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Posts Tagged ‘Insects’

Did you used to devour Highlights magazine at the doctor’s office when you were a kid? Still do? Me, too. One of my favorite things was always finding hidden objects and finding the differences between two pictures. Today, I offer the opportunity to enjoy the second challenge … find what’s different. Here’s the first photo taken earlier today:

And here is the second photo, taken a few years ago:

Okay, take away all the baking stuff. And the poinsettia. And the Poland Spring bottle. What’s different?

I’ll tell you. In the top photo, the toaster is wrapped in a plastic bag, whereas below, it’s au naturel. In the top photo there is a glass jar with a very snug lid holding cat food, and below there is a lovely tin canister with cats on it. Why the change? Ants. Yes, it is ant season — those little black ones which, one at a time, are pretty cute, but when having a party in Jazzy’s dry food bowl? Not so cute. For now, her dry food is upstairs, but when I see them on the toaster? All bets are off.

I am a clean person, especially in the kitchen, but now? I am obsessively clean. I do not like having to keep my toaster in a plastic bag. But I also do not like killing creatures of any size. And even though I sadly say `Sorry’ each time I snuff out one of their little lives, and even though I spray vinegar in certain areas and in certain patterns to make them stay away, have edged the kitchen with white light, they still find a way in. I am now resorting to additional – and more lethal – methods.

Still, it bothers me to kill them. I save every little being I can and take it outside – under a plastic deli container and on a piece of cardboard – out they go. I live in an 1890’s house, and although it was newly plumbed, wired, sheet rocked, etc. it was not given a new floor downstairs. The worn floor boards are an open invitation – literally – for insects to come in. Whenever I might move, I’m sure the new people will be mystified by so many oddly placed pieces of duct tape. There’s a reason for that, people, trust me. Leave them there.

My biggest save was a wolf spider that appeared in my downstairs bathroom – she was huge. I asked her to please not move (yes, I do talk to them), while I got a bigger deli container. She stayed right there while I put it over her and carefully slid the cardboard underneath. I went outside and headed for the river. She was not happy and jumping inside. I don’t know if my telling her it would be OK in a minute helped or not, but I was doing my best. Over the grass, over the old tracks, down an incline and there was a huge pile of leaves and twigs. I figured that would give her a head start. I tilted the cardboard towards the leaves and gently lifted the container. As I’d hoped, she ran forward, and in a millisecond, had camouflaged herself perfectly. I took a deep breath, came home, and went searching for that opening with my roll of duct tape. (Please note, for those of you who are squeamish, that I have spared you a photo of a wolf spider. (For those interested, check here.)

Would I could do that for the ants. I tell them, `if you want to live, stay outside.’ Maybe some listen. But for the rest? Sorry. Really, I am.

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Finally! Work subsided sufficiently that my blogging brain returned and I knew what I was going to write for a post as soon as I got the chance. But in the meantime, something else happened.

 

In the afternoon, the western sun bathes my office and upstairs bedrooms in warmth and light. Great in cooler weather, not so much in the summer. Anyway, about noon or so each day I go upstairs and open all the windows facing that way so as to soak up as much heat as possible to stave off the chill of the cooler autumn evenings and nights. In the back bedroom, Claude was soaking up that sun on top of a piece of furniture, too, but seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was being closely watched!

Then he realized … it moved! As I moved with my camera, the praying mantis got into prayer/attack position and rotated his head to keep an eye on me. Claude was interested only when he moved, which I suspect has something to do with an animal’s depth perception or ability to comprehend something on the other side of both screen and glass.

These creatures are so bizarre looking, but so fascinating. If they are symbols of good luck, which has been said to me, then I ought to be in for one big bucket-o-luck anytime soon!

Claude, below, not quite knowing what to make of this slow-moving creature. (I’ll get to that other post real soon. This was too good to pass up!)

 

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As I opened my front door this morning, I noticed a visitor between the door and the porch railing. At first I didn’t see him as he was camouflaged against the naturally weathered wood of the decking. He turned to look at me.

“Never mind,” I said. “You keep going and I’ll water the plants a little later. No rush.”

He took that quite literally. It was about an hour or so later that he finally made it to this side of the railing. I knew if I’d gone out when I planned, he would have been stampeded by next door’s two cats who would be eager to see me. The plants could wait.

My neighbor came over to gift me with three gorgeous peppers from her garden, and then, having gotten my camera, we admired the mantis. While we were talking, Pumpkin, one of the cats, came over to see me, brushing by the praying mantis without even seeing him. The poor guy was in total defensive position, front legs straight out and apart and trembling all over. What amazes me about praying mantises is that they don’t get out of harm’s way; they face it head on. Considering their size, that’s pretty brave.

After being petted, Pumpkin went back to lie in the sun and the mantis continued to watch me. I sent him good energy and assured him he had nothing to be concerned about. He soon tucked himself under the railing and began stalking some insect, his front legs in the prayer position, and moving so slowly it was barely perceptible. I went around to the outside of the porch for another photo. He turned that triangular head to me and resumed the defensive position.

“Bring it on,” he said.

“Only with my camera, little dude,” I replied. So after a couple shots I turned away and so did he. I’m sure he calmed down and resumed his hunt.

Here’s why the praying mantis is so fascinating –

  • The strike for their food happens in 1/20th of a second. You only see a brief blur.
  • They have exceptionally keen eyesight and can rotate their heads 180˚!
  • They catch and hold their prey with their sharply serrated front legs and usually eat them head first
  • They are carnivores, and in addition to a staple diet of insects, also eat small frogs, lizards and even small birds
  • There are 1800 species of praying mantids around the world; 20 of them live in North America
  • They are very beneficial in that they keep the insect population down, so if you see one, admire, appreciate, and leave him there.

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Even before the leaves surrender their greens for red and gold, there are other changes afoot – creatures prepare for the coming winter, some rallying in their final efforts to survive before their lives slowly wind down to a natural end.

Each year in this house I watch an orb-weaving spider weave a large and complex web over the top half of a kitchen window.

It doesn’t seem a very auspicious spot, as her prey would need to be flying through the web to the glass not even a half inch behind. Yet each year, through some species memory I can’t possibly understand, a spider builds her web here. She catches an occasional small insect, and each night rebuilds her web. With temperatures becoming chillier and less prey about, she becomes weaker from lack of food. With less silk to spin, her web becomes less detailed until at last, the strands are a broken tangle of fine thread, a shadow of her once articulated masterpiece. And then she is gone.

I found myself watching her, in quiet awe of her determination to survive in spite of the reality of colder nights and imminent death. Some lesson in life for me, no doubt.

Perhaps a week or so after the spider’s web had disappeared, a seemingly small monster – from this side of the glass – cast a large shadow in the same window. A Chinese praying mantis. Where had he come from? Last year, a green praying mantis hung out all season on or around my office window, where we had several conversations and a few photo shoots. But I’d never seen the larger and brown Chinese mantis since I’ve lived here. He did his monster shadow for the morning, and then flew about my front and side porches in the awkward way they do, like a helicopter with a broken blade. No doubt he was scouting out a last meal as well. He, too, soon disappeared.

As we moved into late October, anticipating Halloween, temperatures dropped, moisture gathered and froze, and suffocated the clinging leaves, dropping trees like so many sticks.

It was unexpectedly beautiful, but deadly, and the sudden snowstorm rolled long nights over the state, especially in my area. Halloween evening arrived and bundled children with chilled parents came from other towns to ours; they still had no power, but happily, here we all had our porch lights on, tombstones eerily lit, and plenty of candy.

I took a drive around my area the following day, where the severity of the damage was evident. It looked like a war zone. Barricades and closed roads were everywhere, but so much worse was the devastation of the trees. Magnificent elders had split and cracked like twigs, graceful limbs lay on the ground. It was heartbreaking.

And then, another sign of determination – the leaf which will not fall.

Many of the taller shrubs and a fair amount of surrounding trees still have quite a bit of their leaves. This tree? Only one stubborn leaf remains. I wonder did he win a contest this year with some other now-fallen leaf who could finally hold on no longer. Or is he a tall scout, updating the lower shrubbery on how advances the autumn. Or perhaps he’s simply the last man standing.

And then this morning … a thick autumn fog. It couldn’t have looked more lovely, an invitation to be lost for just a little while. I could have stayed until the sun shone through. But such is not my life.

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As the sun and the earth dance through the Equinox, summer exhales and shares her final gifts.

LastRose2
The last perfect rose of summer blooms, defying the empty, withering stalks of Hosta and drying grass.

Grasses2

The tall grasses in the backyard bloom in bursts of sunlit wheat.

MantisOnWindow2

The praying mantis I’ve been getting to know, mated, and the next day climbed high up on my office window. That evening she captured and devoured a large moth in the same spot, her last meal. Thereafter, she remained low, near the water spout. I watched, as each day, she became a paler brown and atrophied before my eyes. I thought to take one last picture of her, but could not be so disrespectful as to photograph her as her tiny life faded. In 3 days she was gone, her work on earth completed.

LastPetunias2

Despite the temperatures already dipping into the 40’s and 50’s at night, my potted petunias and torenia continue to glow in the afternoon sun, holding their beauty `til the end.

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PrayingMantis-OnStep

This morning as I opened windows and doors for the wonderful fresh air, I noticed a small-ish bright green fellow (or lady) on the top of my side porch stairs. It was clearly a young praying mantis, so I very quietly went to check her out. She is about 3″ long, which makes her still a youngster, and in the way that only a praying mantis can do, she rotated her head, watching my every move as I viewed her from every angle without getting too close as to disturb her. Time to get the camera!

PrayingMantis-PumpkinBy the time I’d come back out, Pumpkin, the orange cat next door, was coming over to say hello and see what was happening, and was now right next to the praying mantis. I figured the mantis was a goner, but Pumpkin was totally oblivious to her presence. What was more amazing was that the mantis, while watching Pumpkin’s every move, (she’s actually looking right at him in this photo), only made one tiny move herself. It was quite easy to catch a couple photos after which I quickly lured Pumpkin to my back door and away from the mantis.

Now I know we’re not talking suicide wish here, but I have to imagine there is a sort of instinctual or inbred mantis bravery in maintaining one’s position in the face of a “monster” so much larger. I also understand the concept of camouflage in nature, but have to wonder … does a young praying mantis not yet know that they’re not exactly blending in?

So after Pumpkin had gotten bored and had exited the porch via the back steps, I switched to close-up mode and returned to snap a few more shots of my very photogenic subject.

PrayingMantis

p.s. I just checked, and sunning herself on the side of the house is the now almost glowing, bright green praying mantis . I expect looking for a more suitably sized meal than Pumpkin is on her agenda.

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