Saturday, 3 March 2007

The garden fights back

Having not had the time or inclination to work on the garden over the past week, I made a sortie into the back yard. The Kennedias have taken over. The side fence has disappeared under a mass of green. It'll take hours to get the plants under control. I should have planted triffids instead, They would have been easier to manage.

Not that the rampant Kennedias are ugly. I love the glossy bottle-green and bronze of the black coral pea (K. nigricans) and the velvety pale green of the K. retrorsa. But when they roll out of the garden bed like a breaker and threaten to swamp the rest of the yard, it's time to wield the secateurs with extreme prejudice.

I started on the black coral pea but succumbed to the heat and humidity after a few snips. Not before I'd uncovered a bunch of insects that had been hiding among the leaves.

Margarodidae is a family of scale insects with 40 or so species in Australia, The most well-known species, Icerya purchasi, has been exported (inadvertently) to other countries, where it has become a pest of cultivated plants. Most adult Icerya are hermaphrodites. They are able to fertilise their own eggs, in which case they always produce hermaphroditic young. If eggs are fertilised by one of the rare winged males, then some of the young are also male. The egg are laid in white quilted sacs, which remain attached to the adult. This gives the soecies its common name of cottony cushion scale.

The camouflage of this noctuid moth would be very effective on tree bark or among dead leaves but when the disturbed insect settled on living foliage, even I could spot it. The white blotches on the forewings were so bright that I thought they were either fluorescent or reflective. When I got the moth under the microscope, I saw they were silver with beaded edges. These photos don't show their real beauty. But they do show the extraordinary form of the wings.

There are wonderful animals in the garden.

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