Humming a Tune in the Garden

I’m so pleased — the hummingbird feeders have been getting a lot of birdie traffic!

Do you see the pollen on the little hummingbird’s beak above? Someone has been visiting flowers! Hurray for our flying, humming pollinators.

I’ve tried again and again to get a good picture of a hummingbird visiting one of our blooms — usually they come out blurry because the birds dart off so fast. And then this morning…

The little lady usually doesn’t let me get too close when she’s at a bloom — she is much more tolerant when she’s at the feeder. Perhaps she’s getting used to me and will let me get more flower shots, given the progress above. She used to visit the Salvias, but when the Standing Cypress started blooming, it became her favorite.

The Cinnamon Sun has produced a lovely bouquet. All the flowers are still above the roofline, though. I’m waiting for the lower buds to open up so I can really study the blooms easily.

We’ve had a bit of rain with the tropical systems happening in the Gulf of Mexico — it made for a pleasant relaxed time in the garden. This male Queen butterfly took a long rest on a lantana.

How do you ID a Queen, and a male from female? Many people often mistake Queens for Monarchs, easy to do because they really are lookalike cousins. Soldiers make it even more confusing, and then there are the mimic Viceroys, too! Take a look at the photo again, this time with labels.

If you’d like more info on IDing the lookalike cousins, click here.

Also resting on the Lantana was this handsome damselfly. I’m needing a nap, just watching these guys. Perhaps the overcast day has something to do with that, too.

We’ve had another butterfly release from the Caterpillar Hotel! A black swallowtail emerged and took its time resting and drying its wings. I hope it came from the brown chrysalis from awhile back — I was worried about it taking too long. Now I’ve got so many chrysalises that I can’t tell which came first.

Soon the swallowtail headed over to the butterfly bush for a longer rest. Within a few minutes later, it flew away for its grown-up adventures.

I’m eagerly watching for the Giant Swallowtails to emerge. How can they fit in such a tiny shape?

Good news on the tomato front. Over several days we devoured tons of homegrown Romas in homemade spaghetti sauce, and now the Brandywines are starting to produce.

Is that crown an indication of how big the tomato will become? I won’t eat these myself — but I hope they’ll turn out so I can give them to friends and neighbors. I’m a cooked-tomato kind of girl.

I’m also a pomegranate kind of girl! Lookee, lookee!


Fun morning in the garden. Had me humming like the hummingbirds. Hoping for more rain, though!

School Daze

As I turned into the school driveway this morning, I was thrilled to notice a beautiful scene from far away — it was our habitat! It’s really something when a garden grows big enough to be an eye-catcher.


Not only that, but it’s teeming with wildlife. The Queen butterflies ruled the habitat — I couldn’t count them, there were so many.


In the sun and the heat, the Texas natives put on a rainbow-colored show.

Can you believe this garden is only 3 months old? Click the link above to see it back in March.


Aside from all the butterflies, there were bumblebees and honeybees, an assassin bug with its prey, a bird visiting a birdbath, and so much more. The students and teachers are going to be in for such a big surprise when they come back to school in August!

I Should Apologize Now For All My “Cinns”

I might as well apologize now, because it’s just possible that the rest of my photographs for the remainder of the fall and summer might all be of this, my new favorite flower.

cinnamonsunflower06-24-10.jpgThe Cinnamon Sun sunflower is now blooming, and I can barely draw myself away.

cinnamonsunflowerc06-24-10.jpgI had a little trouble getting the pictures I really wanted, because this bloom is the first on the plant, and it’s about 10 feet off the ground. I had to stand on a ladder. Oh, but there are so many more blooms getting ready to open… and they are much more accessible.

cinnamonsunflowerd06-24-10.jpgNot only is the bloom gorgeous, but the colors are exactly the same as those on my house, not that you can tell from the back of the house. But might it be too matchy-matchy to have a flower match my house? I think not.


cinnamonsunflowere06-24-10.jpgAt times during the day, the flower appeared almost black — in fact, the gloominess of the dark flower early this morning almost had me worried that I’d made a poor choice. Then the sun came up a bit more, and wow. Take a look at this next photo, where the flower appears dark. See what else showed up?

cinnsunspiderc06-24-10.jpgThat’s a Green Lynx spider. I guess when I got so excited about it being Pollinator Week, the spider did, too — but for a different reason. The last time I saw a Green Lynx spider, it was much better camouflaged.


But then Ms. Spider today moved to the back of the sunflower, and there was her camouflage. I’m impressed with her capture, even if it is one of my bees. Can you see her?

cinnsunspiderb06-24-10.jpgI did manage to pull myself away from the sunflower long enough to capture a quick picture of a hummingbird before my battery died. I also successfully managed to take the picture without falling off the ladder. Must be my newfound ladder skills from painting the exterior of my house…


I also caught a hummingbird today visiting the new blooms on the Standing Cypress. I always get a thrill of justification when I see hummingbirds at my flowers instead of just at the feeder — like it was all worth it, this gardening stuff. Alas, I had no camera in hand at the time. But here are the blooms.

standingcypress06-24-10.jpgThis morning, over at the Gregg’s Mistflower, I saw that this patch of flowers is becoming quite the spider hangout. Not too long ago a spider caught one of my beloved dragonflies in this popular insect hangout. Today I found another kind of spider waiting patiently on its zig-zag recliner. I think it’s a male Argiope spider.  Edit: Having later found a larger Banded Garden Spider, I now wonder whether this is a juvenile female, species Argiope trifasciata.

spidera06-24-10.jpgI think that if I were an orb spider, I’d go for this kind of web. That zig-zag is called a stabilimentum. It just looks extra secure and comfortable. On the other hand, the spider is probably more noticeable, but the rest of the web could barely be seen. Maybe that’s a plus for the spider — if the prey avoids the visible spider by flying to the side, it gets caught by the invisible web. Anyway, it worked, because the next thing I knew there was frantic movement going on in the web — a grasshopper had made an unfortunate jump. Try focusing with a zoom lens on a spider that’s moving and spinning and wrapping its prey — what a challenge!


spiderd06-24-10.jpgNow this time I can say yay for the spider — it caught one of my nuisance grasshoppers. It can have all the grasshoppers it wants. I’m sure the green lynx spider eats grasshoppers, too, but so far I keep catching it with its paws in the honey jar, so to speak.

Enough spider pictures. Let’s go back to the Cinnamon Sun, shall we? Oh to be a bee visiting that sunflower… well, preferably without the spider there, too.


Pollinator Power! It’s Pollinator Week, June 21-27, 2010

Happy National Pollinator Week, June 21-27! All this week (and everyday the rest of the year), let’s celebrate our peppy pollinators and all that they do. Without them, many flowers, trees, fruits, veggies, and other plants would be in serious trouble! Did you know that 80 percent of the world’s crops require pollination to set seed? And many, many pollinators are in decline due to the use of pesticides and to habitat loss. We must take care of these little guys, who in turn are OUR caretakers.

For more information on pollinators and this special dedication week, be sure to visit Pollinator Partnership.

I for one love to use this week’s dedication to go out and buy a new plant for our pollinators. What will it be? A new caterpillar larval host plant for the butterflies? A bee’s favorite bush? A new hummingbird plant? I’ll let you know!

Let’s give a cheer for… butterflies!


beeonmistb10-07-09.jpg Hummingbirds!



hoverflyc10-07-09.jpgBats, geckos, opossums, beetles, wasps, flies, and more!

Some of my favorite plants for pollinators include Purple Coneflower, Milkweed, Greg’s Mistflower, Cardinal Flower, any number of Salvias, Mealy Blue Sage, Firebush, Goldenball Leadtree, Kidneywood, Texas Lantana, Sunflower, Pumpkins and Squashes, and oh so many more. Think native when you can, and stay organic! Pesticides kill the GOOD guys, too — not just the bad ones.

Speaking of sunflowers, the Cinnamon Sun is taller than ever — now past the roof’s edge of our house. It is threatening to burst out with blooms any day now.


Don’t forget about putting out a bee box for our solitary native bees to show we love them!


One Moment in Time

Gardening Gone Wild is having another contest, and this month’s theme is Epic, or Your Favorite Frame. Much like others partaking in the contest, I found this to be a tough challenge, as I enjoy taking photographs, and while I have many favorites, could I choose one to be the best of the best? I struggled with that for awhile, culling through photos, and I decided that what the theme really is all about is challenging the photographer to look beyond the subject matter, beyond the straightforward quality of a photo, and discover exactly what it is about the image that gives it potential to become the photographer’s top pick.

Sometimes what draws the viewer in is clear — it might be amazing lighting or composition, or an incredible close-up shot with crisp detail, or a softness to the image that invokes mood or emotion. The image I chose affects me on many different levels, and that is what I wanted. It invokes thought, and it’s my hope that a viewer might find different elements that he or she reacts to. I took the photo while visiting San Miguel de Allende last fall.


For me, I’m drawn to the opposing elements the image presents. The contrast between tall and short, between the softness of colors and blooms to the prickly cactus, between the beauty of the plants and new blooms against the old wall with what looks like bullet holes (I don’t actually think they are bullet holes, but they get the imagination going), and of course between the bare cactus with the vine-covered one. I love the way the muted colors work together, and I love the balance presented. And the setting, Mexico, comes across in the image as well. Lots of different things to think about. At least that what it’s all about for me! Of course, the photograph itself is special to me on a different level — it invokes fond memories of San Miguel and the family wedding that brought me to the area in the first place. After much indecision on what photo to choose for the contest, now that I’ve made my selection, it all seems clear.

When Thieves Act Like Thieves

Have you ever noticed that those birds and animals we’d prefer not to visit our feeders and yards are the ones that are also the most skittish? They act like thieves, and it’s possible that this contributes to our perception of them, as well.

In my case, the thieves are whitewing doves, squirrels, and recent arrivals, some house sparrows. The moment anything moves even slightly around them, they startle and zip up into the trees. To some extent this also includes the blue jays — they are more like bullies sometimes than thieves, but they too startle easily (I don’t mind them, though). Deer, too — they seek plants from people’s yards but are usually quick to dart away at a potential threat (unless the population is so large that they become accustomed to humans, as is the case in many neighborhoods).

The other birds that frequent the feeder don’t mind my presence. The cardinals, chickadees, titmice, finches — they might chirp at me, but they’ll keep eating while I’m near. They act like they belong there. Not at all thief-like.

Lately I’ve been having a problem with whitewing doves again — the numbers had jumped to 20-30 at a time. Obviously they didn’t all get on the feeders at once, but they’d line up and take turns, forcing another one to move off the feeder if it sat there pigging out too long. Sometimes they’d even attempt to sit on birds already on the feeder tray. The rest would hang out on the ground going for leftovers. The seed was being depleted at a crazy rate, and truth be told we can’t afford for the gluttons to just sit there downing the whole feeder’s worth of seed in one fell swoop (pun intended).

dovessparrow06-18-10.jpgAnd so even though it seemed like I had just done this a few days ago, I had to go buy birdseed again today, all the while wondering whether it was going to have to be replenished again next week. But as I tell the kids all the time, “If you have a problem, find a solution.” (I also tell them, “Don’t just fuss or complain or skip a task or wait on Mom,” but that doesn’t pertain to the current topic, haha). Solve the problem.

So while I considered once again whether to buy a new feeder with a cage or a weight-sprung closure to keep the doves and squirrels out, I once again pushed the thought away because I really didn’t want to spend a lot of money to replace a perfectly good feeder, and we couldn’t afford it anyway. Have you seen how much those anti-dove cages cost?

And then the lightbulb came on — why not use some leftover cattle panel to create our own cage around the birdfeeder? Surely cardinals and other birds would be able to get through, but the larger doves would be kept out. If the cage was wide enough, we’d be able to refill the feeder as normal, simply lifting it off the hook and guiding it out of the bottom of the cage. So my older son and I grabbed the cattle panel and some wire, and it only took a few minutes to create the cage.

Within moments, it was already working. The doves tried their hardest, but at best they could land on it only for a few seconds.


doveb06-18-10.jpgYou could see them really trying to *solve*the*problem*. Their moms must have taught them well.

dove06-18-10.jpgOnly THIS mom thwarted them!

Enter the cardinal. Would he be able to get through the cattle panel?

cardinalb06-18-10.jpgYep. No problem. In fact, he seemed to love that he was all alone in there.

cardinal06-18-10.jpgThe doves watched to see how the cardinal did it.


So the next test was the blue jays. I was concerned that they might not be able to get food, because they are fairly large birds. One jay watched the doves’ failures for awhile before his own attempts. And sure enough, the cage presented a bit of a challenge at first. He managed to awkwardly snag a peanut and then fly off.

bluejay06-18-10.jpgBut two then easily got through the cage and happily ate their peanuts. Chickadees of course barely even noticed the cage and slipped right in.


So the doves acted like thieves, and the smaller songbirds got the prison cage. But so far it seems the songbirds like it a lot. They get to sit in there and do all the feasting for a change. The pictures won’t be quite as pretty with the cage in the way, though. Perhaps it can come down from time to time.

And I’ll keep sprinkling seed on the ground for the doves — only this time I’ll get to control how much they get. They’re supposed to be ground feeders anyway. The sparrows haven’t been much of a problem, and their chirps are kind of cute, but I’ll keep an eye out for future feeder obsession. I don’t mind the squirrels — they can get to the other feeder and are sure to figure out a way to get into the cage of the revised one. And all of them can get seeds off the ground.

By the way, I was thrilled to see an female Goldfinch visiting the thistle feeder.

goldfinch06-18-10.jpgAnd here’s a pretty House Finch, before the cage was added.

housefinch06-18-10.jpgI’ll miss the direct view of the birds. But to save the money for birdseed and reduce the dove numbers, the cage is worth it.

Caterpillar Hotel

This weekend I taught all about creating habitats at a conference for kids. As part of the presentation, I brought along this little guy — one of our black swallowtail caterpillars.

swallowtailcat06-13-10.jpgTalk about a wonderful assistant — not only did he delight the families in the workshops, but he and I visited with a lot of people as I carried him around during the rest of the conference. It was simply too hot in the car for me to leave him in there, so he got to walk around with me, happily munching on dill set in a bouquet of native TX flowers.

When I got home, I let him go back to his world of giant dill in my backyard. Later I walked around to check on my other caterpillars and to look for more. I’m thrilled to have found our first Gulf Fritillary caterpillar on our Passionvine.
gulffritillarycat06-14-10.jpgBut when I went to check on the new bird poop caterpillars I’d found the day before on my Wafer Ash, I saw with alarm a hornet visiting the leaves of the tree, hunting the same way they hunt the caterpillars on my milkweed. I was relieved to find two of my caterpillars were happily munching on the citrus leaves.

And to my delight, I found lots of eggs all over the tree. Here’s a caterpillar with a few eggs nearby.


But to my horror, my third little caterpillar was dead. My first thought was that a hornet had killed it, but this was a false accusation, because on closer inspection it was clear that my little caterpillar was being feasted upon by two bugs I didn’t recognize. It turns out that they are predatory stink bugs. Predatory stink bugs? I’d never heard of such a thing. And what — they are considered beneficial bugs in the garden, so I can’t get rid of them? I have to just let these stink bugs feast on my caterpillars? Now THAT stinks! I thought having to accept hornets and wasps going after my caterpillars was bad enough. Thinking about it, I saw somewhat similar bugs over on my dill a few days ago. I think I know what’s been contributing to the deaths of some of my swallowtail caterpillars.

predatorystinkbugs06-13-10.jpgWell, I couldn’t bear it the thought of more giant swallowtails falling prey to the terrible sucking tubes of these clearly ferocious predators, so I decided that my remaining caterpillars earned deluxe accommodations in our Caterpillar Hotel, a collapsible laundry basket that has soft, breathable fabric on the sides. It’s perfect, and we’ve had great success so far, with 3 caterpillars going to chrysalis stage. I’ve released one beautiful butterfly already — here it is, a Black Swallowtail just before release.

blackswallowtail06-13-10.jpgSo I gathered dill and wafer ash for the two caterpillar species and put the plants in a bottle of water. Then I collected my caterpillar assistant and my two adorable bird poop caterpillars. Isn’t it a lovely Caterpillar Bouquet?

caterpillarbouquet06-13-10.jpgBouquet in the hotel:

caterpillarhotel06-13-10.jpgYesterday I wasn’t worried about the Gulf Fritillary (he’s on the other side of the yard), but today I’m having second thoughts and might be checking him into the Caterpillar Hotel as well.

I know I can’t rescue all my caterpillars — nature must take its course — but here and there I don’t mind lending them a helping hand.

It might be time to set out a new banana to distract the hornets and wasps, as well. I’ll add a rotting one for the butterflies — they love it so. HOLD ON — BRILLIANT IDEA — I’ll move the predatory stink bugs to my tomatoes and let them do their thing on my true pest bugs! By Jove, I think she’s got it!

Speaking of butterflies, a new species has entered the garden. Bordered Patch — what a beauty! Unfortunately, my pup scared it off after I grabbed only a couple of shots.


borderedpatchb06-13-10.jpgOver on the dill, this damselfly let it all hang out, wings included.

damselfly06-13-10.jpgThe dill is going to seed. I think it’s still pretty, even when brown. There’s plenty of dill left for the swallowtails, though.

dillseed06-14-10.jpgThe Cinnamon Sunflower is reaching toward the sky — now officially taller than its neighbor, the Mexican Redbud tree. I hope the tree doesn’t get a complex. Looks like a couple of buds are forming — I can’t wait! The giant sunflowers by the house are still struggling, poor things.

cinnsun06-14-10.jpgAnd the pretty Flame Acanthus blooms are flashing red from behind the wispy Big Muhly.


We finally got Mr. Vulture moved — now he looks down on us from our chimney, as he was always meant to do.


He can stand guard over the Caterpillar Hotel.

We Have Bird Poop! Caterpillars, That Is

Ohhhhhhhh, happy day. I’ve been waiting for two years to find Giant Swallowtail caterpillars munching on our Wafer Ash Trees (also known as Hop Trees). These trees were some of the very first plants we chose for our wildlife habitat, and I’ve been waiting and waiting for the those big, gorgeous butterflies to find them. Time and again over the past two years I searched, getting my hopes up when noting the occasional bird poop on the foliage, only to discover it was REAL bird poop. But look what I found today! Real bird poop caterpillars!


Aren’t they beautiful?!!! Yes, and gross, too. I’m completely convinced that these caterpillars have the best camouflage of any creature in the world.


Not so much “camouflage,” though — they really are quite out in the open, saying “Here we are!” But they sure don’t look like anything I’d want to eat if I were a bird. We actually found three of them. I hope, I hope… that I’ll get to watch them through chrysalis and butterfly stage. FYI, they also like lemon trees, lime trees, and other citrus trees, so if you don’t have Wafer Ash, look for them on your citrus trees.

And whoa — another discovery! We have ripe Roma tomatoes! It’s official — I have bird poop AND I’m a successful tomato gardener!

roma06-12-10.jpgHappy, happy day.

From Cracked Earth to Floods

The weather in Texas has done it again. We’ve gone from baking hot temperatures and cracking earth to this:


Some areas have already had more than 6 inches. The Guadalupe River in New Braunfels has flooded, and several water rescues have already taken place. Here in Austin, there have been several road closures as well. Our biggest flooding area, as usual, is around Onion Creek.

rainb06-09-10.jpgCentral Texas is one of the most flash-flood prone areas in the world. It holds half of the twelve world records in amount of rainfall in 48 hours or less. In 1921 in Thrall, a storm brought 36 inches of rain in 18 hours. In 1935 in D’Hanis another storm brought 22 inches of rain in 2 hours and 45 minutes. Isn’t that info surprising considering how often we are also in drought? One meteorologist said it well — “Flood or drought; and there doesn’t seem to be much in between.” We are quite well positioned geographically to receive a lot of rain, with all our creeks and tributaries, not being too far from the coast, the Balcones Escarpment playing a factor as well, and weather coming in from the north and the Pacific. In particular, between Dallas and San Antonio, with Austin right in the middle, is an area known as Flash Flood Alley.

Now I understand why the meteorologists all talk about heavy rain along the IH-35 corridor, and why so much flooding occurs along the interstate. IH-35 completely follows and is right in the middle of Flash Flood Alley. Brilliant. Check this out:

Here’s an interesting look at some of the biggest storms to hit the Austin area:

My family and I got caught coming back from Uvalde to Austin during the 1998 floods that wreaked havoc between San Antonio and Austin, especially in San Marcos. Along the way, we saw cars washed away and standing vertically in drainage spots off the highway, and flooding to rooftops along the Guadalupe River. We’d manage to travel between storms, trying to get home to our dogs, but then we found ourselves trapped in traffic on IH-35 in San Marcos, stuck in a small small car in a spot where water was flowing over the highway with yet another storm arriving, and the San Marcos police were forcing everyone to drive through it (yeah, don’t get me started on that one). I can honestly say, it was about as scared as I’ve ever been. Needless to say, we purchased a larger vehicle within 3 months and never traveled that way again without being better aware of pending weather.

Be safe out there, everyone. Stay out of low-water crossings, please. And avoid traveling between San Antonio and Austin until the weather has passed. Take it from me.

rainc06-09-10.jpgPoor Grover was not too keen on having to go out into the rain to go potty. I had to go get soaked with him so he’d do his thing. I don’t mind staying in and being a bit lazy today, but we were scheduled to cover the above concrete slab with flagstone today, creating a much prettier patio. Ah well, I never refuse the rain. Of course, our house is not in an actual flood zone, either.

Well, we’ll have some green happy plants for awhile. I’m not excited about the mosquitoes that will follow in a few days, though!

EDIT: I don’t usually participate in Wordless Wednesday because the only time I’m truly wordless (or silent as the case may be) is when I’m REALLY mad at my husband, but if I could pick a photo for Wordless Wednesday, it might be this:

groverpeeinrain06-09-10.jpgI’ll say it again — poor Grover!

BogeyMan Freak Out

There’s very little in nature that disturbs me. I can watch with fascination the way predators stalk their prey, study the little bones left behind in owl pellets, and look at snotty-faced hogs like they’re as cute as bunnies.

I adore spiders, all of them.

greenlynx09-17-09.jpgIt would never occur to me to kill one, unless my family was in danger from a venomous one. Some of them make such beautiful webs — incredible works of art and science and skill all rolled into one, though to the spider it’s a just a normal way of life. I’ve walked into more webs and had more spiders in my big mass of hair than I care to admit, but I still love them.

web06-05-10.jpgI could cuddle with the biggest of snakes.

snake06-05-10.jpgI’d probably prefer not to have to outrun a taipan or to fall flat on my face in front of a rattler, but that’s life or death — and that’s different. I guess I’m not a fan of ticks, either, but then who would be? They carry terrible diseases and suck your BLOOD. But they don’t invoke fear in me. Not that feeling of panic that makes you shriek and want to flee far away. Well, there was that time in a deer grove near Uvalde that I looked down to see hundreds of ticks crawling onto my shoes — I’ll say that I did stare for a moment with fascination before doing the big “Get These Terrible Ticks Off Me” dance. None managed to reach my skin, thank goodness. 

I study flies and bees and slugs with equal amazement. Animal carcasses you find on a trail? Gross, yes, but the stink would drive me away before the sight would.

People say bats, and I run outside with a camera. I love the feel of slimy earthworms in my hand. I’ve been stung by a scorpion and lived to tell the tale. I’ve dealt with wasp hives and hornets and learned to appreciate the creepy-crawling of the zillion-legged centipede. I’d curl up with a lion if it wouldn’t eat me.


But there is a creature that gets to me. Perhaps that’s a poor way to word it.

The freak-out creature for me used to be a roach. I still remember the horror from my childhood of waking up in my room in the middle of the night, freaky shadows cast on the walls by oleanders outside the louver windows, their leaves and branches swaying eerily in the strong wind. In a moonlit spot on the wall, I saw a dark spot, and as my eyes adjusted I realized it was a the biggest roach I’d ever seen (and living in Corpus Christi at the time, I was no stranger to roaches). But this one was clearly the Big Bad Brown Roach from Dark Forces of Evil, and it was watching me. I could feel its little eyes staring at me from across the room.

moonb03-29-10.jpgI stayed as still as I could, trying to muster the nerve to call out for my mom, or better yet flee. But it held me trapped by its dark gaze, long antennas wiggling all around, and I’d never felt such an intense moment in all the five years of my life. And instinctively I knew something was about to happen, and I grabbed the edge of my blanket in my hands just as that giant roach flew across the room directly at me. FLEW! I had never seen one fly, but this sucker did, and my screams of terror from under my blanket must have woken up the whole neighborhood and probably utterly panicked my poor mother who had to find out what was torturing and trying to kill her youngest daughter.

My grandmother’s house had lots of roaches. Little ones and big ones. Driven by that roach’s attack on my childhood innocence, I went after them with a vengeance whenever I was visiting and saw them. By the way, I can slap a mosquito with the best of them. Grandmother had an infestation of crickets, too, but I could tolerate them somewhat. That reminds me of the year of the grasshoppers, when swarms of giant grasshoppers covered northern Texas, and they’d fly at us across the water when we tried to go sailing, a big white target for long-legged flying green grasshoppers. Shudder. I remember my stepmother shrieking over and over again while holding up a big towel to keep them from landing on her. A few years later, it was the year of the crickets, and stores had to sweep them out by the thousands onto the sidewalks and streets. They’d make a wall look black as they crawled up the sides.


In a biology lab in college, I once had to dissect a live roach. Not those flat little scurrying things we all find to be pests from time to time. No, this was one of those big fat roaches from the southern U.S., Georgia as I recall. We had to basically dismantle it body part by body part, including the fat globs of marshmallow creme, until it was nothing but head and gut tract — and it was still alive! Its little jaws just gnawed away. THIS is why roaches will outlive humans by millions of years.

In case you are wondering, I was a Zoology major in college. We weren’t given a choice about dissecting things, and I won’t list them all here. But the scientist side of me took care of business, and really, the internal organs were just as fascinating as the animals themselves. Bodies in general are works of wonder. Beyond that, I tried not to think too much about what I was doing. 

I do recall the Giant Rat in high school. One night I was closing the curtains on our louver windows (I will NEVER willingly have louver windows in my adulthood, given the horrors they bring) when I saw a fat scaly tail hanging from the curtain where the drawstrings were. MOM! A giant rat! Neither of us wanted to try to get it out of there, and it wasn’t budging on its own, and all we could see was that terrible tail dangling. So we decided to leave the door to the garage open to give it a chance to leave on its own (it probably came in through there). And we went to bed. Next thing I knew, my mom was nudging me awake, whispering that the giant rat was in her room. Why on earth she left her bedroom door partly ajar with such a monstrosity loose in the house, I’ll never know. This time we went in with brooms in hand, ready to defend against and drive out the small intruder with giant freaky tail. It turns out that it wasn’t a rat, neither giant nor little, but the cutest little baby possum (sharp teeth and all), and it was just as scared as we were. We gently helped it outside.

But while I might squeal at the sudden scurries of little mice or the unexpected appearance of a snake around a corner, none of it disturbs me, and my reaction turns fast to interest. But the creature of all creatures to utterly unnerve me is this. The Harvestman. The Bogeyman, if you ask me.

harvestmana06-05-10.jpgSome people call them daddy longlegs, or granddaddy longlegs. But whatever you call them, don’t call them spiders. Because that’s what they are NOT.

The harvestman is an arachnid, yes, but not a spider. Its body segments are closely joined to seem fused into a single oval.

harvestmanb06-05-10.jpgAnd they’ve got those freakily long legs. If they just stayed still, I could MAYBE get used to them. But… 

harvestmand06-05-10.jpgThe way they bob up and down and quiver as they walk, they way they gather in black throbbing blobs on walls, the way they move their long legs around when threatened– EEEEEK. I never really cared for them before, but visiting the narrow cave at Enchanted Rock in college and crawling in dark spaces only to look above and realize the ceiling is quivering, and then to realize with horror that you have thousands of pulsing harvestmen inches from ALL YOUR HAIR, and yeah, that’s what did it for me. The word for the masses is “aggregation,” a term you never want associated with creatures that freak you out.

harvestmanc06-05-10.jpgIt’s the quivering. It’s the way they move. I really should capture a video, but I’m feeling pretty weirded out just by how close I had to get to take the pictures. Why? Because when I got close they started to move! They freaked out and started moving and pulsing up and down and then waved their long second legs around like antenna at me, and then I freaked out and I’m just lucky I didn’t fall off the ladder I was standing on. Did you know that the legs can keep twitching after they are detached, due to little pacemakers in the first segment? I read that — I did not try it out. Apparently detaching their twitching leg is actually a defense mechanism to help them escape from predators.

harvestmane06-05-10.jpgBut in researching them, I reluctantly have to admit that they should probably maybe sort of go on the list of a garden’s beneficial creatures. They are predators and scavengers both, and if they’d just stay out of sight, they’d be kind of sort of tolerated in my garden. They can’t hurt me or my family, other than to give me a heart attack! But no, they are currently on my house, and if their numbers start to increase and my heart starts getting that fight or flight feeling too many times, they’re going to have to go. I will not have big quivering wiggling black masses making me relive my cave experience over and over again! THIS IS WHAT NIGHTMARES ARE MADE OF, PEOPLE.

harvestmanf06-05-10.jpgLet’s jump right in with a new poem shall we?

O Harvestman, My Bogeyman
© 2009, Great Stems

I think that I should never see
A Harvestman coming straight at me
Even worse is what I fear
That thousands of them gather here.
Lurking, bobbing, on the wall
Legs that make them ten-feet tall

FYI, I’m not actually scared of the harvestman. I won’t really run screaming in terror when I see it. But it does creep me out a lot, a LOT, and you won’t catch me hanging out around it for long. They might creep me out, but I don’t really wish them ill will. I just wish them a new location.

So I’ve told a long tale, and in it confessed my nature weaknesses. What in nature freaks you out?


EDIT, same day: A funny thing happened after I wrote this post. I finished saving it and got in the car to head to a swim meet. I was still all creeped out after writing the post and doing all those pictures, so I was still thinking about the effects the harvestmen have on me and I started thinking up new lines for the poem. Well, I was driving on a rather long empty road and a cop pulled me over. It was a beautiful blue snazzy “police chase” kind of car, too — one of those new ones that make your jaw drop. Part of me thought it was kind of cool to be pulled over by the most awesome police car ever. Of course, I was in a mini-van — not so cool. Well, the dialogue went something like this:

Ma’am, do you know why I pulled you over?

          Ummmm… (serious pause here) maybe I was driving too fast?

Yes, ma’am — that stretch of road is marked as 45, and you were going 60.

         Oh. (pause) Well, I was thinking about something that had me freaked out. It was
         those harvestmen, those daddylonglegs. And they were all on my house. And they were
         quivering and bobbing, and I’m still creeped out by them. And I guess I didn’t know
         I was driving fast. I’m not a speeder by nature.

Please sign here, ma’am.

        Here? Okay.

Thank you, ma’am. Well, this is just a warning about your speed. It would have been a ticket, but in all my years, I’ve heard lots of stories, and I’ve never heard one like that before. 

By the way, Austinites, don’t speed on McNeil, that part near the railroad as it heads toward Wells Branch. Mr. Cool Cop Car might be there waiting for you, but if he is, he’s really nice.