Aliens in your garden

    This amazing weather we’re having has been making me want to bolt outside and attack some job, any job in the garden.

    I’ve been feeling cooped up lately and it seems like I’m not going to get my mojo back until I can start getting outdoors on a regular basis. Once I’m out there, gloved and ready, the truth is there isn’t that much to do. Under the thin layer of developing mud the ground is still frozen hard, so there’s no digging. And I don’t want to rake the leaves away from my plants because at this point they’re probably providing some insulation them from the freeze/thaw cycle, so I’ll wait on the cleanup.

     

    One of the only useful things to do right now is clip. Dead perennial tops can be sheared off a few inches from the ground, and the roses can begin to be pruned. That’s what I started on this afternoon, and I noticed this thing (photo on the Northwest page) on one of the branches, luckily before I snipped it.

    It looks like a blob of dried brown Styrofoam, but it’s a praying mantis egg mass. I love mantids. Hundreds will chew their way out on the first unseasonably hot day of spring, emerging as miniature versions of their adult selves, each the size of a fruit fly. Ants pick off most of the newborns, but a few make it to adolescence and even fewer to their adult size, which is big.

    You hear a lot about praying mantids being beneficial insects, but from what I’ve observed they get a mixed review here. They will eat the sap sucking insects such as aphids that parasitize your flowers, but they also love to eat butterflies and bees. It’s both horrible and transfixing to watch one catch a bumblebee, rip it in half, and dig in like it’s a fondue pot. As far as I know it’s the only insect that can turn its head separately from its body, and sometimes one will interrupt its meal to look at you as if you’re being rude, staring so much.

    They’re cool, though. If you come across one of the egg masses, leave it if you can. If you see it when it’s too late, you can reattach the case to a twig with a twist tie, and it might still hatch. They aren’t native, having arrived here from Europe on imported plants, but sometimes it’s fun to have an alien in your garden, especially one that looks the part.

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