Saturday, August 18, 2007

Study in Black and White

It's not as if there are only white flowers in my garden, the place is simply awash with color, but for some reason it is the small white flowers that seem to get all the insect attention lately.

The larger birds head for the blueberries, the hummingbirds go straight for the beebalm, but the insects gather on the white blossoms of the garlic chives and the oregano. This is lucky for me since they are planted near the porch, the favorite vantage point of a lazy man.

It's also interesting that there are few bees about. The dominant insects right now are the cabbage butterflies and wasps.

The cabbage butterflies, unwelcome in those years when I plant that type of vegetable, are small and predominantly white with black wingtips and a black spot in the middle of their forewings.

The wasps, as far as my somewhat tentative examination of them reveals, are digger wasps, I assume, from some cursory research that they are a variety of the thread-waisted wasp. They are a steely blue-black.

The two types of insects cohabit the blossoms without any confrontation or irritation, each quietly moving in its own way around the clusters of white flowers. There seems to be no real instinct of territoriality either within or between the species.

Each type of insect provokes a kind of primal, visceral reaction. The fluttering, randomness of the cabbage butterfly seems somehow gentle and clueless. It is hard to think of the butterfly as any kind of threat. Dislodged by a gust of wind, it tumbles across the garden like a scrap of paper, rights itself, seems to shrug fatalistically and bumbles about to find another blossom.

The purposeful, powerful vectors of the wasps are threatening ... no, everything about the wasp is threatening. It's obvious why designers of fighter planes seem to take it as a template. It is a living metaphor for aggression. Its color and shape, the direct and purposeful vectors of its flight are danger incarnate. When the gust of wind dislodges its goofy butterfly neighbor, the wasp is unperturbed. It hunkers down, holds tight and continues to feed no matter how low a bow the flower makes to the wind.

Yet, of the two, the butterfly is the greater threat. Admittedly the wasp will sting if disturbed, but the solution to that is simple ... don't disturb it. It is a predator, but its prey is pestiferous insects that like to eat the same food as humans. The butterfly on the other hand, as gentle and passive as it seems to be, will lay eggs and let its children kill your vegetables and leave you hungry.

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