by Charlene Burgi
The warmth of the sun on the back deck was an open invitation to carry my lunch outside and bask surrounded by nature. The blue arching agastache bloomed nearby, and the hum of bumblebees and honeybees provided the sweet music only found in nature.
As I gazed across the patio, the gentle breeze caused the red penstemon, orange poppies and purple pansies to dance around the big bird feeder. The birds must have been taken by the sight as they thronged to the feeder and made their way into the bird bath that sat across from where I dined.
The sight was beautiful and I thought to capture it on camera. I stood to retrieve my camera in the house and stopped dead in my tracks as I approached the French door. The screen to the door held a 4-inch tan insect that was very busy doing what, I couldn't tell. It was a praying mantas. So as not to disturb it, I let myself into the house through a different door to grab the camera, then captured this picture to share with you.
Praying mantises are carnivores. They mostly eat insects but are also known to dine on other such things as lizards, frogs and even small birds. In fact, after they hatch, they are even known to eat their siblings! Despite this gruesome natural history, they are a friend to organic farmers and gardeners.
Should you encounter one of these insects, do not be tempted to pick them up unless you do so behind their forelegs and mouth parts. Wear thick leather gloves as they are known to bite. They are not poisonous, but their bite can be painful and their forelegs are very strong.
After investigating this creature of the garden, I wondered how aware are we of our surroundings and all the other creatures who share them with us? That same day, a scuba friend sent pictures of commensal shrimp and pygmy seahorses the size of a dime. They were very tiny and beautiful as well. I asked how he could even see them. His answer fell in line with the theme of this blog: Be aware and take the time to seek these treasures. These new discoveries can in turn lead us down new avenues, driving us to further expand our knowledge and educate ourselves about what keeps our world healthy. That spider, snake or frog is a friend to the gardener. We may be sabotaging our own gardening efforts by overlooking their existence, or by failing to learn about their habitats, diets and life cycles.
What can we do to raise our awareness in the garden? It may take us down new paths.