Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lots of Spots and Aphid Tater-Tots

Suddenly, everything is bright lime-green in the garden. What a little sunshine will do for a place! It's so shockingly new-growth-green now that it makes your retinas vibrate. Scattered on all this greenery like sprinkles on a cake are bright red lady beetles galore. The whole place is looking like a kindergartner's drawing of a garden rendered with a brand-new box of 64 Crayola crayons.

I was easily distracted from more tedious gardening chores by these little beetles, which of course led to more discoveries of the entomological sort because the ladybugs were generally near clusters of green aphids.

Which I think are absolutely adorable creatures despite the fact that they can ruin your plants by sucking the life out of them or transmitting disease. They're just so round and fat and cuddly looking.

And lime green.

Soppy, I know. But I'm not alone. Some animator on the creative team of A Bug's Life thought much the same thing when he or she created a pet for the queen ant:

Not that I bear the aphid-eaters any ill will. I'm glad they are there to take care of keeping the aphids in check. And I loathe the dark aphids that cluster on the vegetable plants and nasturtiums . These little green guys are fewer in number and are like little families out for a picnic. The smaller aphids are hooligans who bring everyone they know and leave litter on the picnic grounds.

OK, I'm trying to justify why I am fond of the tubby lime-green aphids, but by now you must think I'm mad, so let's just move on to lady beetles, shall we?

Here is one that I spied on a vibernum in the back yard. It is probably a multicolored Asian lady beetle, a species introduced decades ago to control fruit-tree pests and is now widespread. It comes in so many patterns that it's the beetle equivalent of "tastes like chicken." This one had an interesting pattern on its back, what with that sploodgy marking in the middle:

This spotless one was tucked headfirst in a campanula out front and wouldn't show its face, so it was impossible to see the pattern on its pronotum, the shieldlike area behind its head. But it could be a multicolored Asian lady beetle, too:

And there was this one perched on a feverfew, who's probably also a (fill in the blank):

While ladybug-spotting, I came across this delicate little insect, which I thought at first was a species of lacewing. Lacewing larvae are as voracious when it comes to aphids as lady beetle larvae are. Some kinds also imbibe the honeydew excreted by aphids. And the females considerately lay their eggs near herds of aphids so their offspring will have plenty to eat upon hatching. But now I'm not so sure. It looked sort of aphid-like to me, not as slender as a lacewing. Sure enough, a bit of sleuthing turned up the information that aphids sometimes develop wings when conditions on a plant get overcrowded so they can pull up stakes and move elsewhere. So now I'm leaning toward this being a flying aphid.

OK, so after blathering on about aphids, what do I find forming a clump of deadness on the stalk of fresh broccoli I took out of the refrigerator this evening for dinner? I'll give you one guess. Let's just say it lends credence to the oft-quoted statistic that by law it is perfectly OK for there to be up to 60 aphids in 100 grams of frozen broccoli. Meaning you can sell it that way, not that very small police officers storm through the garden and do head counts of aphids on broccoli plants and close the vegetable garden down like a fire marshall would shut down an overcrowded theater. I actually don't care if I ingest an aphid or two. I just don't want to know about it.

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