Sunday, October 6, 2019

More Peril in the Garden

For the past couple of years I've noticed that my fennel plants attract Black Swallowtail butterflies, and they tend to lay a fair number of eggs, many of which hatch and go through various stages of development before they ultimately, and mysteriously, disappear. This all usually happens in May or so, but another episode occurred just this last week, at the beginning of October. I can only imagine that local fauna are profoundly confused by rapidly changing weather patterns.

As I mentioned in a Cabinet post some time ago, I blamed the disappearances on the cardinals who, up until recently, frequented the Accidental Garden in significant numbers. They're still around, but the drought seems to be reducing the local population (even the squirrels are depleted), and I had hopes that the three caterpillars I discovered a few days ago (as I was lopping off the spent fennel stalks for composting) would survive this time. But once again, they disappeared one by one. I had even transferred one of them to a living stalk so it could feed, but it was gone the next day, and I was down to the smallest, who seemed to be doing well, now having the remains of the fennel to itself.

I checked on it several times during the day, and it seemed to be well hidden. But when I went to check in the evening, it, too, was gone. As I was looking through the fronds, though, I noticed something new: a tiny anole, looking a bit plump.

So I hied it back into the house, sat down at the computer, and typed "Do anoles eat caterpillars?" into Ecosia and found out that the biggest enemy of monarch caterpillars (and clearly swallowtails as well) in the garden are, in fact, anoles.


So not only are owls (of which I have been fond for my entire life) problematic, but now so are lizards. This is terribly sad for me, because in Taiwan, where I did much of my growing up, we relied on lizards to help keep the mosquito population down in our various houses, and some of my best friends were the skinks who hung around on the window screen in my bedroom. I famously even took one to school in my blouse, but was outed when the little guy peeked over my collar and I had to take him outside. I remain disconsolate, because I'm still afraid he missed his family and friends.

At any rate, there are two kinds of lizards in our yard: geckos (mostly we only see the very little guys, who like to feed on the screen in the back door where small bugs gather, and whom Molly likes to chase around the house), and the green and brown anoles I've mentioned elsewhere in posts on The Farm (Habit Forming, Earth Day 2017). I didn't snap the tiny one from the fennel plant because I'd left my phone indoors. The photos above were taken in 2017.

As a rule I'm quite happy to see whatever shows up in the yard, from dragonflies to ladybird beetles, to little grass snakes--although I'm rather more leery of the larger critters we've had in the past, especially possums and raccoons. The occasional coyote makes its way down the back alley, and I wouldn't be astonished to see a bobcat, but since Emma's rather grotesque and untimely demise, all domestic animals are accompanied out of doors.

It seems, however, that there is a solution to the caterpillar dilemma, which involves housing butterfly offspring in a screen house of some sort as soon as they're noticed. So next summer, I'll construct a cage in which I can provide them with ample fennel and a safe place to transmogrify from egg to adult. With all the other critters that spend time eating my vegetables, there should still be plenty of anole fodder.

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the fall weather, which seems to be about to happen. Storms are due this afternoon/evening, and temperatures will be dropping (along with an abundance of leaves to transform into compost) into the seventies. This looks like the last of our 90 degree days for a bit.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Ahhh you have geckos. The introduced ones are classed as pests here, some of them have such colourful coats though.