Duchess of Dirt: ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ applies to garden creatures as well

It may look like thin spaghetti, but it’s actually a mermithid… a ‘good guy’ in the garden, according to the Duchess of Dirt. Photo by Leslie CoxIt may look like thin spaghetti, but it’s actually a mermithid… a ‘good guy’ in the garden, according to the Duchess of Dirt. Photo by Leslie Cox
John Cox spotted this “spiral gyra” climbing up the stem of a plant. It is, in fact, a mermithid, which serves a good purpose in any garden. Photo by Leslie CoxJohn Cox spotted this “spiral gyra” climbing up the stem of a plant. It is, in fact, a mermithid, which serves a good purpose in any garden. Photo by Leslie Cox

Leslie Cox

Special to the Record

Leading up to this column, I kept repeating my new mantra, “I will not talk about the weather. I will not talk about the weather.”

That was until John told me about the “spiral gyra” at lunch the other day.

“The what?”

“You know. Those thready things that do the spiral gyra thingy. It ate the flower off my heuchera.”

“Not possible,” I affirmed while still wracking my brain for what creature my beloved was ranting about.

“Well, it did but it won’t destroy any more flowers because I killed it.”

Aaarrrggh! Wrong plan of attack! You should never kill something in the garden if you do not catch the critter in the dastardly act or if you cannot positively identify it as a bad guy. The rule is the same for insects as it is for humans: Innocent until proven guilty.

A while later, John came looking for me to say he had found another “spiral gyra.” He oozed vindication so I dutifully grabbed my camera and a lidded container then donned raincoat and gumboots to brave the elements.

He led me to where he had transplanted his Amsonia tabernaemontana (bluestem) last fall and pointed at the plant. “There!”

“Sorry, love. That’s no bad guy. That’s a mermithid.”

Poor John.

Even though proper identity had been assured that this “spiral gyra” was a good guy in the garden, I was astounded. Normally, you would only see one in the soil as you are working around your plants. If you are lucky.

In this case, there were no fewer than six. Some were on top of the soil at the base of the plant and some were crawling up the stems of the amsonia. A glance to the right showed three gyrating across the soil and another one laying across a rock. Stretched out almost full length it was upwards of five inches long. Impressive.

I had also never seen so many in one place before. My theory: they were behaving like worms and escaping soggy soil conditions. Guess we are not the only ones feeling a little water-logged.

You well might ask, “What the heck is a mermithid?”

They are parasites. More specifically, they are endoparasites which means they live inside the host insect’s body. (Parasites that attach themselves to the outside of their host are called ectoparasites.)

There are a number of different mermithid species but they are all nematode worms and they prey on arthropods such as earwigs, ants, beetles, sow bugs, grasshoppers, crabs, spiders and many others. Hence, they are very much the good guys in your garden. But they don’t harm your flowers, although they might go after earwigs hiding in your dahlias.

Switching gears to bad guys, I heard from a fellow gardening friend after my last column in the Record… the one about bullfrogs. Not surprisingly, she is battling this pest in her garden in the Dove Creek area. READ: Horrors in the garden

She has switched control tactics on the advice from a man she met at a meeting, whose name she could not remember. He recommends going after the floating egg masses in spring. They look like jelly and are about the size of a baseball.

With a butterfly net, she scoops up the eggs and her husband uses a garden rake to help lift the mass out of the pond. Removed from the water – and left where the weather cannot reach them – the eggs dry up. Anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 less bullfrogs in one scoop!

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Our garden is open Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Email duchessofdirt@telus.net if you need directions to our garden.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca

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