Gray-Day Gratitude, Bright Autumn Colors

One morning last week, I walked in our garden between bouts of rain. I wanted to enjoy the warm, mild air before a cold front rolled in that evening. Chipmunks had retired to their underground dens, birds were quiet, and I saw no insects. The exposed wet earth in the gardens smelled almost as fresh and pungent as in spring. Oregano and sage still scented our little herb garden. (I miss the aroma of fresh herbs so much during the winter.) A few bright patches of color accented the beige, russet and brown of mid-November, tiny remnants of a beautiful summer and autumn. I am so grateful for gentle autumn days and memories of a lovely, bountiful growing season.  What nature and garden memories bring gratitude to your mind and heart?

Fan-shaped gingko leaves fell much later than the maple leaves.

Fan-shaped gingko (Gingko biloba) leaves drop much later than many other leaves.

American woodbine (Parthenocissus inserta) fruit is a winter treat for some types of songbirds and small mammals.

Woodbine (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) fruit and leaves.

Moss in the north-facing garden of our backyard.

Moss in a north-facing garden of our backyard.

Common milkweed (Aesclepias syriaca) releases it silky seeds.

Common milkweed (Aesclepias syriaca) releases it silky seeds.

A tiny red maple seedling in the backyard.

A tiny red maple (Acer rubrum) seedling in the backyard.

Beads of rain adorn daylily fronds (Hemerocallis).

Beads of rain adorn daylily fronds (Hemerocallis).

Wild grape (Vitis riparia) leaves etched in maroon.

Wild grape (Vitis riparia) leaves etched in maroon.

Raindrops on crimson barberry (Berberis) fruit.

Raindrops on crimson barberry (Berberis) fruit.

The beauty of a single woodbine leaf in the empty garden.

The simple beauty of a single woodbine leaf in the empty garden.

An empty robin's nest and red maple leaf tucked into a dwarf blue spruce.

An empty robin’s nest and red maple leaf tucked into a dwarf blue spruce (Picea pungens).

Ornamental kale in a sunny spot.

Ornamental kale (Brassica oleracea) grows in a sunny spot.

Late-Autumn Insects

Last week, the coming winter teased us with snow flurries mixed in with the rain. But, during the first week of November, the temperature rebounded to the 70s. The breeze is gentle, the afternoon sun is hot and a few insects are active in some sun-warmed patches of our backyard.

On the garden’s last purple coneflower, a yellow-green, spotted beetle, similar to a ladybug at first glance, nibbles on the coneflower’s center.  It is a spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata).  And, though it’s a garden pest, it won’t survive the Minnesota winter, so I let it stay. It looks beautiful on the deep magenta bloom.

Spotted Cucumber Beetle

Spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) on a purple coneflower.

Across the yard in another sunny spot, bright red insects huddle together on a common milkweed pod. They include three different developmental stages, or instars, of the same insect, the large milkweed bug, (Oncopeltus fasciatus).  They use a tubelike mouth to inject digestive enzymes into the pod and then suck out the partially digested plant material.  Because they eat milkweed, they have the same toxicity found in monarchs and other insects that dine on the plant.  When I first noticed them a few weeks ago, I thought they were red aphids until I spotted an adult on the pod.  Over time, they began to grow larger, develop black markings, and become darker red.  Like the spotted cucumber beetle mentioned above, the large milkweed bug is migratory and those still here won’t survive our northern winter.

Early instars of Large Milkweed Bug

Early developmental instars of large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus).

Large milkweed bug in developmental stages.

Large milkweed bug in several developmental stages on a common milkweed pod.

The orange shells of Asian lady beetles (Harmonia Axyridis) glow where they’ve settled on the sun-warmed brick of our house and on a few hardy garden plants.  Unlike the insects mentioned above, these beetles survive the Minnesota winter.  They were introduced into the southern United States in the mid-1900s to help control agricultural pests and first appeared in Minnesota in the 1990s, according to University of Minnesota records.  To some people they’re pests because the beetles often find a way inside in the autumn. But, they also eat aphids found on trees, in gardens and on agricultural crops.  The easiest way to distinguish Asian lady beetles from native species is by an “M” or “W” mark (depending on the viewing angle) on the thorax between the head and abdomen.  (More about Asian and native ladybird beetles in another post.)

Asian lady beetle on goldenrod.

Asian lady beetle (Harmonia Axyridis) on goldenrod.

Asian lady beetle on 'Henry Kelsey' rose.

Asian lady beetle on ‘Henry Kelsey’ rose.