Thursday, December 17, 2009

Of foliage and ladybugs

I've been taking photos, I promise...I just haven't had time to post them! Until now. Here's what went on last week.

Sunday before last (the 13th) was a gorgeous sunny day. The red oaks looked absolutely splendid against the brilliant blue sky.

This happy katydid was chirping away from his perch on the mutabilis rosebush. He was so well-camouflaged, it took me a while to find him, despite his incessant tweets.

I spied a multicolored Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) as well. I'm guessing she's a descendent of the ladybugs I purchased from Barton Springs Nursery this summer and released to deal with the aphids that survived all the strong blasts of water I shot at them. A couple of weeks ago, we rolled down the bamboo blinds around our hot tub gazebo, and found dozens of little brown baby ladybugs crawling around in there.

According to the Lost Ladybug Project, many of the ladybugs sold at nurseries for biocontrol purposes are imported from overseas, and guess what? One particular variety, the multicolored Asian ladybug, is now considered invasive (well OF COURSE they are, I bought some!). They've been known to bite; they're considered pests in vineyards due to their sheer numbers and their musty odor, which they impart to the flavor of the grapes, and they invade homes in the winter in droves. Here's your tax dollars at work: the USDA imported thousands of these aphid-munching critters in the late 70s and early 80s to deal with aphid infestations of nut trees. The program stopped when the gov'ment discovered the newly imported transplants didn't seem to be sticking around. Fast-forward a few decades, and suddenly they're everywhere. What happened? No one's quite certain. Sally Roth's article in the Evansville Courier & Press provides us a number of titillating key facts, while this OSU Extension Factsheet fills in all the sordid details.

Some places do sell native ladybugs (most commonly Hippodamia convergens). However, native ladybugs are harvested from wild habitats in the winter, in spots where they tend to hibernate en masse (called diapause in the insect world), then they're shipped cross-country in the spring. Which kind did I get at BSN? I don't remember, and it doesn't matter, because both varieties contribute to the end result--native colonies are disappearing across the North American continent, and the Asian ladybugs are proliferating. Big Noisy Sigh. I tell ya, we organic gardeners simply can not win. In my attempt to find alternatives to pesticides, I managed to disrupt a fragile ecosystem nonetheless. Feel free to insert your favorite ironic do-gooder platitude here, e.g. best laid schemes of mice and men, a road to hell paved with good intentions, no good deed goes unpunished, etc.

Four days later, on Wednesday, I spied another one. This one was more red than orange (hence the name "multicolored"), and had no spots. Nevertheless, its rounded shape and the "M" marking on its pronotum (that flat plate above its eyes) identifies it as a multicolored Asian ladybug. Admittedly, they are cute. And they do eat aphids. Which is worse, imported ladybugs or pesticides? I know, I know, I'm just supposed to let the aphids run roughshod over the garden.
I have to thank Sheryl Smith-Rogers at Window on a Texas Wildscape for clueing me in to the Lost Ladybug Project.

On Friday morning, I was waiting on a pot of dark roasted Guatemalan coffee to brew while thinking about posting those photos of the red oak leaves for Foliage Follow-Up, when suddenly this stand of purple fountain grass caught my eye through the kitchen window, set alight by the rising sun.
Purple fountain grass in winter

WOW! I thought - that's the PERFECT subject for Foliage Follow-Up! I grabbed my camera and ran outside to try and capture the light before it passed. The glow was just breathtaking.

By the time I left for work, the light had shifted and the glow was gone; so beautiful while it lasted, though. Not only was I late for work, but I didn't leave myself time to post any foliage pictures, be they of leaves or grasses.

That same Friday, I saw a third multicolored Asian ladybug. This one was mostly yellow. There must be aphids in that rosebud.

Tomorrow, with any luck, I'll post photos I took this past weekend of birds and squirrels and cats, oh meow!


  1. Well, I like your foliage pictures anyway, even if they didn't make it into a dedicated post. Beautiful.

  2. Isn't light a fickle thing :)

  3. I KNEW those ladybugs bit!! People have refused to believe me when I say sweet little ladybugs bite. I must have come across the Asian ones. It's nice to know I'm not crazy (at least about this). Thanks for the links, I had no idea about this.

    The foliage this year has been breathtaking. The late rain and sudden cool temps must be the difference this year. Certain oaks and the Bradford Pears especially have been gorgeous.

  4. The foliage has been spectacular this year.
    Thanks for the info on the lady bugs.
    Have a wonderful Christmas.

  5. Have you ever seen gray ladybugs? Their formal name is Olla nigrum and the ever-reliable internet says that they are a North American species, but I only noticed them in Austin for the first time last year. I love neutral colors so they're my favorite!