Now that I’m shut out of the garden by frost, I’ve been spending time with a newly acquired book, Whitney Cranshaw’s Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs (Princeton University Press, 2004, $29.95). This is a big book with a modest price, and has excellent colour pictures of just about everything crawling and flying around your garden, including crickets, katydids, fruit flies, mealy bugs, moths, maggots, borers, aphids, ants and bees. The author describes more than 1,400 species, with comments on their favourite foods and habits. Cranshaw is an entomologist and the titles of his two previous volumes, Pests of the West and Bagging Big Bugs, suggest he might be both helpful and a lot of fun.
Straight away the book had me feeling sentimental for the sweet little cabbage butterflies (in the whites and sulfurs Pieridae family) that flit and flutter about the garden, looking for broccoli, Brussels sprouts or anything related to cabbage that could be a suitable base for laying their eggs. (If you grow ornamental cabbage and kale, you’ll be familiar with their green caterpillar larvae stage that can eat whole leaves overnight.) The adult-form butterflies with white wings bearing a characteristic dark spot are emblematic of high summer when they may duke it out in territorial conflict over choice nectar-rich blossoms. In my garden, they’re particularly eager for the flowers of golden oregano.
This is a good book for identifying insects, caterpillars, their eggs and the damage they can cause. It’s also informative in settling simple, yet irksome questions like, of the 550 species of grasshoppers in North America, how many feed on garden plants? Answer: only four will consider eating an ornamental plant—the twostriped, differential, migratory and redlegged grasshoppers (pictures are in the book). The other 546 grasshopper species are just minding their own business. As well, I’ve been concerned about new and unknown lady bugs (or lady beetles) with tan backs and fewer black spots than red lady bugs have. Are these alien intruders? No, they’re part of the nearly 200 species of lady bugs on the continent, which also includes the pink spotted and twicestabbed lady beetles, certainly exotic by any standard. The little tan ones are multi-coloured Asian lady beetles, with dual U.S and Canadian citizenship. Well, that’s a relief.
Other posts by Judith this week:
Posts by Judith last week: