Creepy-crawlies - wildlife in a garden

"The song of birds, the voices of insects, are all means of conveying truth to the mind; in flowers and grasses we see messages of the Way. The scholar, pure and clear of mind, serene and open of heart, should find in everything what nourishes him."

  • from Haiku, edited by R.H. Blyth.

Gardens are beautiful expressions of the need we humans have to live in touch with the natural world around us, a world which, in the concrete jungle so many of us perforce inhabit, can seem far away and beyond our reach.

A garden is a tamed piece of nature, a place where nature's "red in tooth and claw" reality can be kept at bay while we absorbe the peaceful quiet, the colours and scents, of the plants we love and nurture.

We can dream in a garden of earthly delights, of romantic notions and we can be in control of nature, or at least have the illusion of control - take out that "weed", cut back that bush, plant the seeds in neat, straight rows.

Of course, that control and neatness is illusory - there are things going on the garden that are destructive, violent and uncontrollable, and redolent of sex. Perhaps that is the unacknowledged attraction of a garden - we can see, or imagine, in a garden, what would not be "allowed" in polite society.

All our violent and/or sexual fantasies can be played out, in miniature, in a garden, seemingly under our control. And no-one needs to know or suspect!

I love the "secret" creatures of a garden - those things that in the normal course of events we insecticide out of the garden and our lives. So I often take my camera into the garden and seek out these little creatures which we often can not control - they live despite us, often in seemingly blithe ignorance of our very existence.

Songololo

The name most South Africans know this creature by is the "songololo". It is actually a millipede of the class Diplopoda. Of course, althougth its English name, millipede, means "a thousand legs", it doesn't really have that many - it just looks that way!

These creepy things are not harmful to humans - they eat mostly rotting vegetable matter - but they have a protective device which most humans find rather distatsteful, to say the least.

From glands behind the head these creatures secrete a foul-smelling liquid which contains hydrogen cyanide, and so they are potentially toxic, though not really to humans as the amount is small.

The millipede rolls istself into a tight ball, or coil, when alarmed, as in the top photo. It usually has a hard, shiny skin, either black, as in the specimen here, or red.

The diplopoda are thought to have been among the first creatures to colonise land during the silurian geologic age which started almost 450 million years ago, so these babies are old!

Metamorphosis

We all learnt about metamosphosis in school - the process whereby a butterfly lays eggs, the eggs hatch into caterpillars, the caterpillar forms a pupa from which, in time, emerges another butterfly.

How does this change happen in the pupa? Well, the answer is that the caterpillar in a sense eats itself, using the same digestive juices with which it digested the leaves on which it fed in its caterpillar phase. It digests its old body, leaving only some cells called "histoblasts" which control the building of the new butterfly's body from the "soup" made from the caterpillar body by the digestive juices.

Of course the caterpillar, no matter how beautiful the butterfly might be, is not a very welcome visitor to the garden because they are usually voracious eaters.

The little furry guy in the first photo here ate my origanum bush until there were just stalks left in about two days.

The caterpillar in the next photo did the same to some wild strawberry plants. I can understand why some people would want to get the insecticide out!

I just remember my mother's wisdom about this sort of thing - these creatures have a right to live, share with them! But it is a bit distressing to see one's plants destroyed as some of these creatures are wont to do.

The last photo is of a pupa cleverly constucted from small pieces of twig. It was hanging in a fir tree in our garden, along with dozens of others. I never got to see what came out of them, unfortunately.



Spiders and others

“Our souls sit close and silently within,

And their own webs from their own entrails spin;

And when eyes meet far off, our sense is such,

That, spider-like, we feel the tenderest touch” - John Dryden

That little guy on the agapanthus leaf is ready to jump. We have large numbers of these spiders around the garden and even in the house.

As far as I know they are harmless, though the one really venomous spider we have in South Africa, the black button spider (genus Latrodectus) looks a little like this one in the photo. The black button spider though has a red hour-glass-shaped spot on its body which distinguishes it form the common or garden variety of jumping spider, which is what this little guy is.

The button spiders of the family Theridiidae are mostly not of the venomous kind but it is still worth keeping clear of them anyway as they are not always so easy to distinguish from the venomous black button spider.

I have no idea what the next pretty critter is. This is the only time I have ever seen one of these. It was beautiful with those gossamer wings and the two long feelers, or whatever, sticking out in front of it. Could it be a species of damselfly?

The next photo is of a honey bee in an agapanthus floret. In summer we have myriads of these busy fellows buzzing around the garden, doing their pollinating work.

This fellow is a member of the sub-species Apis mellifera scutellata, a rather aggressive type of bee with a particularly venomous sting. It is also the bee which produces the most and best honey.

The last photo is of an interesting fellow called a shield bug of the family Pentatomidae. These guys are also called "stink bugs" because of the really awful smell they emit when crushed or held.

There are many varieties of this bug and they love lights at night. They come into the house and get into a light shade, flying around inside it, bumping into it making a very irritating sound, especially if you are trying to go to sleep.

Snails and slugs

Frogs and snails

And puppy-dogs' tails,

- from an early 19th Century nursery rhyme


Many people have an instinctive revulsion to snails and slugs. There is something repulsive about their sliminess.

This garden snail, of the class Gastropoda is an immigrant to South Africa, coming originally from Western Europe. It is related to the escargot (Helix pomatia) which I, like many people, love to eat with a lot of garlic, and this garden variety is in fact also edible, with the proper preparation.

I think the fellow shown here is of the species Helix aspersa.

Slugs, as in the third photo, are also gastropods.

Lizard

This is a striped skink (Trachylepsis striata) which has lost its tail. This little chap lives under one of my planters in the carport. He is quite inquisitive but at the same time very shy.

There are quite a large number of these chaps in the garden and I love having them, in spite of the shivers they give my wife, because they help to keep the insect population under control.


What we don't have in the garden!

Recently the African rock python pictured below was found in a suburban garden not too far from where we live.

It is a female of about 3.5 metres in length. It was captured and released into the Groenkloof Nature Reserve.

This snake species is the largest in Africa and is not venomous, but has been known to attack humans, though very, very rarely.

The recently-captured African rock python. Image from the "East Record" of 4 February 2011.
The recently-captured African rock python. Image from the "East Record" of 4 February 2011.

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2011

More by this Author


Comments 42 comments

Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 5 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

Oh my,little snails and lizards,but that Python is the largest garden pest I've ever seen!;)


vietnamvet68 profile image

vietnamvet68 5 years ago from New York State

Tony, I really enjoyed this article, very informative, we have most of those little critters here in NY also, except that big snake. :) I hate snakes.


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 5 years ago

Nice Tony. We have many of the same insects here in America and NC. The "millipede" looks the same and coils up. We have the black widow spider which has an red hourglass. We have a stink-bug too. Thanks Tony! Beautiful pics!


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 5 years ago from I'm outta here

Ewwwww, I've always wondered about many of these creepy crawly things for the wildlife in the garden. Very well done and a great reference for the upcoming summer months. Blessings :) Katie


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

I love gardening, because it is an opportunity to create a ‘perfect’ world and to maintain order. It is like playing God, but with very little control over nature.

The black button spider has an equal venomous friend here in South Africa - the viooltjiespinnekop (violin spider?) I am extremely scared of all crawling insects, in particularly spiders. You know they can bungee-jump too? I once lived in a thatch-roofed house – imagine how many spiders bungee-jumped down on me while I was sleeping?

That critter indeed looks like a kind of naaldekoker (dragon-fly / damsel fly).

One or three lizards live in my house – apparently they go out during the day and come back in the evenings, hiding where I can’t find them. I have no idea how to get rid of them. Their droppings look like those of rats, but with a snow-white tip. By now I regard them as my pets – they eat crickets and spiders... I hope.

May I never discover any kind of python in my garden!

Thanks for a very interesting hub, Tony! The quality of your pictures is amazing. I wish you love and peace galore.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago

Wow, the photos are so beautiful. I love them ! Not only I have these creepy-crawlies in my garden, I have them inside my house too ! Scares me sometimes. Nevertheless, I like to see these lives in my garden.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

Hi Tony,

It really is amazing what many of us have in our gardens when we stop and look properly.

A great hub Tony and also the great photos to go with the article.

Thank you so much for sharing.

Take care,

Eiddwen.


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 5 years ago from Yorkshire

hi tony

as a gardener I found your hub really interesting and nicely presented.The biggest pests I have are local school children who pass morning and evening and think my garden is a skip. I'm thinking of weighing in all the Aluminium cans, don't know what to do with the crisp papers.

good luck from tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Bryan - indeed I'm so glad it wasn't in my garden!

Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Vet - thank you and I'm glad you enjoyed it. That snake was something, hey?

Love and peace

Tony


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Good job on picturing these creepy crawlies in your garden. We have many of the same things as well as others. If I ever saw a snake that large in our garden I think it would be time to move to a high rise! Haha!


IN2Deep profile image

IN2Deep 5 years ago

I use to not be able to drive past the garden center without pulling in and buying something new-since my the first flower started-I won't go into the yard without my camera- all the little creatures are facinating to watch.Those stinkbugs-Uggh!They have taken up residency here-probablly more in my house than outside.Yuck! I keep seeing them everywhere- One time I was gardening in my mother in laws garden I heard something behind me-when I turned around it was an 'EMU' scarede me half to death-but if I had snakes like that-I just don't think I would be out there as often.I am very thankful-I have never seen here in my yard (NJ) more than the occasional garden snake and a 5' Black Snake-Thats enough for me.I am looking forward to spring-If the snow ever melts.


tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 5 years ago from USA

Although I love to garden, I hate the thought of coming across a gardener snake. I had that happen to me a couple of times while browsing through some squash. I have to say the most interesting bug I have come across here was the preying mantis. I had never seen them out in the wild till my first summer here.

I didn't know until my aunt showed me that if salt is poured on a slug, it desolves it...facinating!

Another great hub Tony! I gave it a vote up. Thanks!

I am slow, but looking forward to reading more.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

Oh my goodness, i would die if i ever came across a snake like that and spiders scare me too. I love a garden. I plant one every summer. I plant tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, and lots of flowers. I enjoyed your article and pictures. Thank you.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

I love “creepy-crawlies”! They are so interesting to watch, and when they are active in my garden it's easy to observe them every day. I enjoyed your descriptions and photos. However, although I love animals, the site of a snake as big as that rock python in my garden would be horrifying!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Micky - thanks my brotherman. Appreciate your kind words very much, as always.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Katie - thanks for stoping by and glad you found it useful. Always good to know a bit more about the things that make us go "Ewwwww"! LOL!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Martie, my vriend, dankie baie vir die besoek en die mooi woorde. Ek waardeer dit opreg.

I did a check while writing this Hub on the Vioolspinnekop and according to Prof Ansie Dippenaar-Schoeman of the Agricultural Research Council the black button or widow spider is the only one in SA with potentially fatal results from a bite and even then there are no documented cases of deaths caused by this spider in SA. The viooltjie spinnekop is according to her very often falsely accused and the bite of this spider is less venomous than that of the bloack button. The results of a viooltjie spinnekop bite are localised and although there is no known antidote it can be treated symptomatically. So daar is min rede vir vrees omtrent die viooltjie! Of so se Prof Ansie! You can find out more here, is youare interested: http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2005/april/button...

I love the bungee-jumping spiders! Great image.

Thanks again for stopping by and for the kind words.

Love and peace

Tony


midnightbliss profile image

midnightbliss 5 years ago from Hermosa Beach

i love seeing ladybugs and other colorful insects in our garden, it makes your garden look active and alive.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Ingenira - thanks so much for those kind words and for stopping by. Glad you liked the Hub and photos.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Eiddwen - thanks for stopping by. I'm so glad you enjoyed the pix and all.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Tony - I can imagine that must be very difficult and annoying! Here in South Africa we can sell aluminium cans to a recycling depot. The crisp packets are a nuisance - nothing much one can do with them.

Thanks for stopping by

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Peggy - indeed that python is something! If it came into my little garden there would not be much room for anything else!

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you don't have to move into that high rise anytime soon!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

In2deep - I know that feeling! LOL! Had the same until the money ran out! Hope spring comes soon for you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Tlpoague - thanks for stopping by. I don't know about gardener snakes but it must be shock top come across any kind of snake while looking at your squashes!

Thanks for stopping by and leaving an interesting comment.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Ruby - thank goodness I have never come across one of them in any of my gardens! Your garden sounds great.

Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Alicia - thanks for stopping by. That snake is something, isn't it? It just happens to be a female and the nature conservation people are hoping it will breed in its new home.

Thanks again for the visit.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Indeed these insects are individually bery beautiful and add another dimension of life to a garden. Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


alexfantastico profile image

alexfantastico 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

Thanks for the great Hub, it brings me back memories of hunting insects in the garden when I was a kid... But with a bit of a twist, since some of these South African critters certainly don't look familiar! (I live in Australia)

Also I learned something new, I always did wonder how exactly a caterpillar turned into a butterfly in the cocoon!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Alex - thanks for stopping by. Glad to have given you some new information!

Love and peace

Tony


lionel1 profile image

lionel1 5 years ago

Than you for an excellent post with some amazing wildlife images. I can't get over the length of the snake.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Lionel - that snake is rather large, indeed! Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


ChristineVianello profile image

ChristineVianello 5 years ago from Philadelphia

Its completely amazing how many creatures live in this world. The tiny to the large creepy crawlers surronding our gardens scare me slightly though...


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Christine - thanks for stopping by and I agree the diversity of life in our world is simply amazing and wonderful!

Love and peace

Tony


cheaptoys profile image

cheaptoys 5 years ago

oh boy this sure reminds of science class when I was still a kid - Yikes!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Cheaptoys - thanks for stopping by and I hope the memories of science class was pleasant, or at least interesting!

Love and peace

Tony


swedal profile image

swedal 5 years ago from Colorado

Eeeewwww! You sure have some creepy crawlies in Africa Tony. I am glad they are there and not here.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Swedal - thanks for stopping by. There are plenty more where these came from! But they are not really scary - just nuisance value most of them.

Love and peace

Tony


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 5 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Fascinating, truly fascinating! I have always thought there was much happening in a garden that I did not understand and there you have written it! What is your camera? The photos are so detailed and close. I take all my photos with my Blackberry. It does well enough for my subject matter. I can always borrow Jack's when I need something really good, although his is in need of repair. Anyway, I really enjoyed this hub. Particularly after the ravage we've had these past few days. A calm garden story is just the ticket... but wait... who said calm?!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Barbara - thank you for stopping by and for the great comment. I'm glad you enjoyed this. My camera is a Canon EOS 400D which I bought a few years back with my pension pay out. I love it and it does take pretty good photos. It is my first digital SLR and the best camera I have ever had.

And indeed - calm is not what a garden is if you look at it closely! All sorts of mayhem going on.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


jesusmyjoy profile image

jesusmyjoy 5 years ago from Bucyrus Ohio

i love this it is awesome


Springboard profile image

Springboard 4 years ago from Wisconsin

I found this article particularly interesting considering I happen to work in pest control—although that means killing some of these interesting creatures. Not sure what that fly is either. Very interesting looking bug though. Perhaps a species of hanginflies?

In any event...really interesting read.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working