"And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress and keep it". Genesis 2:15

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Always Learning New Things

Today I was alternately grossed out and charmed by nature and learned a few new things along the way too.

First the gross stuff. Well part of it is interesting. We have this humongous garden spider that has made a web near the side entrance door. Anna has named it Allie. We have been watching it get bigger and bigger.  We have watched her capture and eat a June bug or two, and yesterday Anna fed her a great big Tomato Horn Worm.

This is Allie. She is an Argiope aurantia and is about 4 inches long right now.

This is a close up that shows the tiny male spider. If you look to the left of her abdomen between the back legs you see a blurry little beige spider. He is actually on the back side of the web behind her - smart guy since she could eat him. Anna named the male James. LOL Allie seems to tolerate James just fine and she even shared a caterpillar with him!

Ok, this is all very interesting, but now comes the gross part!

Anna put a Tomato Horn Worm caterpillar in Allie's web as a gift. The caterpillar was very large- about as big as Allie, and about as fat as my thumb. At first Allie ran away from this thing breaking her web. Then she decided it was prey and she attached a few lines to the caterpiller and drew her up to the center of her web. She did not spin all around her as she did with the June bugs. She only left her entangled enough to stay put.

Claire got this close up so that you can see Allie's fangs. They are the tiny black pointed things coming from her head. They are hinged and you usually can not see them at all because they are folded up underneath her head. They are not the little black and yellow legs on either side of her head. Those are palps (not considered legs.) Allie bit the caterpillar repeatedly in a pattern all down one side, then retired until it died.

Ok, That's not the end of the gross/interesting stuff or the learning. The next thing was really gross! Anna was cutting some Swiss Chard for me with some scissors and she accidentally cut a grasshopper in half. Out of the grasshopper, who had looked perfectly healthy, uncoiled several very, very, very long thin worms!

Of course we had to look it up and we found out that the worms are called hair worms. The hair worm is actually aquatic, so at a certain point they somehow drive the grasshopper crazy enough to jump in and drown in water. Then the worms emerge and mate in the water. I really didn't need to see or know all this, but here is the picture anyway!

It almost makes you feel sorry for the grasshopper, but since it is the pest of the month - I dont. Hope worms eat them all up, or at least the birds and spiders get a good meal off of them. Seems to me as soon as you figure out how to combat one type of pest you will never see it again and something new will come along to baffle you.

I hope you have stayed with me so far because now we will talk about some of God's more charming creatures. I dont have any pictures though so you will have to use your imagination. You may remember that we have a bird house right outside the dinning room window under the eves of the front porch. We have been watching a sparrow pair raise their young for the last couple of weeks. We sit at the table a lot to read, talk, crochet, eat, so we get to see the family a lot.

A few days ago the babies were getting so big that they were practically hanging out the entrance hole by their toes and shouting, "Hey mom, feed us!" One female in particular hogged the entrance and the parents had to fight her out of the way to get to the other two babies in the nest.

I knew they would fledge very soon and I sure wanted to be able to watch. Sure enough one day while I was gone at the grocery store, with everybody else sitting at the table, the birds somehow managed to fledge without anybody noticing! This is usually a very noisy affair! Oh well, I was disappointed, but since then we have been able to see the babies about the yard and they sure are funny! Instantly they went from sitting in a bird house to flying perfectly. Its amazing!

There are one male and two females. The little male is a momma's boy and keeps getting back in the bird house and begging! Or one of the females will sit on top of the bird house and stare all around it, peeking back behind it, as if to say, "So thats what this thing looked like all the time!" Or they will all get into a fight over who can get back inside the bird house. They are very charming and make me very glad for all the effort we have taken with the gardens. This place is full of birds and butterflies abound, the peach tree is so over laden with fruit we just had to pick half of it before it broke - it really feels like a tiny Eden sometimes.

Now the very last thing that happened in this eventful day was learning something new about how to cook Swiss Chard. My mother is staying with us and she grew up in France. When we were fixing the Swiss Chard she told me that her family used to make a dish with the Swiss Chard stems. I had always just thrown mine in the compost pile. How wasteful! Well I looked up a good recipe for the stems using olive oil and parmesan cheese which I will share in the next post. The funny thing about the Swiss Chard is that Mom said she didn't remember them using the green part at all! Can you imagine if in France they were throwing away the leaves and eating the stems, and here in America we were doing the reverse! Surely not.

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