Backyard Oddities Explained


Michelle So, Staff Writer

If you’ve ever been outside, chances are that you’ve seen something weird. No, not half-nude men or planes that write. I am talking about the itty bitty oddities we find roaming our backyards or bejeweling our bushes. For me, it was the spiky egg sacs of the brown widow, which personally reminds me of the explosives from Finding Nemo–I can’t be the only one, right? 

Compared to the lush and diverse Amazon rainforests, the valleys of Southern California may not seem like the best place to seek out strange and unusual creatures. It’s true we don’t have multicolored amphibians or giant moths–or do we?– but I assure you, your very own yard is not short of fascinating things. Here’s a list of weird critters and how to find them.

[TW: Some links lead to possibly disturbing images of bugs. Do not click if you are affected.}

Cotton Mealybugs

The first on the list are cotton mealybugs, an internationally detested pest and perhaps the most disgusting on the list. They are small arthropods named for the sticky cotton-looking substance they secrete around themselves. They are easily mistaken as mold or random fuzz by first-time plant owners or oblivious gardeners but be warned: though they are small, mealybugs reproduce rapidly and can quickly kill an entire garden. 

When shown a picture of the mealybugs, sophomore Ivy Liang said it, “looked unsettling. Like shelled crocodiles but also like q-tips.”

Despite never having seen them before, she could tell right away that they were unwanted in the garden.

And, get ready for a gross side-note, ants are often seen with them, milking the sedentary mealybugs for honeydew and providing protection in return. Though a nuisance, the trail of ants is a way of leading you to the nearest mealybug invasion. These are bugs you definitely want to spot and exterminate before it’s too late.

Plaster Bagworm

The plaster bagworm sounds like a creature straight out of Harry Potter, but really, it’s just a baby moth with a habit of collecting things. The bagworms create cases of sand or any debris around their bodies as soon as they hatch. The result is an almond-shaped speck of gravel that has two head holes. Though these larvae are definitely unique in their ways, they are not easy to find. They thrive in the humid Florida, where they are considered a nuisance for eating through socks and rugs. Here, however, the weather is less preferential and they are typically spotted in or on packages shipped from other states. 

“Seeing the plastic bagworm in comparison to the penny and finger made the way it moved even more interesting to watch,” stated freshman Avani Athavale.

If you do happen to spot one, take some time to admire the little bug’s magnificent handiwork and make sure it does not get into your wardrobe!

Praying Mantis Ootheca

Unlike the previously mentioned creatures, the praying mantis is a delicate yet ferocious predator, haunting in its hunt yet a friend of the garden. Though it eats the other insects we consider pests, a trail of victims isn’t the only thing this striking insect leaves behind. An ootheca, the fancy word for a mantis’s egg sac, is a delightful backyard find. The oothecae are usually brown in color and can resemble the cocoon of a moth or a butterfly. They are laid each fall and remain dormant until the warm rays of spring bounce the little nymphs to life. 

Mantis mothers often find the most subtle spots to place their eggs, so finding one isn’t easy! However, if you do eye one, check on it occasionally; you may one day find hundreds of baby mantis nymphs bursting out, as seen in this video

After witnessing the novelty mantis birth, senior Brian Lam said, “so many, but so amazing how mantises give birth to huge families after the females consume the male.”

So, the next time you long for something more to see, you may not need to venture far. Perhaps the most unknown world lies undiscovered in our very own backyards.

Photo Courtesy of Michelle So & WIKIMEDIA COMMONS