Tuesday, April 10, 2007

there are mutants in my garden! (or 'high school biology comes to life')

Our zucchini plants are still limping along, producing a small number of fruit. I had grand visions of 200 zucchs but, funnily enough, not watering the plants has slowed their output! We're 25 away from 200 and I suspect the frost will beat us on this one.

The other morning I popped out to pick a couple of green zucchinis and got quite a fright... they were covered in odd, mutant-like insects. I flicked them off quickly (such bravery) and scurried away from the infested plants for the safety of our house. And a quick internet search.

Carefully typing in 'yellow head larvae', I discovered a fantastic website that helps you identify bugs (limited only by its location in New Zealand). No matter, Australia and New Zealand have enough fauna in common for me to identify my mutant insects as larvae of the yellow ladybird.

It seems that we have a classic example of high school biology functioning in our very own backyard!

What I forgot to mention when explaining our dwindling zucchini production was the white, powder-like fungus that covers every visible leaf and stem of the plants. This mildew may well be slowing their growth more than lack of water, but half-baked-vegetable-growing-city-dwellers that we are, we have done nothing to stem the spread of this nasty parasite.

It would seem that yellow ladybirds love white, powder-like fungus and recent weeks have seen a burgeoning of their numbers in our backyard. Each zucchini leaf is covered with anything from one to ten ladybirds, munching away contentedly. (OK, ten is an exaggeration, but still, there's loads of them!)

With the plentiful supply of food they have set to reproduction in a BIG way. Not only can you catch them mating at regular intervals (I didn't mean to intrude, but they were on top of the leaves - what did they expect?!), but the ladybird numbers are swelling before our very eyes.

Leaves are now covered with multiple ladybirds surrounded by their (very ugly) offspring. The leaf above had seven babies larvae scurrying around just in this one corner!

Now I'm having visions of my Year 12 Biology teacher passionately describing parasites, synergistic relationships in the animal kingdom, and food chains that produce insect plagues in times of plentiful food.

Wow... in our backyard... our very own food chain! And I get to be part of it all, enriched by observing the incredible interrelationship of nature... if that isn't synergy I don't know what is!

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At 4:41 pm, April 10, 2007, Blogger Robyn said...

well I'm mildly disillusioned. I think ladybirds are so pretty....but those larvae, blech! You've gotten good value out of those zucchinis! :)

At 9:41 pm, April 10, 2007, Anonymous Sandy said...

The ladybirds look like our ladybugs only a different color. If they are in the same family, they eat all kinds of aphids which are not good for plants. I read that ladybugs hibernate in winter. Looks like your Ladybirds are happy to be in your yard. Lucky you to have such an honor of their arrival.

At 6:49 am, April 12, 2007, Blogger Deanna said...

Cool insect life you've got there. Our zucchinis' leaves always end up with the same white fungus.


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