugs. Over all the years of gardening I have resisted using any insecticides because I never wanted to destroy the good guys—bees, butterflies, lady bugs, the rare praying mantis (here, anyway)--, so now in this new garden spot I will just have learn to tolerate the assassin bug, the backyard bully the gangster.  In Colorado (and in my garden) we have the Ambush bug (Phymata), a deadly preditor, that lives especially on yellow flowers, where it waits in ambush, or it patrols the petals looking for victims. They kill their prey by pouncing on them or grabbing them with their front legs and then piercing them with a sharp, pointed mouth. Like or not, I guess I will just have to tolerate them.

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