Thursday, October 11, 2012

Backyard Ecology

The backyard is fun place to observe ecology; predator vs prey interactions, pollinator and plant adaptations, population pikes in response to particular environmental condition, plants fighting for space, and other ecological themes can be observed.  It is invigorating to see life and its complexity just a step outside the door.

I have a hackberry tree that is covered in tiny cottony scale bugs.  These bugs look like tiny flakes of dandruff and are related to aphids, like aphids, their poo is sticky honeydew.  Black mold on the hackberry's leaves drew my attention to these small creatures.  The lower leaves get coated with honeydew, and in a humid environment the honeydew grows mold.  Aphids and cottony scale bugs are wide spread in Austin, as we have had a wet summer; the bugs even made the news.  As I look under leaf after leaf, I discover that the cottony bugs weren't the only insect present; ladybugs, green lace wings, assassin bugs, and several spiders are all eating the cottony bugs.  I might have more concern for the tree if I didn't see natural pest controls at work.  The question is: Will the predators overcome their prey before the tree loses its leaves this fall? 

The property behind our apartment is very hot, and at some point the top soil was removed.  This makes growing very difficult, but this fall we have a very interesting crop.  I have a field of tiny flowers!  There is a waist high wispy yellow flower, a tiny daisy, and a purple ball flower.  All three species are about 1/4" in diameter with no leaves or very small leaves.  The flowers are pretty abundant, but they would make the world's smallest bouquet.  You can imagine my surprise and then realization 'duh' as I observe the tiniest butterflies out in the field.  Petite Pearl Crescents, Ceranunus Blues (which I renamed -peri wink), Orange skippers, and Dainty Sulfurs are all  less than 1/2" long and found in my field of little flowers.  Also hanging from the blooms are honey bees, bee flies, hover flies, mason bees, camouflaged crab spiders, and many more hidden species.  The tiny flowers grow in a harsh environment attracting small bugs, and I don't even have to get in a car to see it.  

What examples of ecology do you enjoy observing day to day?

Its a cutie little silly dog with cutie little yellow flowers!

Orange Skipper with jet plane wings
Damselfly here to eat gnats!
Watch out little Ceranus Blue!
Unidentified Copper

Eastern Amberwings another miniature bug, about 1.25 inches long

Beautiful lollipop spider webs are out in the field too. 

Ladybug larva with cottony bugs on the next leaf.