Saturday, July 11, 2009

Deleo delirium: Maleficia delenda sunt!

There comes a time in the course of a home bug gardener’s life when events call upon him to take up politically incorrect tools and use them to defend and preserve all he holds dear. Or to paraphrase Cato the Elder: Passer domesticus delendus est! I guess the exclamation point is un-Latin, but then so are periods, and my Latin muse assures me that the passive periphrastic agrees in gender and number with the object that ought to be destroyed. So, no matter what you think Cato said, don’t think delenda or delendum here, but 3rd declension masculine Passer, and IMHO, they all have to go.

Why, you might ask, would someone who claims to be gardening for biodiversity urge that a bird, the alpha and omega of biodiversity, ought to be destroyed? If you are a blue-birder or have a purple martin house, then I guess you already know the bloody murder that house sparrows (HOSP) wreak. If blood and bird bodies don’t bother you, examples of HOSP attacks can be found here. Remember - don't look if you can't stand the sight of bloody birds.

This morning we pulled a dead red-breasted nuthatch from the nest box where they have been relentlessly worried by the larger, alien, invasive, and thuggish HOSP. (I’m making no pretense at being a scientist this morning.) The opening to the box is (deliberately) too small for a house sparrow and all they can do is get their head in far enough to peck. They can’t possibly use the nest box, but being bird-brained, I don’t expect they care. And that’s not all! The bloody HOSPs ate my peas! AHHH! What is a bird introduced to eat insect pests doing eating my garden plants? Bloody bad biology is what. Shades of the cane toad, the HOSP eats few insects and feeds mostly on seeds and plants!

What to do? You probably need a permit to even look at a bird with murderous intent, let alone wring its neck. Ha! Unfortunately for the HOSP, in Alberta they are considered invasive pests, and the Province offers lots of permit-free advice on how to reduce their populations. Firing off shotguns within city limits and spreading poisons aren’t among the things one can do, but trapping is encouraged. Well, more or less. According to Chris Fisher & John Acorn’s “Birds of Alberta”, HOSPs arrived here in 1898 and “People with a dislike for this introduced ‘avian mouse’ go to amazing lengths to combat the species, but House Sparrows are here to stay.” And that certainly seems to be true – it’s hard to find a block in the City where you can’t hear their constant cheaping. It's enough to make you want to squeeze them until their eyes pop out.

And then there are all the other maleficent pests scourging the garden. Formica fusca delenda est! Based on the number of people in Edmonton who whiten the ant mounds in their lawns with boric acid, I suspect the opinion that the black ant must be destroyed is widely held. Since I have no truck with lawns, though, I’ve held them no animosity. After all, ants really are extraordinary superorganisms, industrious, and often fun to watch. These particular ants appear to belong to the Formica fusca group and they can mess up my tiny patches of lawn all they want – but if they want to hang out in my garden, then they’d better be polite. This year they have been extraordinarily rude and their tunneling has already killed a purple sage and a hens-and-chicks and severely damaged a shrub cinquefoil. I tried soaking them with the hose to encourage them to move to a drier site. That does work sometimes, but not this year – a shovel and Dr Doom were required. That made me feel bad, but not so bad when I started looking around at all the collusion between aphids and ants.

Leaf miners, caterpillars, sawflies, spittlebugs, they are all bad, but there are aphids on everything! Aphididae delendae sunt!

A Gallery of Aphid Destruction

I agree with Gardening Zone 3b – where are the ladybugs and lacewings when you need them?

The natural enemies are out there, but I guess they don't like the cold wet weather any more than we do. Slowly they are coming on.

To paraphrase Betty Davis, there comes a time in every gardener's life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne. A couple hours with the squirt bottle of soapy water will have to come first though.


  1. Wow! A guy takes a few days to explore the Great Sand Hills in Saskatchewan and he returns to find a latin-ridden rant against house sparrows! Poor birdy...

    Glad your aphid collection is bigger than mine.

  2. Hey Adrian,

    Good time to get back - warm enough here this morning to be sitting outside, drinking coffee, and waiting for the Mexican Shell Flower in the greenhouse to open. The GH is doing great; the HBG so, so. The MSF (Tigridia pavonia) is somewhere between spectacular and scary.

    How were the sand hills? Is this some leftover shore from a proglacial lake?