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LIttle Spots of Red

Monday, May 12, 2008

Fifteen years ago, when we first moved to our place, we saw a spot of brilliant red under the pussy willow on the site of the old farmhouse. The house, which sat on a rise to the east of our current home, had been burned down in the late 1970’s and replaced with the undistinguished raised ranch that, with quite a bit of modification like, say a 42 foot tall birding tower became our home in 1992. The old plantings remained, the peonies and hairy ol' Rip Van Winkle daffodils; the grape hyacinth and the pussywillow. The willow has grown into a monstrous tangle, but every spring, there’s that spot of red. It’s an old-fashioned tulip whose bulb could easily be a century old. No other tulip I’ve seen has outlasted it. Every spring it comes up in the tangle of pussy willow, protected from the deer by its branches. Every time I see it I think, “I should dig that tulip up and put it in the flower bed.” And I discard the thought just as quickly as it pops into my head, for I get so much more joy in the wonder of seeing that spot of red every April, shining through the intertwined branches of the sheltering willow. And as sure as I dug it up and planted it in a “proper” place, Bob the chipmunk would find it and eat it. So there it stays, and there it blooms and prospers.

I had just turned from photographing the tulip to my garden, where the snap peas were germinating. Admiring the way they pushed up through the soil, I knelt down to examine another spot of red. A red velvet mite was making its way down the pea row. I love these mites, and I always stop to wonder why they should be so brilliantly, extravagantly scarlet. It may be aposematic; they are said to taste very bad. Wonder who tasted one? To me, they’re the tanagers of the arachnid family. A bit of looking online revealed this at
Red velvet mites are members of the subphyum Chelicerata, a group of critters that have tiny lobster-like claws that serve as mouthparts, a feature that relates them closely to spiders, scorpions, and harvestmen. Red velvet mites make their home in the litter layer of woodlands and forests. They live from one to several years, depending on the species. As larvae, they attach themselves to a variety of arthropods and feed parasitically. They will suck blood from a gnat or grasshopper, for instance, sometimes hitching a ride with several other mites. When red velvet mites become nymphs and then adults, they take to the soil to devour much smaller prey, including other mites and their eggs, the eggs of insects and snails, and primitive wingless insects. They do not bite humans; neither do they sting. Adult male mites release their sperm on small twigs or stalks. That ritual is followed by the male laying down an intricate silken trail to the sperm. Females spot these trails, then seek out the individual male. If he's to her liking, she sits in the sperm.* But if another male spots one of these sperm gardens, he'll promptly destroy it and replace it with his own.**

*Now, what fun is THAT?

**Now, that sounds like more fun.

I thought I could grow ANYTHING. But I'm gonna need help with a sperm garden.

Little spots of red—how they brighten my day.


The tulip -- just fascinating.
Red velvet mites -- LOL!... aaand fascinating.
And "aposematic" -- my new word of the day! (hmmmm... how to use it at the next dinner party???)

"Sperm garden" (snort!)

I want to work THAT into a conversation!

Oh, God, Cyberthrush. I can feel Little Orange Guy gearing up right now. Here's my submission:

"That bright red habanero pepper--don't eat it. If I've ever seen aposematic coloration in a Mexican dish, that's it."

Ayuh, Lynne.

"I'm so exhausted. I spent the day in my sperm garden."

"Oh, were you sitting in it?"

"No! I was destroying someone else's, and making a new one!"

Lotsa action in those little mighty mites! Sperm garden... I thought that's what fertility clinics are?

I'm glad you left the tulip as it has been.
I often see remnant foundation plantings and wonder about the person that planted them--so obviously they're situated in a row by a stone step.
A token that once someone cared enough to plant it.

I'm with Cyberthrush--rushing off to my dictionary AGAIN. But I will eschew trying to work either aposematic or sperm garden into daily conversation.
I am so glad someone else names their neighborhood rodents. I have a squirrel who I have named. He's my good buddy, now.

Bob the chipmunk is no friend of mine. He keeps trying to kill a cardinal, just to prove he can do it. But I admire his tenacity, living under the pug nose of Chet Baker, chipmunk Terminator. And have to admit he brightens my day.

If anyone could nurture a sperm garden, it would be you. LOL!

And, yes, who tasted one?

Sperm garden ~ roflmbo!! The first thing that came to mind after I read that was the nursery rhyme that includes "how does your garden grow..."

Always wondered about those red mites. You see a lot of them on Daddy Longlegs.

Sorry to be late for the party. I was on a sperm garden tour all day yesterday --boy, is my butt tired!-- and didn't get a chance to visit.

I can always count on LOG for a LOL, if not a, uhmm, what is it... ROTFLMRVSGTBO.

Disclaimer: I do not ordinarily employ these acronyms, preferring to write it out thus:

Rolling on the floor, laughing my red velvet, sperm-garden touring butt off.

Scanning the icons and names I'm begining to think I'm the only male, other tham BOTB, who comments on your blog.

I can see the tulip but I can't see the mite. Being partilaly colour, yes colour, blind there ate things I can't see.
Like 8 cardinfals in a green bush.

It's fun to guess at traffic lights, hmmm, green I think, lets have a go.

I never promised you a sperm garden.

The secret world of sperm gardens.

Better Homes and Sperm Gardens.

See you in ND

Vince Yannone from Montana is a public speaker who spoke at a Bluebirds Across Nebraska conference in Waverly and later in Nebraska City. I believe he told us of his practice of tasting insects. I don't think he spoke the same years as you did Julie.

Sperm garden? Gee, just what does one use to grow a sperm garden? What a world!

Okay, I held it in just fine until I got to Rondeau Ric's submittance:

I never promised you a sperm garden.

I hope I didn't ruin both keyboard and monitor just now. I should know better than to read Julie's posts (and reader responses) while drinking Diet Coke!

Thanks for the info on the mites--I have been watching millions of them outside in the courtyard at my workplace, and I wondered what they were. Thanks, Sci Chimp!

If there are millions of them, I doubt they're red velvet mites. RVMI's are solitary, and quite large--not those tiny red moving specks that you see by the millions. Back to the Chimp drawing board, DG!!

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