On Sunday, while we were taking a break from working on the house at the little farm, and enjoying the breeze and a visit with Brandon's mom, I spied something green on the trunk of the pear tree. That's one big bug! I should have put something in the photo to show the scale so you can appreciate how big this cicada is. His body is several inches, and his pretty emerald and lacy wings extend beyond his body.
Also on the trunk of the tree, a few feet below the cicada, was his recently abandoned exoskeleton. It still has dirt on it from where he crawled from the ground as a nymph. I read that they can live underground from depths of nearly a foot to over eight feet. There's a whole other world under there!
The nymphs use their powerful front legs to dig, and they eat by sucking sap from tree roots. Comparing the exoskeleton to the adult cicada, I thought the most obvious difference, other than wings, is that the adult cicada has much more delicate front legs, and the nymph has a more prominent mouth/face area. I imagine shedding an exoskeleton feels awesome, like taking off a too tight pair of jeans. Ahhhh...
Check out these funky caterpillars. How long does it take these guys to fix their hair in the morning?! I think these are milkweed tussock moths (Euchaetes egle). They weren't eating a common milkweed though, they were eating a sandvine (Ampelamus albidus), which was climbing a blackberry plant. At first, I thought the vine they were eating was a type of bindweed (Convolvulus sp). I HATE bindweed when it's in my garden, which it always is because I can't get rid of it, so I was excited and ready to pack these guys up and carry them home to the garden. But, sadly, it turns out they aren't the solution to my ongoing struggle with bindweed after all. If I ever get invaded by sandvine though, I'll know who to call.
Lately, Brandon has been spending some time each workday, in the evening, playing with his tractor, er...I mean, mowing. We have many discussions about mowing these days. I want to leave things un-mowed, because I like the habitat it creates for insects and wildlife, but Brandon worries that we aren't caring for our future pastures without mowing the weeds and letting the grass grow in thick. He also argues that with our miniature and antique equipment, letting things grow into young forests before mowing isn't a good idea. As a compromise, we waited until the beginning of July, so the baby birds have fledged, and he only mows one field at a time, in a staggered pattern, to give everybody a chance to scoot over. I also designated some areas as no-mow zones, to protect the milkweed plants. It helps that his mower deck is small and he's a sloppy mower, so there are still patches of tall vegetation throughout the fields.
In the photo above, I'm standing near the northwest corner of our property looking south. That's our little house and barns to the left. We really need a cow!
Someone stopped by recently and offered to cut our fields in exchange for the hay, thus saving us the effort of cutting it. I'm pretty sure that's how our fields have been managed in the recent past. We didn't take this offer because I would like to return all the organic matter and nutrition back to the soil, which hopefully will make stronger pastures for the future.
As Brandon cuts the grass, grasshoppers and other insects jump out of the way. This creates a feeding frenzy with the barn swallows, as you can see in the video above. You may want to watch as a full screen as the birds are fast and small and my video skills are weak. They remind me of gulls following a shrimp boat. They must hear the tractor from a distance and know to come over to eat, because they just appear and then disappear again once he's finished.