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Gardens of the Cross Timbers: What's for dinner?

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Charlotte and her two Suitors

This was to be an orb weaver-less year.  The egg sacks the brightly colored spider diligently produced last autumn and attached to the top of the west window never hatched.  No male had ever appeared.  She lasted until the second frost before giving up hope and freezing.  The egg sacks are still hanging there.

When I checked on the lemon trees early morning, a few branches tried to put up a formidable blockade.  Their coup lasted only a few minutes before the garden pruners came into action.  As I backed out to look at the shapelier trees, I glanced down to the side of the greenhouse.  Six inches above ground, in the center of an elaborately spun web, was an orb weaver!  She was somewhat protected by leaves and shrubbery, but still very vulnerable to snakes, lizards, scorpions and centipedes.  The next day the lady had not one, but two suitors on her web.  The week ended the way it started:   one strikingly pretty orb weaver in her zig zag world.  

Some species of orb weavers create webs strong enough to ensnare bats and birds.  At this level, Charlotte 2020 was aiming her sights for low-flying incoming insects. The Argiope genus of our yellow and black orb weavers are especially great at making the criss-cross stabilimentum, better known as the web decoration.  Thick woven straight lines, crosses and spirals of silk are spun by different species.  

No one is sure why orb weavers do this.  The design could reflect ultraviolet light, which would attract insects.  Perhaps camouflage to disguise the spider within.  The web decoration might increase visibility so birds don’t plunder through.  Was this a sign showing she was ready for action?  Did the silk pattern catch the attention of each male’s eight eyes?  

Orb weavers also practice sexual cannibalism.  Sometimes the male escapes, but his odds are terrible.  The scenario:  Blinded by love, the much smaller male carefully approaches.  He dances around the edge of the web trying to avoid becoming a meal while she watches from the center.  Second option.  He may attempt to spin a mating thread, apart from her web, for better access.

The two have the time of their lives.  She then eats him. The end.

I look at Charlotte and wonder what happened?  She’ll never kiss and tell.

The bolas spider is another type of orb weaver.  During the day the spider looks like a bird dropping on a branch or leaf.  At night, the female produces a sex pheromone quite irresistible to some male moths.  This spider doesn’t make a web, but produces a single tough strand of silk she anchors to one leg.  At the end of the thread is a

sticky lump, the bolas, the spider flings out when an amorous moth flies too close.  She ‘ropes’ the moth and reels it back in.  

A ragged female Polyphemus Silk Moth

The large Polyphemus moth (named after the one-eyed cyclops of Greek mythology) is in the giant silk moth family.  When these moths emerge from cocoons, their only thought is sex since they have no mandibles and cannot eat.  The male moth has bushy antennae studded with receptors to help locate the scent of the female moth.  Tough luck if he is lured to a bolas spider hiding in the shadows doing her best to smell like a female Polyphemus.  Nature can be crafty and clever.

I restrained from taking a picture of two flashy red objects in the road.  Oh no, two painted buntings had been hit.  Not unheard of.  When I got to the pair, what I saw were two black furry paws spaced 8 inches apart complete with small claws and red muscles.  They had to have been previously attached to an animal, except there was no animal.  Only two feet and a slight odor.  That skunk is having a time trying to walk.

Tuesday afternoon was a real treat.  Our judging team assembled inside one classroom of the Pottawatomie County OSU Extension Center.  On several tables were posters and journals created by 4-H students.  “Produce and Pollinators 4-H Garden Project” began early in the spring. Individual students and teams received packets of seeds as well as tomato, pepper and pollinator plants.  Each designed, planted, watered, and weeded. Despite the Covid19 shutdown, the 4-Hers from Tecumseh, McLoud and South Rock Creek kept their plants growing. They gained valuable experience.  They also discovered what did and didn’t work in their gardens.  

Sunflower

Some mighty beautiful veggies and flowers were grown by these fledgling gardeners and horticulturalists despite the minimal interaction. Family support became even more important. As the season began to wind down, each of the gardens were judged and awarded points.  The students had kept journals in which they later summed up their hard work.  Using pictures, photos, drawing and art materials, they created posters. Our job was to review and assign points for the journals and posters.  These young people showed dedication and perseverance throughout a challenging plant season.  Each had done a stellar job.

Afterward I walked out to check out the Butterfly Garden.   The goldfinches were brilliant, streaks of black and yellow darting through and around the flowers.  Large and small butterflies danced in the zinnias, goldenrod and other blooms.  What a lovely place.

At least you could recognize the finches.  My birds look like flying rats with wings.  Several species, except the doves, blue jays and crows, are currently molting their worn-out plumage while new feathers emerge. Cardinals, sparrows and house finches all look like they have the mange.  They’ll look more like themselves in a few weeks.

In his June 17th 2020 Gardening article “Larch-Miller Memorial Park is 100 years old this year”, Tom Terry talked about the improvements and installation of new plant beds in the park.  Were you able to attend the re-dedication event honoring Aloysius Larch-Miller late Sunday afternoon August 23rd?  Aloysius was a Shawnee teacher, Red Cross volunteer, and tireless crusader for woman suffrage.  She gave her life so every woman would have the right to vote in political elections.  

Suffragette Rebecca Fry.

A well-shaded Larch-Miller Park was filled with over 100 people.  Many were young adults. A few family dogs added to the energetic atmosphere.  Pictures, songs, speeches, testimonials and some amazing stories were presented.  

Justice Hugo Black stated in 1964: “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live.  Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.”  

Make a difference and VOTE. Do it for Aloysius and yourself.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.