Thursday, June 24, 2010

Living Creatures

I bought a container of 1500 ladybugs a couple weeks ago and have been slowly meting them out in our garden, using the children as our dispersal device.

We don't actually need ladybugs for the purpose of pest control -- aphids are not what's chewing holes in our cauliflower leaves. (We've found several slugs, a snail and a caterpillar out there, which are all likely culprits.) Nope, it's all about interacting with nature's least threatening insect. We've had them crawling all over our fingers, up our arms, and in our hair. And while I'm sure we've accidentally ended the life of more than one prematurely, I've seen nothing but gentle fingers out there in the garden.

Part of our success, I think, has come from the fact that we've been playing with them almost immediately after being removed from the refrigerator, which slows them down a lot and reduces their tendency to fly, making it easy to catch and handle them. Our collection of bug boxes and viewers have helped a lot too. It's a great way to contain them for a few minutes too get a good look at their bright bodies, black dots and tiny legs.

Some of them are actually hanging around our garden as well. We've been spontaneously finding them all over the place. 

I'm a little worried for our worms, however, and I'll have to do a little more research on this, but the one time we dropped a worm into a box of ladybugs, the poor thing got swarmed. I know that ladybugs are relatively adaptable omnivores, but I just can't imagine they were hungry enough to attack a worm. I'm working on the theory that they were thirsty and were just sucking on the moisture represented by the worm, but in any event I've requested that we not put too many ladybugs in the worm bed.

And ladybugs aren't the only only critters we've had visiting the place. For some reason what look like fruit flies are swarming the cotton shirt we put on our cylinder-headed scarecrow.

Why would that be?

And we're rife with pill bugs, ants, and other common garden insects. We spotted a dragon fly yesterday and several types of spiders. I know this might not sound exciting to those of you in more buggy climes -- and I've lived in very buggy places, like South Carolina -- but this is the first time I've worked with kids during the summer and it's fun to see their enthusiasm for them. And again, their gentleness. We talk a lot about how our worms are living creatures and the message seems to be carrying through to all the things that creep, crawl and fly. 

In my ongoing quest to make our new tree blocks more enticing, I turned to our Little World supplies yesterday, digging into a basket of moss in quest of interesting things to combine with the blocks. This basket has been sitting there, undisturbed, for several months. When I pulled out the first lush slab of moss, I unleashed herds of bugs, beetles, and spiders, wrecking what appeared to be a peaceful little ecosystem. Left behind were slugs, including a couple large ones.

Two-year-old Liam, in particular, took a shine to the slugs, carrying this larger one and a "baby" around for quite some time. It was touching to see how gentle he could be with these vicious garden pests, treating them as the living creatures they are.

In spite of that, near the end of the day, he brought me the baby, saying, "It's not moving." We looked at it together for a minute in silent eulogy, then quietly buried it in a quiet corner of Little World that only the two of us know about.

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Juliet Robertson said...

Hi Tom

What beautiful leopard slugs your children have found. At least they look like the occasional one I find in my garden

As for checking your worms, I would advise a "worm attitude test"

pamela Wallberg said...

I love the image of the ladybugs attacking the worms. What a neat opportunity to teach the need to protect those more vulnerable

We are having a huge bug infestation outdoors - more than usual. It's the wet spring we've had, according to local greenery nursery type places.

Michele @ The Hills are Alive said...

the things you learn - I had no idea you could BUY ladybugs (how very cool) or that they would attack (eat?) worms. Thanks Teacher Tom for yet another wonderful post and peek into your little world.

Let the Children Play said...

I love "that only the two of us know about."