insects

The Meaning of a Whole Ecosystem

This well-written and devastating feature in The New York Times Magazine, “The Insect Apocalypse is Here,” is worth reading. You might cry, though.

In conversation, sometimes, a student will wish mosquitoes away. I tell them that mosquitoes are an important part of the food chain for a number of species, and that while I, too, would like to be mosquito-free, we must understand that we are one small part of a whole. We may soon manage to become the whole, though, through chipping and choking everything else out. This article is about the decline of all insects and the overall functional extinction of many species - and our often unnoticed acclimation to it all.

Beautiful Moths

Spanish as a language doesn't have a real equivalent to the word "moth."  In fact, the most commonly used option is "mariposa nocturna," which means nocturnal butterfly.  I kind of think that's a little unfair to both moths and butterflies, though, as I believe there are many that are so visually distinct - not to mention behaviorally - as to merit a different category, not just a subcategory.  So yay, English, for giving us both!

I've been seeing a much wider variety of insects (and, really, of animal life in general) on my porch this summer, and the moths have been one of my favorite parts!  Here are a few I'd like to share with you.  In order from first to last in the slideshow, they are: the honey locust moth (or the bisected honey locust moth) Syssphinx bicolor or Sphingicampa bicolor, a looper moth (inconclusive regarding the exact species given the closed wing position), a looper or a common oak moth Phoberia atomaris, a white-dotted prominent moth Nadata gibbosa, a common gray moth Anavitrinella pampinaria, and a fall webworm Hyphantria cunea.

Finally, A Beneficial Insect Predator!

I mean, I love my spider friends, but come on - there are predatory insects, too, and yet I haven't seen one aside from wasps this whole summer around my plants... until now!  Perhaps my favorite one just showed up on my back porch: the praying mantis.  Guard away, comrade.

More Porch Insect Visitors

While most of the insects I observe in and around my plants are pests, they nonetheless possess a wide range of forms and colors that are always interesting to me.  Here are three of the latest visitors - a spotted cucumber beetle, a white planthopper, and a caterpillar who appears to be ready to turn into a chrysalis after having nommed on my Uncarina roeoesliana.  Speaking of plant visitors and pests, I will shortly be hauling all of my houseplants inside; this migration every fall always includes the accidental transfer of a couple spiders and tens of stink bugs.  I've already transported one stink bug inside when I brought a couple plants in for a particularly cold evening...

Summer Beetles

Speaking of houseplants, since most of mine summer outdoors they get frequented by a lot of insect life.  Many are non-descript, most are difficult to photograph, but occasionally I manage to digitally capture a few!  These two aren't ones gardeners particularly want to see, but hey.  They were there, I was there, my camera was there.  Behold the green june beetle, Cotinis nitida, and the Japanese beetle, Popillia japonica.

Eastern Comma Butterfly

I've been walking around more than usual lately due to the beautiful fall weather, and I happened across this gorgeous Polygonia comma basking on some dead grass on the edge of my neighbor's lawn.  Leavenworth is in the western part of their habitat, which covers most of central to eastern United States.  Its coloration seems very seasonally appropriate.

Polygonia comma Eastern Comma Butterfly

Aphids Are Born Pregnant (Unless They're Not Born At All...)

Did you know that most aphids are born pregnant?  I was thinking about this odd fact since my sempervivum collection (colloquially known as Hen and Chicks) had an aphid infestation due in part to the unusually wet late spring here in Kansas.  Luckily, neem oil has so far discouraged the little ladies from successfully hatching their next two generations.  Below is a close-up of one the several sempervivum species I'm keeping in a rail planter on my porch.