Saturday, June 21, 2008

Little Critters

Organic gardening practices and living gently upon the land allow for a wide variety of little critters about the place. Most are welcome, a few are tolerated, some are fenced out, and only occasionally is someone removed (ie. rattlesnakes). With the return of warm weather, lots of our little friends are back.

Sneaky Snake, our resident gopher snake seen here peeking around some plant pots, has come out of hibernation from his den under the shed. He's a quiet fellow, helping keep the mouse population under control (field mice, believe it or not, can be deadly - merely sweeping up their dry feces transmits Hantavirus, a fatal respiratory disease). Gopher snakes are not venomous, and kill their prey by constriction instead of poisonous bite. But as a defense mechanism, they do a really good rattlesnake imitation. They can flatten out their heads to the viper's characteristic triangular shape and mimic the "rattle" sound by hissing, all the while shaking their naked little tails.

The carpenter bees are back too - buzzing about around the wood pile. These big shiny black bees live solitary lives instead of the communal life of honeybees. Each female creates her own little egg-laying tube in fenceposts or other scrap wood we have piled about. They share pollination duties with the honeybees - also back out and about - ensuring that I will have plenty of zucchini again this year.

Speaking of honeybees, Aries had an interesting day at work yesterday. He works in Facilities Maintenance for three of the resort hotel/casinos at South Lake Tahoe (fixing and maintaining everything from toasters to the big steam boilers in the basement to running the electrical for the big summer concerts - obviously, he's very handy to have around the house too). Yesterday, he was the Supervisor, so he was the one that took the call - a huge mass of bees was in the planter box right next to the sidewalk. "Should we call the exterminators; do we spray them with poison; we're scared - bees are dangerous!" Luckily, we've had bee hives in the past, and Aries has dealt with swarming bees before. He knows they're only looking for a new home, clinging to their queen while she rests, and very rarely sting while swarming. So Aries got a cardboard box, held the branch they were clustered on while a nervous co-worker cut it, and put the whole bunch into the box. Since he'd ridden his motorcycle to work, he couldn't bring them home (darn! I wouldn't mind having a hive around here again), so he carried the box out to the woods behind the casino and let them go there. Everybody's happy, and he's a hero.

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