Help me solve these garden mysteries.
August 13, 2008 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me identify these strange things in my garden?

There are 2 odd ... creatures in my garden.

The first are these bugs.
They seem to be swarming my potted plants. The first time I saw them they were eating the leaves of my eggplant. Today, while watering, I noticed that my eggplant had since healed and the bugs moved to the geraniums. I'd leave them alone and hope for the best except while watering I noticed that many of them had fallen dead around the pots.

What are they and why are they dying?

-I've noticed that they tend to feed on the plants that are the driest and wilted. Once the plants are revived the bugs seem to move on.
-I don't use any pesticides on my plants. I just water them.

Here's my second mystery. I saw a pile of whatever this is last summer near a tree in the yard. I figured it was some sort of animal vomit.
This year I've noticed more ... patches of them throughout the yard. I've realized that it isn't vomit and am now leaning toward some sort of bug colony excretion or moss or mold.
They go through about a 2 week life cycle. They start out orange and then dry up and get lighter until they start to disintegrate.
Today, while taking pictures I noticed that they have some sort of hair or fur underneath.
What are they? And are they harmful to me or the plants in my garden?

-They don't show up in the winter, from what I've noticed they start appearing during the summer.
-I live in the Midwest... Illinois to be exact.
-It looks like they only grow on the mulch.
-I only water and fertilize my yard.
posted by simplethings to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
1. japanese beetles, no idea why they are dying
2. no clue
posted by jessamyn at 5:12 PM on August 13, 2008

google: life cycle of japanese beetle. You kill them with "sevin."
posted by JayRwv at 5:15 PM on August 13, 2008

#2 looks like slime mold.
posted by jamaro at 5:18 PM on August 13, 2008

1. Regarding the Japanese beetles, you can pick them off and drop them in a soapy solution, to get rid of them. Or, if you don't mind a mild pesticide, spray with Sevin.
2. That's a fungus. I've noticed it also on flower beds where I have bark mulch, which it looks like you have. Bark mulch will tend to have all kinds of shrooms growing in it if you leave it long enough and have enough rain. I found an amanita muscaria popping up in mine today. What you have is probably "scrambled-egg slime" or Fuligo Septica, also called dog-vomit slime.
posted by beagle at 5:27 PM on August 13, 2008

I respectfully disagree that Sevin is a mild insecticide. Here's a little summary swiped from Wikipedia regarding the dangers of Sevin:

"[Sevin's] safety is somewhat controversial. It is a cholinesterase inhibitor and can be toxic to humans with excessive exposure, though no known fatalities have been reported. It is classified as a likely human carcinogen by the EPA. It kills various beneficial insect and crustacean species along with the pests it is intended for, so care must be taken when spraying in areas where such species are present. Carbaryl is acutely toxic to honeybees and can destroy colonies of bees that are foraging in an area where the chemical has been applied."

Although it sounds time-consuming, try hand-collecting the beetles. It's an effective method of limiting the damage they can do to your plants.
posted by kellygreen at 5:38 PM on August 13, 2008

I don't know what type of geranium you have, but a couple of sources say that (some?) types of geraniums are toxic to Japanese Beetles...

Organic control thereof: "Use interplantings of four o'clocks (Mirabilis), larkspur, white geraniums, red (and dwarf) buckeyes whose flowers attract and poison the beetles."

Wonkish journal abstract: "Paralysis of the beetle after consumption of flowers of zonal geranium (Pelargonium × hortorum L. H. Bailey) has been documented", "Beetles became paralyzed after feeding on flowers of zonal geranium...", etc.
posted by CKmtl at 5:47 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I use sevin as well, in fact I did away with today's infestation just this evening. It will work for a couple of weeks, or until it rains..

read the directions before you use it, especially if you are using it by any veggies...

Also, do NOT get the "traps" they sell, they will only attract more of the buggers to your yard.. the best thing to do is to buy them for a neighbor a few houses away!
posted by HuronBob at 6:00 PM on August 13, 2008

I've noticed a ton of dead Japanese beetles in my yard this year, too, much more than last year. Why, I have no clue.
posted by sugarfish at 7:27 PM on August 13, 2008

It's been a horrible year for Japanese beetles in IL; nobody seems sure why. I started to notice them about 2 months ago, and that's about their normal life span. They may have died of old age. The bad news is, they lay eggs. Yeah, don't use the traps. You attract them from a long ways and only catch a percentage of them in the traps, leaving the survivors free to hold orgies in your garden.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 12:45 AM on August 14, 2008

The most effective control of the beetle comes from killing its larvae by ground application of pesticide before the grubs mature. Your local farm supply store or nursery would be the best place to check. I've found places like Lowes to be deficient in product and expertise.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:14 AM on August 14, 2008

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