Thursday, October 27, 2011

Scary Critters Are Haunting My Garden!

Since it's almost Halloween, when ghouls, ghosts and goblins are about, I thought it would be fun to look at a few of the fierce creatures I've found in my garden over the past year.

Leading off the Fright Parade has to be the gargantuan mama wolf spider I unearthed not long ago while cleaning out a plant bed. I immediately started shrieking, but somehow managed to refrain from bolting -- my typical spider reaction (see Blog Post titled "Confessions of a Spider Sissy"). When I calmed down, I noticed she was standing over a large egg sac, which she refused to leave even when my husband came running out in response to my screams, ready to squash her under his shoe. I could actually see her looking up at me warily, clearly ready to die to protect her precious eggs. You guessed it: I couldn't kill her. She was an expectant mother.

Instead, my husband brought me my camera, and I knelt down close enough to get this cool photo of her guarding her egg sac. For a severe arachno-phobic like me, this alone was a miracle. But when I backed away, she immediately crawled off the egg sac, dug a hole in the plant bed, came back, rolled the egg sac into the hole and then got inside herself, vanishing without a trace as she covered up the hole behind her.  All this happened in less than a minute, and it was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. This spider may have changed my entire view of the species!

Last weekend I was reading the Sunday newspaper when what appeared to be a small wolf spider crawled across the page. Aha, I thought. I know your mother.

Then there was the beautiful black and yellow argiope that set up housekeeping last fall underneath our gutters on the back deck. My husband grew quite fond of the big girl and would occasionally toss a gift of a roach or beetle into her web. I read that argiopes are a common garden spider but, sadly, we haven't seen one this year.

Another fearsome insect that is common in my garden is the assassin bug.  Though they reputedly have a very painful bite, I leave them alone and they do the same to me.

Assassin bugs are named for their habit of lying in ambush for their prey, and then striking with startling speed and accuracy. They use their long "beak" to stab and inject a lethal toxin that dissolves their victim's innards so they can then suck up the liquified tissues. Oh the horror!

Fortunately the assassin bug eats many bad bugs, so best to live and let live.

Finally, let's end with my snakelike yard buddy, the glass lizard. Not a snake at all, but a true legless lizard, about 12-18 inches long, with tiny earholes and a remarkable ability to break off its own tail when captured -- thus the name "glass" lizard.  We have several of these fascinating creatures sharing our landscape, and they live underground most of the time. We see them in duff, hiding deep underneath mulch, and even in our compost bin, The compost-dweller became a familiar sight, since he apparently lived in our compost bin for several weeks, making quite a living feasting on spiders, beetles, grubs and other creepy-crawlies there. We saw him every week when we watered and turned the compost, until he finally ran out of food, I guess, and moved on.
 Now that I've given you a glimpse into my haunted garden, it's your turn. What's the scariest creature in yours? 


  1. Those are amazing photo shots! I wonder what's lurking in my Mom's garden.

  2. Really? It looks like a snake though. I wouldn't want these to visit our garden anytime, LOL. There are some insects in my garden, but they are friendly and aren't scary, LOL. They're just butterflies and a couple of bees! They are actually great pollinators!

  3. Glass (legless) lizards certainly do look like snakes, Jamie. But they are shorter, squatter, and have ear holes. You can imagine them as a lizard if you mentally put legs on them. You may have these beneficial guys in your garden and not even know it. They aree shy and live most of their lives underground -- we see them mainly in the summer. I have grown really fond of these fellows for their spider-eating prowess!

  4. Watering my dracena's I noticed these two assassin insects emerging from the leaf stems, they were colorful and looked translucent, never seen anything like them. I just waited for the right moment and directed them off with a little stick. This morning I wanted to know what they were, after finding out I was directed to your website, find it very interesting. I am always amazed when I am in the back yard. I do not like to kill any insect/bug, except for bed bugs, roaches, fleas and headlice. I will keep my camera handy for the next time.