August 28, 2009
I have a plague visiting Kalorama right now. It doesn’t seem to bother the visitors who come and go, but I assure you it bothers the curator on a daily basis. It is a tiny little flying insect called an eye gnat. It is actually a fly, and under close magnification resembles a tiny housefly. The males feed among the flowers. Pregnant females feed—warning, this is gross—on secretions of mammals. They don’t actually bite or suck fluids, but somewhere in their mouth parts there are some tiny little spines. Contact with those on the eyelids leads to conjunctivitis and is a common cause of pinkeye. They also seek out wounds and the base of hair follicles.
About the only good news about their habits and life cycle is that they do not lay eggs on mammals so we are not hosting their maggots. They lay their eggs in soil with rotting leaves and are especially fond of plowed or tilled soil with lots of organic matter. That means those armadillos that are plowing up the ground around the shrubs I am watering are catering to those flies. And the fly larva is doing a great service to the planet, along with the earthworms, breaking down organic matter.
This isn’t the first time they have been so bad. I have learned over the years that insect repellent doesn’t do much good. Glasses are somewhat helpful, until one figures out how to get behind them. Goggles are great. I have noticed that wearing a broad brimmed hat seems to baffle them, though after doing some reading on them, that apparently didn’t help the Lewis & Clark expedition. They were so bad yesterday that they were landing on my legs, arms, neck, and face. They impart the sensation of a single strand of hair on the skin and my experience is so bad than even inside, I am constantly aware of, well, the touch of a single strand of hair. So if you see me around town, well out of range of any eye gnats, swatting at myself, you know that I am having mental issues born of eye bug trauma.
Spicebush butterfly on Butterflyweed. The butterfly lays her eggs on sassafras leaves at Kalorama.
This leopard frog is probably a parent to the tadpoles pictured in previous blog entries. It was hanging out in the top of a flower pot beside the fountain, very well disguised in the potting soil.
Gaura is a member of the primrose family. There are hybrid versions sold for summer landscaping that are much more compact and have deeper pink flowers than this tall, somewhat sprawling native. It is often infested with aphids which attracts smaller migrating birds in the fall. On hot days the flowers look like tiny white handkerchiefs draped all over the plant. Each flower only lasts one day.