During a recent storm, the ancient, huge prickly pear cactus behind our backyard shed collapsed. Fortunately, with my holiday break from teaching, I had plenty of time to complete the cleanup. Just yesterday, I finished the chore by raking up the cactus, leaf, and trash litter that had collected behind the shed. Just beyond the tip of the shovel I was using to pick up the debris, a flash of movement caught my attention. I had to look closely to find the small, camouflaged creature who had just barely escaped the metal blade: a Mediterranean house gecko!
Studying the gecko’s pink mottled skin, I began to wonder if I had seen it before, as the tiny baby lizard I had rescued from inside my house just after moving in. Our very first night, walking along the carpeted hallway, I saw movement by the baseboard. But then I had such a difficult time finding what had moved, since its color–unlike that of most insects–was so similar to the carpet’s. The experience was as if a speck of carpet fluff had spontaneously come alive to scurry away from my feet. When it fled into the bathroom, we could see it wasn’t an insect, and we used a glass to trap it and give it closer inspection. We were beholding the most delicately formed lizard with pink transparent skin! Not wanting to give our cats another chance to find it, I took the baby lizard outside to the shelter of a mock orange bush, hoping a bird wouldn’t discover it, either. Finding yesterday’s lizard felt very good, like a promise that this new backyard would continue unfolding secrets of nature that I will always treasure.
Please note: Today’s slideshow contains two images of the gecko. To activate the slideshow, click the “Play” triangle below the picture.
One good thing about the recent deep freeze in Las Vegas is that the cold temperatures slowed the development of buds on my backyard apricot tree and gave me time for much-needed pruning. The day after the cold snap broke its grip, I got busy with my loppers and shears. Pruning helps me get reacquainted with the tree. I not only assess its overall condition and shape but also study each branch’s health and sturdiness. This year, my intimate examinations were rewarded with this unusual discovery.
Unfortunately, this egg case was deposited on a branch that required pruning from the tree: sticking straight up from its parent branch, it had crossed and was rubbing against another, better placed branch. I was about to add the severed branch to the waste pile when I reconsidered discarding the egg case. I wasn’t thinking “praying mantis,” but I didn’t want to destroy the next generation of some other beneficial insect. After all, the point of buying beneficial bugs and setting them free in the yard is so that their population will become self-sustaining. I needed to discover more information about this strange, yellowish attachment.
Fortunately, I found the Xtremehorticulture of the Desert blog and its feature article, “Praying Mantis Eggcase Confuses Reader.” No, not me: count me happy, though, that I am not alone in failing to recognize local mantis eggcases. The “Reader’s” photo (posted at the blog) and comment about finding the eggcase on a different variety of apricot tree reassured me about my own mantis find.
As a result, the offending branch has been woven back into the apricot tree’s canopy. Hopefully, the mantid nymphs will hatch on schedule and find my yard a happy home. I’m happy that gardening provides so many opportunities to learn something new about the world around us.
This weekend I discovered lions in Las Vegas! Lion Habitat Ranch, 14 miles south of town, is open to the public and, for a limited time, is selling “up close and personal” encounters with the seven newest additions to their lion exhibit. Born in two litters at the end of November, the one female and six male cubs are being hand raised due their first-time mothers’ inability to care for them. They are adorable, but don’t take my word for their cuteness: see for yourself in the slideshow below.
The ranch’s adult lions are impressive, too, but it’s truly amazing to see that cuddly cubs of about 18 pounds at six weeks’ age will eventually become big cats of 400 to 500 pounds or more. I also learned today that these big cats have big appetites: the ranch spends about $20 thousand each month on food. I used to imagine, ever since seeing the movie Born Free as a child, that I would like to live with lions. In reality, I am happy to live with their smaller domestic cousins and not only because their monthly food costs are not nearly so high. How nice to know, though, that I can satisfy any longing to cozy up to a big cat with a quick trip down the highway to Lion Habitat Ranch!
For those of you who enjoyed assembling my December online jigsaw puzzle, here’s another to help you feel closer to lions, too: only 100 pieces this time. If you need Adobe Flash to run the puzzle, click here for the free download.