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Strange Garden Ecology: From Birds to Mice to Wasps to Ants to Birds

Weird Ecology, ink & watercolor in sketchbook
Strange Ecology, ink & watercolor (click to enlarge or see big images below)

I used to love feeding the birds and seeing my little customers flocking to the feeder. But one day I thought I saw the wood chip ground covering moving under the feeder. When I looked closely I saw it wasn’t the tan bark moving, it was dozens of mice! By feeding the birds I was also nourishing a growing army of mice with all the seed the birds scattered!

1. Feed the Birds  2. Mice grow strong and prosper
1. Feed the Birds ---> ---> ---> ---> ---> ---> ---> 2. Mice grow strong and prosper

I called “Vector Control” (a euphemism for the county rat patrol) and an interesting female rat inspector came out and inspected. She told me the only way to get rid of the mice was to stop feeding the birds and that for each mouse I saw there were 50 more I wasn’t seeing. I was sad to stop feeding the birds but it was better than the alternative (which included multiple mouse traps, even sadder).

Meanwhile, the spilled millet seed grew into a lovely, tall, feathery bush under the feeder, which I left hanging in a bit of wishful thinking that one day I’d be able to return to feeding my feathery friends.

3. Millet grass grows under feeder. 4. Wasps move in.
3. Millet grass grows under feeder ---> ---> ---> --->4. Wasps move in.

A couple years pass, the feeder and bird house remain empty and the millet bush continues to be a pretty garden feature. One day I notice something odd: wasps are buzzing in and out of the feeder and have built a nest inside it. I learned that while wasps do not pollinate like bees, they are still beneficial because they eat insect pests in the garden. I decided to leave them alone and enjoyed watching them care for theirĀ  babies (larvae) in the nest.

Wasps eat potential garden pests including the venomous black widow spider. Adult wasps eat only pollen and nectar (or your soda at picnics). They only hunt for meat (insects, worms, your barbequed hamburgers) to feed their larvae. Wasps nests have only one purpose: to ensure the production of young. At the end of the nest’s cycle, every member of the nest, except emerging queens, dies.

5. The wasps move in next door ---> 6. The Greenhouse Effect
5. The wasps move in next door ---> ---> ---> 6. The Greenhouse Effect

I guess things got a little crowded in the nest because the wasps started hanging out at the neighboring empty bird house too. Then one day we had a scorcher of a summer day. The temperature in my usually cool and foggy neighborhood by the Bay was in the 90s (f). The clear plastic bird feeder turned into a greenhouse and cooked all the wasps in the nest. So sad. All those poor little larvae, all that building and hunting and gathering of food.

But it wasn’t entirely wasted…

7. The millet bush becomes a little ladder and the ants have a party
7. The millet bush becomes ladder to an ant party

The stalks of tall millet grass made a perfect ladder for the gazillions of ants who live in my garden (and don’t even get me started about the ants and their nasty aphid ranches). The ants were streaming up the grass onto the feeder and having a lovely dinner party of roasted wasp.

And because my garden is well stocked with ants and aphids, I am, in a way, still feeding the birds. They still flock to my garden, but now they eat the ants and aphids off the rose bushes and it doesn’t even cost a penny in bird seed.

Categories
Animals Cartoon art Illustration Ink and watercolor wash Life in general Sketchbook Pages

Meanwhile…. Life Goes On

Zoom Magazine

I’ve been away from my blog this past week, for a number of reasons, including setting up a new computer, an extended family member suddenly hospitalized in a coma with no brain activity, plus other more positive family events.

So in this brief intermission, here is a page from Costa Rica’s Zoom magazine I received recently. My sketches illustrate an article about Leaf Cutter Ants (amazing creatures that live in Costa Rica). When the editor was looking for illustrations she came across my sketches on my blog and asked for permission to use them in the article. It’s fun seeing them in print:

Leafcutter Ants, in "Zoom" (Costa Rica magazine)

(Click image to enlarge)

I’m looking forward to some solid studio time for the next two days and getting back to regular posting. Meanwhile, life goes on…