Monday, November 30, 2009

Backyard Biology

The Mystery Caterpillar has, once again, made me aware of how little I know about my own backyard.

Thanks to nature shows, I know more about the Monarch Butterfly (which does stop here) and the African Elephant (which does not) than I do about the denizens of my own, city backyard.

Loving accounts of English hedges (nowhere near here) and the New York Central Park (also somewhat distant) are fairly easy to find.

But that isn't what I'm after. What I'm wondering about is what happens in a fairly average backyard--oddly broken up, often cement paved, but with enough flowers and herbs to attract a fair amount of small folk, bees, butterflies, wasps, moths, toadstools, small brown birds, doves, the occasional small hawk (though that was more common when we had bird feeders out).

At this point, I don't even care if the animals are native or not (actually; that's not quite true; I'd really rather not have to listen to someone's indignant account of how the little brown bird I happen to be fond of doesn't belong here, really). I want to know what they are and how they react to each other. Do wasps (and were they wasps or yellow jackets? Is there a difference?) drive off bees? Does the wasps' nest account for the fact that we had far, far fewer fritillaries than normal on the passion vine? Do fritillaries prefer one kind of passion vine over another? Does the presence of regular wasps make it more or less likely that the Orange Dog caterpillar on my lime tree be parisitized? Would they be territorial toward other kinds of wasps? Would they ignore them? What sort of small hawk hovered in the area?

Where do I even start on this mess of tangled questions?

I mean, yes, I have a couple of very interesting books on butterflies out, and one on bees, but I know from past experience that authors tend to be vastly less interested in backyards than in tropical jungles; the butterfly book I just read talked a lot more about Costa Rica than California (which did get briefly mentioned as a spot the migrating Monarch might stop in, so that's something, I suppose).

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