Crawly critters

I am grateful for my lack of furry critters making use of my garden as their market. We have rabbits and deer in our neighborhood, but they haven’t found my garden to be worth the fence-hop. As for the community gardens, I can only assume they don’t like the busy roads on two sides.

I do get quite the surprise sometimes when it comes to the crawly critters. Awhile back, it was the caterpillar bigger than my middle finger. This time, it’s a few things.

Like this thing. A cicada shell. They’re currently peppering tree branches and leaf piles throughout the neighborhood.

Each board is two inches wide. It’s head is to the left, bent under. That horizonal line moving from left to right was the middle of its back, before it split the shell to escape in it’s new, bigger, shell. (Cue flashbacks to the movie Alien if you’ve seen it, I have not.)

I found this shell when chasing down a tree roach that leapt from the earth I was digging, just fast enough to make me jump before I saw what it was, and race off.

(Backstory: I grew up a tomboy. I liked lizards and spiders. Grasshoppers were fun. I claimed a daddy-long-legs in my bedroom corner as my pet when I was five. I went searching for earthworms and snakes to discover under boards in the pasture. I woke up once with a mouse on my shoulder, staring me down from four inches away, and was fine with it. And then I moved to Texas. The grasshoppers here make me jump. (They’re HUGE!) The lizards are more colorful (and plentiful) and I finally encountered a bug that just *got* to me. I finally understood the visceral reaction so many have in response to spiders, or snakes, or any other oft-feared creatures. I had encountered my first tree roach.)

I’m not sure of their actual name, but imagine a cockroach, that gets about three inches long, and FLIES. Then imagine it hosts a demeanor of an attack missile. Sometimes when you come upon one and startle it, it will actually run away. Other times, it will come AT you. It’ll get stuck in your hair, hang onto your shirt, and otherwise make you dance around hitting yourself like a maniac only to leave you with the creepy-crawlies for the rest of the day.

I mean…

Not familiar with a tree roach? This was the best photo I could snag of the fellow.

Or, for easier viewing, I found a funny post by another Texas-transplant here – with much better visual aids.

And then there’s the Case of the Creepy Sweet Potato. Fiber issues? Drought issues? Bug issues? What’s your guess?

We’ll finish this Creature Feature with a wonderfully ancient-looking caterpillar. It reminds me of both The Neverending Story, Chinese dragons, and Alice in Wonderland. Have you guessed yet?

It’s the happy-looking Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar.

See that charming smile?

I put him back on the potted orange tree where I’d found him. DH says he’ll be evicted if he takes more than his fair share. I went to check on him a few days later to discover that he had a new little friend of the same kind, and he himself had more than doubled in size.

In my brief reading to research this caterpillar, it became obvious that they like citrus trees. Why he and his brother selected the orange over the lime, I couldn’t say. Mimosas over margaritas, perhaps?

What looks like a squash bug, but maybe isn’t?

Imagine a squash bug. Or a giant stink bug. Or a huge box elder.

Paint it mostly brown.

Give its rear legs some leaf-shaped bits.

Stretch its antennae really long and make them light yellowish for the ends, with two thin dark bands further back along the brown lengths.

And a light stripe short-ways across its shoulders.

Any ideas?

(I wish I’d had my camera!)

A leaf-footed bug (leave it to me to complicate things by thinking it would have a less-obvious name!) I really don’t have the stomach for crunching bugs still. I wonder if I should just start carrying soapy water in a jar every time I visit the garden? Like Bob’s goldfish Gill, in a jar around my neck? But then I’d end up with dead bugs in a jar around my neck…and that’s a little weirder than even I need to get.

I’ve lately found the perfect time of day to go snail-hunting in the garden. It’s about two hours after that side of the house goes into the shade that the snails move out for their dinner, but it’s not yet too dark to see them. I have a giant old honey jar full of soapy water and pick them up and drop them in. They particularly like the section of garden with my beets and carrots. This last trip out snail-hunting, I noticed something new – on the far side of the bed the snails had forgone a tasty meal of carrot tops and beet bottoms in favor of an old dried up squash vine. Those snails, I left alone. Sure, they may move over to my carrots and beets tomorrow, and if they do, into the soap they’ll go, but until then I’m happy to let them turn dried up vine into snail poop.

What else I learned? Be sure to empty the snail soapy water when you’re done. Rotting snails smell something awful after boiling in the afternoon heat the next day!

Another battle I’ve decided not to wage? The caterpillars on the broccoli.

I sowed some Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli late last September. It’s been about four feet tall since January. It didn’t beat the cauliflower in the race to make heads to eat. Even though it was called “Early” I gave it the benefit of the doubt and waited. And waited. And here we are nearly in July and still – no broccoli. (I did notice the seed catalog I purchased it from has since renamed it “Purple Sprouting Broccoli.”) So I figured that if I wasn’t going to get to eat any broccoli, the least I could do was let the moths have at it.

There are probably a hundred caterpillars on it at the moment, and while it may make more sense to pull the whole thing and throw it in the compost bin that’s baking away, it’s made a miraculous improvement in my chard leaving it there as fodder for their hungry little mouths. So I thought I planted broccoli. Early broccoli at that. What I actually planted was some architecturally interesting, purple stemmed caterpillar food. I’m at peace with that.

Just like I’m at peace with the fact that each year a monarch caterpillar (or three) feast upon my potted parsley. It grows back, and I’m not eating it right now, so why shouldn’t they? And isn’t it just amazing how of all the plants in the yard, in the neighborhood, in the world, that there are some insects that only eat one plant – and that they find enough of that one plant to survive? It’s impressive and fascinating.