Children and parents in the Philadelphia region are gearing up for an evening of “trick or treating”. Kids have been thinking about the costumes they will wear for a while, and are eagerly awaiting their opportunity to parade. Nature is flaunting her fall wardrobe around Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Much of the tri-state area has reached peak fall foliage color. Leaf, vine and fern colors match and complement holiday decorations on neighborhood porches and front yards. Brilliant shades of orange, gold, red, purple and rust adorn tree branches and trunks, as well as forest floors and unswept lawns.
While deciduous plants and trees will only sport their holiday colors for a few weeks, two of the garden’s most successful predators wear their fancy costumes every day:
- The marvelous marbled orb weaver spider leaves her hidden day time retreat to build a new web each night. Her large, heavily patterned abdomen looks like an oval yellow pearl, decorated with fine brownish purple designs. Her burnt orange legs are striped with black and white, adding to the striking beauty of this common spider, who delivers a deadly shot to her insect victims. Her venomous fangs paralyze and digest flies, mosquitoes, and other insects that stick to her web. Fortunately, her bite is not generally considered to be serious to humans, but her ornate outfit is worth close inspection. Find the marbled orb weaver in tall grasses and weeds, around stream banks, and in wooded areas. At this time of year, the female lays hundreds of eggs in an oval coccoon, from which spiderlings hatch during the following spring.
- Praying mantis are at the top of the insect food chain. Gardeners know what formidable hunters they are in the landscape. Their presence is an indicator of insect diversity in the garden. Well camouflaged among the greens and browns of plant leaves and branches, their triangular heads can turn 180 degrees, a unique ability among the insect world. One of their favorite hangouts is in arborvitae shrubbery, but wherever a diet of flies, crickets, grasshoppers or moths is plentiful, they will lay in wait to swiftly grab and spike their prey, using their enormously long front legs. In late fall, a female mantis can reach 4 inches long, and her elegant wings can look like a long glamorous skirt of mottled dark brown or purple. During this period, she lays eggs into several secreted foamy coverings, known as an ootheca. The egg cases harden and, during the winter, tiny offspring develop in the protective pod. When the weather warms next spring, they emerge together, ready to eat.
Take time to admire and appreciate nature’s own holiday tones and tints, and the fascinating apparel worn by your garden’s inhabitants.