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Fauna in the Flora Part 1: Hiding in Plain Sight

Geoff

Before I arrived at the IMA, I worked in the for-profit, residential landscaping trade.   During the period of  January through mid March when work would pause due to ice and cold, I sometimes worked as a substitute teacher.  I enjoyed the time in classrooms at Pike High School except for one problem:  more than half the classrooms had no windows.  I would arrive in the dark morning and leave in dusky afternoon.  I felt like a plant unable to photosynthesize.  Worse, I had no connection to the world, no sense of wind, rain, heat or cold, nor natural sound.  I felt like I had been numbed and wrapped in cotton balls.

Those sun-shiny memories are meant as preface, sympathizing with cubicle dwellers, retail and restaurant staff, and factory workers.  Rise up comrades!  And step outside.  Even in a place with as much asphalt and concrete as the IMA parking areas, you can meet natural wonders. Just slow down and look.

There is an asphalt roadway three lanes wide, in and out of the IMA’s underground parking garage.  The low shrubs on either side, caught between the curb and concrete retaining walls are fragrant sumac.  Being careful about traffic, reach down and rub a twig and leaves gently between your hands.  Now smell.  Spicy, refreshing?

If you do this in April or May, you could encounter a female mallard duck, sitting on a clutch of eggs.  Just there, 5 feet off the curb and the cars whizzing by.  Her dark, speckled color blends into the dappled shade.   I’ve found nests in the salvia, just inside the Michigan Road gate, and the 2 foot wide liriope bed along the patio at Garden Terrace.  She’ll sit for four weeks, then she and the ducklings will make the quarter mile plus hike to the canal.

mama duck may 2007
Behind the Garden Terrace building there is a dumpster.  One day I was picking weeds and trash when on the stem of a coral bell flower, almost in the shad of the dumpster, I met a stealthy herbivore in the midst of enlarging its body.  A “walking stick,” once considered a relative of praying mantis, was just finishing molting.  Walking sticks (in the order Phasmatodea, this one probably a species of Diapheromera) look like, well, a twig.  They wait, very still, moving with a rocking motion that mimics that of a branch in a light breeze.  This insect, 3 to 5 inches long, sheds its hard outer shell when it grows to large, as a  snake sheds its skin.  It then inflates its body to a larger size before the new exoskeleton dries.  So delicate, so amazing such a small creature contains organs and structures to respire, move blood, eat and digest, move and sense its surroundings.

walking stick 2009

walking stick shedding

There are moths as big as sparrows and wrens, even in a temperate climate like Indiana.  Many moths hide during the day and are more active at night.  One afternoon a colleague walking past the vegetable garden, called out to me.  Hanging from under a squash leaf was a huge brown moth. I did not immediately recognize it, so I searched several image collections on the web.   The color patterns on the underside of the moth are very different than the patterns on the top which we use for identification.  Not wanting to disturb the creature, I could only get photos of the underside, though if I craned my neck I could see the top.  With a wingspread almost as long as my palm and extended fingers, was a one of the largest lepidoptera of the Midwest, an Imperial moth (Eacles imperiales), a member of the broader north American silk moth group.

Imperial moth edited Copy of 2009 August orchrd 018

So sneak out, and take a look.

Filed under: Horticulture

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