Category Archives: Backyard life

‘Dagger-faced goons’ murder and eat victim in broad daylight

Williamsburg, Virginia

“A gruesome scene this morning has left a leafy neighborhood in Williamsburg, Virginia, in shock after a newly emerged cicada was murdered, dismembered and eaten in broad daylight.

According to eyewitness accounts, a female Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) pulled the victim off the trunk of a tree, threw it on the ground and stabbed it repeatedly with its needle-like bill. Once the victim was dead, another wren, a male, helped the alleged killer ripped the victim to pieces and began eating it. Later, a female cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), Virginia’s state bird with eyes set on savagery, joined in to help devour the victim.

“It was brutal, just brutal” said a grasshopper who witnessed the attack. “The poor guy emerged right under the bird feeder. That’s just bad luck. That’s like a gazelle being born in a lion’s den.” After pausing to look over his shoulder, the grasshopper said, “But better him than me.”

We were able to obtain an exclusive interview and confession with the alleged killer, who was taking a dirt bath under a bush. “I was going to eat bird seed from the feeder. Then I saw [the cicada] on the tree. It was the size of my head! So much meat. And delicious. Now I don’t have to spend the rest of the day foraging for insects and seeds. I can focus, instead, on removing mites from my feathers.”

Asked if she had any regrets, she said, “Only that after all my work to kill the cicada, that cardinal bullied her way in. But she only got part of the thorax and the wings. I don’t like the wings anyway. Too stringy.”  

The murder happened in the front yard of a Williamsburg resident who saw it happen outside his window. “I saw the wren pecking the ground, then saw the cicada try to fly away. She grabbed it and flipped it on its back. It was gruesome. I didn’t watch the whole thing because I didn’t want to overcook my eggs. That would have ruined my day.”

The victim was a periodical cicada (Magicicada sp.). These insects remain underground as pale grubs for 13 or 17 years then emerge from the ground as winged-adults to find a mate. They are sometimes called “17-year locusts”, which is a misnomer. Locusts are grasshoppers and cicadas are more closely related to shield bugs and assassin bugs.

The grasshopper who witnessed the murder gave perspective on the victim’s life cycle, “Nothing like waiting 17 years in an underground bunker only to be killed and eaten by dagger-faced goons when you come out.”

 

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P.S. This makes my 100th post. Thank you for following! Don’t forget to tell your friends and neighbors. But not the creepy neighbors.

 

 

 

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Quest of the Tick

I sit at the end of a blade of grass under a blistering 98-degree sun. I wait. The humidity is thick. I wait. The breeze is dead. I wait.

I wait for you.

I wait all day, still as a stone. When I feel your breath, your heat or your footsteps, I throw open my front legs like a spring-loaded trap the snaps open instead of closed when triggered. I wave my legs around eager to grab you. The hooks at the ends of my legs make sure to snag your hair, your clothes, your skin.

I am the tick, and I have waited for you all day.

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What our eight-legged friend* describes above is the questing behavior of ticks. They sit at the edge of leaves or grass patiently waiting for you or your dog or a deer or a raccoon to walk by. I admire their patience and their clever behavior.

I took the photos below in my backyard after looking for black dots at the ends of grass blades and seed heads. The tick is the Lonestar tick, Amblyomma americanum. Once you know what to look for, it’s amazing, and terrifying, how many ticks you can find riding on the tips of grass blades. Even scarier is the number of ticks you can’t see.

 

*Ticks are arachnids, like spiders and scorpions and mites. They are not insects.

Blind daffodils and a splat of moss

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Snowdrops with raindrops

It rained all day yesterday and the snowdrops are now dappled with raindrops. A splat of moss that has made its home on a slate of stone is without shame and has flashed its naked gametophytes (gam-meat-o-fights), sporophytes (spore-o-fights), and sporangium (spore-anj-e-um) for anyone to see. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the sex life of the mosses. I don’t either. So long as the mosses have it figured out, we shouldn’t worry. Throughout the neighborhood, the daffodils have put up their green swords ready to charge into spring. But they charge blindly because they yet to reveal their crowned heads. But I can’t criticize, when I blindly stuck my head out this morning I had to retreat and put on a knit hat. Spring may be coming, but it is winter that is here. 

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A splat of moss on a stone of slate
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Blind daffodils

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The buzz of botantical lust

 

Backyard Bees (3)

Three weeks ago, my backyard exploded with lust as honeybees and bumblebees shoved their tongues down the throats of purple flowers. They were worse than a bunch of teenagers. For some, spring is a time of poems and romance. Not in my backyard. It is about satisfying a botanical lust and a zoological hunger.

In human reproduction, courtship may begin with a dance and eventually end with a screaming toddler who tells you ‘NO!’ as many times as you tell him. With their feet stuck in the ground, plants can’t dance so they have figured out another way of courting and reproducing with a partner. Some plants rely on wind or water to carry pollen from one plant to fertilize another. Other plants, like those in my backyard with purple flowers, rely on animals such as bees, bugs or bats. And all it takes is a little sugar to convince these animals to dance.

When winter ebbs and spring arrives, bees are hungry. Nectar is a fast meal. The bumblebees in my yard were so focused on feeding that I petted one on its fuzzy, tennis-ball thorax with my finger. The bee was not at all bothered. I taught my 21-month-old son how to pet bumblebees. And now when he sees a bee he sticks out his finger to pet it; I’m sure his mom will be thrilled.

I am amazed at how clever plants are. They have convinced an entirely different species to take part in their botanical lovemaking, and have done so with only a dab of sugar. I’m not nearly as clever. While the act of reproduction in humans is relatively uncomplicated, the act of convincing another human to reproduce with you is not. First dates, kissing the top of her ear because she turned her head when you went in for a kiss, handmade cards, not sure if she likes you, not sure if you like her, origami flowers, emails, drunk emails, break-ups, make-ups, bad movies, good movies you’re too nervous to watch, dinners with too much pepper and too much cabbage, dinners so good you forgot what you had, fights about nothing, fights about something, apologies for everything, hurt feelings, not being able to parallel park, building a garden together, telling her you’re tired when your exhausted because you want to impress her, farting in front of each other for the first time, wanting to build a life together, nerves about a new job and a new home, deciding to have a child that you will love more than anything but are terrified and excited about at the same time, teaching that child to pet bumblebees and then writing about it. Human reproduction is exhausting.*

I can’t imagine trying to convince another species to participate.

*I say as the one who did not give birth.