Tiny dramas

I was late to work this morning because a tiny drama was playing out in my window:

A moth had been flying around our bedroom for a couple of nights. This morning I found it on the edge of death on the bathroom counter. I decided to see just how ballsy our little pet black house spider is.

It’s a Badumna insignis, black house spider. Or, Badumna insignis, “said to be a favourite food of the white-tailed spider.” I’m glad it hasn’t gotten eaten by that white-tail I accidentally let loose in the house…

As for toughness? It turns out, very.

I placed the moth in the web an inch or two above the entrance to Mr Spider’s hidey hole. He became alert immediately. Once he gathered the gumption to strike, he darted out and grabbed hold of the tip of one of the moth’s wings. And pulled.

This standoff lasted about 10 minutes. With a brief struggle, the moth gave way and was dragged partly into the entrance of the spider’s house.

Another ten minutes passed and I decided I ought to get to work. I set the gopro up wedged into the curtain rod above the window and hoped that more action would take place before the battery ran down. I doubt that it did, but Ben provided me with updates throughout the morning as it unfolded.

Ben: spider is eating/preserving the moth
me: yes!!!
Ben: nom nom
and the spider is back in its home
I wonder what will happen now
spider back on the moth now

I’ll see what’s left of the moth when I get home.

This whole drama played out in the lower left corner of the upper panel of our kitchen window.


In which I find something to say

Sometimes so much has happened since I last found time to write that writing about *anything* feels like a betrayal of all the other awesome things that have gone on. I think that’s where I am right now. I keep thinking I should start with the “most important” of the things, whatever that is. But that’s part of the problem – I have no idea what that is. So I’m just going to write about minutia as they occur to me.

You might have read on ben’s blog about bits of our camping trip with my old friend whip boy (I’ve finally gotten him to somewhat accept the nickname! hurrah!) along with some of its many ups and one rather significant down. Right before that big down (down, down, downdowndown) we stopped at a gas station near Yass, about three hours from Sydney, on our way back from camping for a week and a half through several national parks and a brief stay in Melbourne.

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 11.05.51 PM

Around ten o’clock at night we were switching drivers (Ben to Ben), we needed a gas refill, and Ben (whip boy) wanted coffee. As he wandered inside the truck stop to find some (a story in its own right, where the machine he tried to use spewed coffee and water all over the floor rather than into his cup) I stood outside watching thousands of beetles swooping under the giant canopy over the gas pumps, swarming around the lights. Ungainly, lovely, inch-long golden-brown shiny beetles. They were also attracted to the lights inside the truck stop and flew into the giant plate glass windows and through the open doors. They crawled along the sidewalk aimlessly, and on the floor inside the gas station. I kept trying to rescue them, bringing them back outside where they’d have a chance at mating, or moving them off of the side walk out of being-stepped-on range. But they kept flying back inside, crawling back into the sidewalk. I gave up and just watched.

Bugs are weird. As we walked out of there we thought of a legend that could be created, of the small town with the large truck stop, where once a year under the light of the full moon fairies were transformed into beetles and had twelve hours to collect glitter from the electric lights to power their fairy furnaces for the next year.  Or something like that, anyway.

Ten miles out the engine light blinked on and we got off at a truck pullout. The engine coolant was boiling, the water we replaced it with leaked out, and we didn’t know it then, but we were about to say goodbye to that borrowed car for at least three weeks as some mechanics in Yass removed the engine and replaced it with a new/old one.

As we waited for a tow truck I walked along a nearby fence line in the dark peering with my headlamp down every odd little hole to see what I could find. A small mammal peered back out of one, before disappearing at the tremor of whip boy’s footsteps, and large wolf spiders lurked in others.

A pickup truck with spotlights attached pulled into the field on the other side of the fence and Ben (wb) heard shots. Probably hunting roos grazing at night. The Bens strongly urged me to continue peering in the brush on the far side of the car, away from the truck and guns, nearer the highway.

We were eventually towed to Yass where the driver dropped us in the parking lot of a mechanic across the street from “the only motel in town with a 24-hour check-in.” After checking at the motels 24-hour check-in and discovering there was no room for us, we dragged ourselves and our luggage back across the road to make nests in what room was available in the car, awaiting the opening of the shop in 8 hours.

We made tea on the camp stove in the parking lot, found breakfast, checked the car in with the mechanics, grabbed what stuff from the car that we could carry, and dragged several kilometers up and down hills in powerful heat to the bus stop where in five hours a bus that warned us it might need to stop along the way because it had been overheating in this weather would take us to Canberra where we would catch another bus to Central Station, Sydney, and a train to Strathfield, where we would finally walk the twenty minutes home, drop our things, shower, and sleep off our exhaustion.

It sounds tiring, and it was, but it was also an adventure and certainly a new experience. While in Yass we were forced to stop and look around. When we told our landlord we had stopped in Yass he said, “Yass? Nobody stops in Yass. Why would you stop in Yass?” and I can’t really disagree, there isn’t much there. But we did find a small cafe in a small shopping center run by a friendly old couple who drew a cocoa smiley face in the foam of my mocha and really, that summed up the experience. Seeing the bright side of a small disaster in the new experiences we were having, and laughing as we contemplated how this trip went from oh-so-cheap to oh…well… at least we didn’t break down on one of the twisty dirt mountain roads we had been traveling on in a lonely part of a national park.

At that hot bus stop in Yass where I dumped water on my head every hour to cool myself through evaporation I found the most beautiful beetle, sadly dead, on the ground. I’m glad we stopped there.

Fiddler beetle edit

Eupoecila australasiae

The downsides of bug hunting or: In which Adrienne continues her trend of being absolutely irresistible to biting insects

<<may not be suitable for younger audiences>>

The trials and tribulations of bending over to hunt strawberry-devouring beetles at night with a headlamp in flimsy pajama pants are not multitudinous. They are narrow, limited, and rather predictable, in fact.

Last night’s bite tally:
one: knuckle
one: jaw
five: ASS

Why did there have to be mosquitoes here? Aren’t there enough terrible and painful and dangerous creatures without the boring old mundane mosquito? I’m disappointed, Australia. I thought you were more interesting than this.

In which I discuss the particulars of some bugs being completely awesome, and others being annoying little buggers that need to die

Last night I was out in the garden checking for beetles (more on that later) when I saw a tiny spider traversing between a cauliflower plant and a stick I’m using to tether a growing pepper plant. Anyway, this spider, it was traversing on a line of webbing, and it was carrying what I thought at first was a fly. On closer inspection it turned out to be a shiny droplet of water, like those that collect on the edges of some leaves at night as the air cools. It was carrying a droplet of water! When it got to the stick, it perched near the tip and sat still with the droplet, and as I watched, the droplet slowly grew smaller. Did you know that spiders did this??! I did not know that spiders did this! Carry water droplets?

Watch, observe, question, and get your mind blown every day!

In a bit of quick research, I haven’t been able to find out if this is common or not (I assume it is, and I’ve just never seen it) as a spider behavior. I know some spiders carry bubbles of air underwater, and lots of bugs use surface tension to their advantage… but it never occurred to me that spiders might do this, even though I know that some spiders need water beyond what they get through their prey. Some drink from puddles, others drink when they consume their webs in the morning with dewdrops on, and some drink from dewdrops. It makes perfect sense that a spider might take its drink to a safer location, but I didn’t know, and wow, neat.

It might be like that time I was walking through a graveyard at night and saw hundreds of worms sneaking out of their holes, stretching, reaching for each other. I thought, whoa! I didn’t know about this! How cool is this! What if I’ve discovered a new behavior?!?

And then I thought, oh. Earthworms. Nightcrawlers. Right.

But it was still a cool experience!

So, that was neat. But then I had to get back to my now nightly routine of beetle-hunting.

I planted our garden 3-4 weeks ago. Cucumber bushes, capsicums of different types, cauliflower, zucchini, an heirloom tomato, and some strawberries. These will all go very nicely with the forest of basil I’m cultivating in containers. I also have a small patch of oregano and thyme in there, but the basil gets to rule the place because, c’mon, duh. There’s feral rosemary growing by the back shed.

Our strawberries were doing well! We got two delicious berries from the largest plant. And then the flowers died. And some leaves fell off. The hell? It looked like the stems were being broken by something. No hail… no violent raccoons… And then some leaves developed holes. Aha! Bug attack!

I’ve patrolled for slugs and snails and seem to have conquered that problem, so this must be something new.

Ben went out that night to take a look and reported a couple of beetles. I took a vial out and came back inside with 20 or so tiny shiny obnoxious beetles that I was really quite unhappy about. They weren’t easy to see because they liked to perch just underneath leaves and quickly fell down into the mulch when disturbed. There seemed to be two similar but different types of beetles.

A bit of research and lots of looking through my watch glass led me to tentatively identify the less common type as Strawberry Root Weevils.


The other, more, shall we say abundant (teeming? seething?) type I think is the Strawberry Rootworm. They’re shiny, whereas the others are dull. They have shorter snouts. They are both really freaking annoying.

Images from bugguide.net

So now this is my routine: Go outside with a headlamp once it gets dark, examine every inch of the strawberry plants, get bit by mosquitoes, collect beetles, rant upon returning indoors. Repeat 3-4 more times before bed.

This is the majority of my haul over the last three nights. I left one vial outside and they baked in the sun. Not sorry.

The first night I came back with over fifty. Subsequent nights have had massively reduced yields, thankfully. They will attack other plants, but I have found them primarily on the strawberries. Sadly, they have been reduced from something about half as large as this:

Healthy older plant across the yard

To (there are [were] THREE strawberry plants here):


I’m certain two out of the three will live, but I’m not expecting any more berries this year.

Conclusion? In the future, plant strawberries in containers using potting soil. In lieu of going back in time, however… well, none of the websites I’ve found suggest any treatments other than “give up, replant next year at least 300 feet away.”

Je refuse! We will carry on, little berry plants, and see what we might accomplish!

Let’s all toast to the stubborn drive to spend at least one hour with the skeeters each night hunting bugs. They are going DOWN. At least I get to find things like water-toting spiders!