Monday, May 21, 2012

More Interesting Acquaintances Made While Weeding

I've mentioned before how much I enjoy hand weeding - most recently as I weeded the buffalo grass areas that we planted last summer, and later as I began weeding out the new bed at the corner of the house.  As I continued weeding the new bed (it's STILL not completely done, but it's getting closer!), I've made a couple more acquaintances. 

The first new yard mate I met was this maternal creature....

Not seeing much there?  Look harder.  Concentrate on the bit of white that you see....

Here, let me move the leaf back for you....

That's Mama spider, carefully guarding her egg sac, moving it to cover when it gets disturbed.  Can you imagine trying to guard a huge ball as big or bigger than yourself, probably close to your own body weight, full of your eggs morphing into babies, from a giant staring down right at you?  That takes courage.  And, yes, I'd roll my egg sac back under the nearest cover available as soon as possible too.

I don't know the species of this spider, but I sure enjoyed meeting her.

Ironically, my second new acquaintance also involves a strong mother.  As I pulled up weeds, I kept finding these clumps of tiny red insects in the soil around the plant roots.  They looked like bug nymphs (babies of true bugs, Hemiptera) to me, but I couldn't see them well enough without a magnifying glass to tell for sure.

Imagine my pleasure this morning when I opened up the Kansas State Extension Horticultural Newsletter from this week, May 22, 2012, and found a brief article by Ward Upham on White-Margined Burrowing Bugs (Sehirus cinctus).  My little red soil dots!  They ARE true bugs - and, better yet, they EAT THE SEEDS OF HENBIT!  No wonder I was seeing so many of them.  (I traditionally have an excellent henbit crop each year.)  The photo below shows 2 different instars - stages - of the nymphs.  The bright red one, which looks almost like a tiny ladybug beetle at this angle, is the younger one.  Do you see the older burrowing bug nymph nearby?

As I read Ward's article and then did a little further research on the internet, I came across some photos from a research project involving this species.  It seems that the mother white-margined burrowing bug stays with her eggs and, after they hatch, brings her new little nymphs nutlets (seeds) from henbit and other mints for them to feed upon.  Like the spider guarding her giant egg sac, the nutlets are comparatively huge, but mother burrowing bug somehow manages to trundle them back for her young. Think feeding a gaggle of teenagers with a 55 gallon drum of peanut butter that you have to haul in your mouth over rough ground!

All of the websites I found agreed that the white-margined burrowing bugs were not a problem as far as any human crop was concerned.  To my mind, these little guys would be acting as a control on henbit populations...which could stand a little bit of control, at least in south central Kansas.  In fact, in my yard, I consider the burrowing bugs to be heroes!

So I've discovered yet another natural balancing mechanism in place, functioning quite well (thank you kindly) without my doing a thing...except choosing NOT to spray insecticides around my garden or yard.  The more I see and discover and learn, the more fascinated I become!  Such a wonderful number of things to find,  quite literally, in my own back yard.


~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Amazing info on the spider and the henbit eaters! I like calling them that because boy did I have a henbit crop this year. Wonder if there are any in my garden.

Gaia Gardener: said...

If you check the links about the burrowing bugs that I linked to, they have photos of the adults. (They look like tiny polished little black beetles, actually - it's hard to see the typical "bug" arrangement of half-wings because they are so small and dark - with a fine white line outlining the bug. There's no red on the adult at all.) If you look closely where the henbit is/was, I'd be willing to bet you've got some too!

Melanie said...

How cool is that!! I have an excellent henbit crop as well. .guess I'll have to stop and check for the little things! Unfortunately. .if they are here, they don't eat nearly enough of the henbit seed to suit me!!