Ladybugs – One of the Good Guys

Think you know your ladybugs?  They are a welcome guest in the garden, and the reasons are many.  They are a friendly beetle and help battle the bad vermin who feast on the plants of our gardens.  Here are a few things you may not know about ladybugs.

ladybug-on-stem

What do the spots on a ladybug really mean?

Many people believe that the number of spots on a ladybug represents how many years the ladybug has lived.  The spots are actually a defense mechanism that warns its predators to “don’t eat me, I don’t taste very good”.  Ladybugs live through 2 or 3 summer seasons, so those spots really have nothing at all to do with their age.

They can’t all be girls, right?  So what’s with the name?

According to National Geographic – Kids, the name “ladybug” was coined by European farmers who prayed to the Virgin Mary when pests began eating their crops.  After ladybugs came and wiped out the invading insects, the farmers named them “beetle of Our Lady.”  This eventually was shortened to “lady beetle” and “ladybug.”

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What do ladybugs eat?

Most people like them because they are pretty, graceful, and harmless to humans. But farmers love them because they eat aphids and other plant-eating pests. One ladybug can eat up to 5,000 insects in its lifetime!

What’s that?  Did this bug just pee on me?

I remember capturing ladybugs when I was young, holding it gently in cupped hand, singing to it to fly away fly away home.  Then looking and realizing there was a yellow liquid on my hand.  When threatened, the bugs will secrete an oily, foul-tasting fluid from joints in their legs.

ladybug-on-dew

Do ladybugs have any natural enemies?

Birds are ladybugs’ main predators, but they also fall victim to frogs, wasps, spiders, and dragonflies. Ladybugs lay their eggs in clusters or rows on the underside of a leaf, usually where aphids have gathered.

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L is for ladybugs . . . but don’t fly away yet!  This alphabet challenge is almost half over!

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B is for Butterfly Garden

 

Being the great avoider of housework that I am, I’ve managed to find yet another way! Pokemon Go® – I’m searching for a Butterfree.

butterfree

Butterfree

In the meantime, I’m planning to address a very neglected part of the yard this summer.  Overgrown dumping ground will become a Garden for the Butterflies.  After the monarch attempt a few years back, I’ve been thinking of ways to attract them to my garden on their way to Mexico.

There’s a  small garden center in Unity, PA called Friendship Garden that specializes in native plants.  I learned about this place a few weeks back when our garden club speaker, a master gardener from the Latrobe Area, informed us.  He encouraged native plants, but at the same time, did not criticize our love and hopes with the exotic tropicals we adore.  Native plants have formed symbiotic relationships with native wildlife over thousands of years and therefore offer the most sustainable habitat. A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction.

Some plants that attract the pollinators include Purple Coneflower (echinacea), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Butterfly Flower (flor de mariposa).

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My big plan was to start these from seed.  I still may, but upon careful inspection of the directions on the packet, my plants won’t be blooming this summer.

Coneflower seeds that would have naturally fallen from the flowers in the fall would have a much better chance, as these seeds should be planted 12 weeks before the ground freezes.  Ditto with the Butterfly Weed.  There seems to be some hope for the Butterfly Flower.  I will be starting them all, but will have to be patient for the bloom show.

I was able to snag 2 milkweed plants from the Friendship Garden.  I’m hoping that the Common Milkweed will attract monarchs.

Now for the work of clearing brush, moving rocks, and creating the space.

Here’s hoping all this work gets done before my plants die!!

B

 

 

My B entry for the blogging challenge from A to Z.  Trying hard to keep it up, wishing I had started these entries in March, not going to make excuses!  Keep on blogging!  I think I can, I think I can . . .

It’s a Wild Life

I’m going to take it as a compliment that wildlife seems to be exploding in my yard this year.  Just a few weeks ago, my wisteria became a temporary housing development for a family of robins.  I can’t believe how quickly this little nest of eggs became a little nest of baby birds.  And they are on their own, not 3 weeks in total.

Last evening I was out tending to a border along my fence when Willis discovered a family of baby bunnies right on the edge of the lawn.  I had no time to teach him to be gentle, that these little creatures were not playtoys.  They did sound like little squeaky toys.  I prefer never to hear that again.

It’s not unusual for rabbits to make their homes right out in the open like that.  The more I thought of this location, the more I realized that predators usually won’t attempt an attack right out in the middle of a yard.  At least that’s the excuse Mr. Google gives for this seemingly careless choice of location, Mama Bunny.

It was surprisingly well hidden right in plain sight!

This isn’t the first time that Willis has brought my attention to some bunny friends.  However, mama moved that nest shortly after his last discovery, or so I choose to believe.

Speaking of that wisteria, I really need to get that vine under control.  Here’s hoping there’s not another family hiding within!

Postscript:  Our little family of bunnies got flooded out of their home shortly after this post was penned.   Thanks to our local Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for the quick call back (on a Friday evening, well after regular hours.  These people are the best!)  They guided us through a rescue effort, and I know that we did all we could to provide these little guys shelter until the Mama Bunny came back to take care.  We tried to save them, but Mother Nature had other plans.

 

Holey Hosta Leaves, Batman!

Out in the yard last evening, finishing up some mulching, when I took a look at the gerber daisy that Brittany had planted.  The leaves were looking suspiciously lacy, and I spotted 3 large slugs enjoying the lovely plant.  Smaller slugs were attached to the centers of the flowers.  I quickly plucked them from their dinner and threw them on the street.

We have had a lot of rain lately, and the ground is pretty wet.  Perfect conditions for my least favorite garden creature.

How do you control slugs?

I have heard of a few remedies, but the first one that came to mind last night was beer.  My dad used to set out small butter dishes of beer to trap slugs.  So I found a small shallow dish, dug a small hole next to the gerber, and filled it half way up with beer.

Slug Bait

Heading to the watering hole . . .

This morning, I discovered six large slugs had drowned themselves in yellow gold!

There are other methods to controlling slugs, but I can honestly say I have never tried them.  When I looked for info on the topic, Mr. Google shared a few methods that make sense.  Here are a few:

  1.  Keep a dryer garden. Well, no kidding.  Let me just confer with Mother Nature on this one.  However, in dryer times, limit the watering to early morning.  That will give the ground and plants all day to dry.  Those slugs come out at dusk and dine through the night.
  2. Spread mulch from certain plants that deter.  Oak leaves can be shredded with a lawn mower and used as mulch.  Something called wormwood tea is also a good deterrent.  From what I gather, you can brew dried leaves and flowers from the wormwood plant and spray the ground and foliage of slug-favored plants.  Wormwood is used as a remedy for parasite worms, so I guess this makes sense.

    wormwood

    Wormwood (photo credit – DavesGarden.com)

  3. Copper strip barrier – form a ring out of a thin copper strip and place it on the soil around plants that are susceptible.
  4. Sprinkle salt directly on any predators you see.
  5. Coffee grounds, coarse sand, seaweed meal all have properties that repel these slimy pests. These items create an uncomfortable path which makes slithering impossible.

Every year I vow to control slugs before they ruin my hostas.

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And every year, I’m reminded that I waited just a bit too long.

 

 

 

Monarch Lessons

Ryan is taking a field biology class at college this semester.  He’s majoring in business and marketing, but I wonder if he wonders if business is the right area for him.  He’s loving his field biology class.  I personally wish he would have explored the natural sciences before now.  He’s (hopefully) in his last semester at school.

He brought home a monarch caterpillar in a small plastic container, with a lid that had a little screened opening on top.  We are all captivated, watching “Milly” grow.  She eats SO MUCH, in fact, it seems that for a solid two weeks, that’s all she did.

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I did not know before this little experiment that monarchs eat only milkweed.  I have to say, I remember lots of milkweed growing along the roads when I was young.  But I don’t really see much of it now.

The caterpillars know how to prepare the leaves by chewing a hole in the main vein so that the sticky milk stops flowing.  It’s pretty sticky, and I’m not sure how they don’t glue their mouths shut!

Milly chewed through the two leaves of milkweed in less than 2 days, so we had to take a little trip to the campus where Ryan showed me the milkweed that grows there.  We collected enough food for the next two weeks.

Last Tuesday, Milly (now a good solid 2″ caterpillar) decided to climb to the roof of her house, spin a catch, and hang from the lid.   She stayed up there overnight.

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The next day, Ryan was watching her and says he left the room for a brief 15 minutes, but when he got back, Milly was no longer a caterpillar, but snug away in her cocoon!  How exciting!  I only wish Ryan could have witnessed this small event.

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It’s crazy how these creatures just naturally perform their metamorphosis.  How do they know what they are doing?

So now we wait for Milly to emerge as a beautiful butterfly.  The cocoon is very pretty – it almost looks like there are glistening gems on the outside.  I’m not sure how long this will take, but we await the arrival.

I can’t wait for her release.  I wish I could tag along on her migration to Mexico for the winter!

Post script

Well, this past weekend, Ryan went to visit some friends in Ohio.  And Milly decided to meet the world.  It was such an extraordinary thing to watch.

On Saturday morning, the cocoon looked black.  Not knowing what had happened, I asked Mr. Google and sure enough, the metamorphosis was beginning.  It was either that or the dreaded Black Death.  Don’t ask.

Darkening

Darkening

I took the box outside to get some better light, and we could see the very definition of a monarch butterfly wing, all curled up and ready to explode out of it’s tiny house.  I took some pictures to send to Ryan.  I was so upset that he was going to miss this.

In the sunlight

In the sunlight

That night, we returned from our outings to find an empty cocoon, and Milly was laying at the bottom of the box in a pool of red liquid.  This did not seem good.  And indeed it was not.  

Milly’s wings never did open fully.

a butterfly at last

a butterfly at last

From what I’ve read, very few monarchs evolve successfully.  And Milly did not beat the odds.  It seems that she was supposed to spend more time hanging from the cocoon, and her fall from home was much too soon.  That liquid pool that she was laying in was supposed to be pumped through her wings.

This little butterfly will not be making it’s way to Mexico.