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Ghosts of christmas past


by Richard Jones

I've been reminiscing. Putting together a slide show for some school children I came across a batch of photos I'd taken this time 17 years ago.


I've been reminiscing. Putting together a slide show for some school children I came across a batch of photos I'd taken this time 17 years ago. Just before Christmas 1991, I was in Florida for brother-in-law's wedding. Ever seen Steel Magnolias? I'm not sure if I have any pictures of the momentous day itself, but I have plenty of images of insects taken near the house during the build-up.

In the early 1990s land was cheap in central Florida, after severe frosts killed thousands of acres of orange groves. It was on one such former orchard that my hosts had put their house. I spent many happy hours between pre-wedding social engagements, mooching about outside. The 'garden' was little more than a cleared paddock, roughly mown by tractor-drawn brush cutter a few times a year. Surrounded by evergreen oak woodland it was secluded, quiet and alive with wildlife.

rj_firefly1In the evenings I was fascinated by the fireflies, much brighter than our glow-worms. This mating pair was alight although unfortunately the flashguns on the camera easily outshone them.

rj_firefly4I particularly liked this jumping spider, guarding a wrinkled orange. At nearly 25mm long it was much bigger than our diminutive zebra. It kept turning to face me; I wasn't sure whether it was keeping an eye (or four) on me in case I was dangerous, or sizing me up as potential prey.

rj_firefly3They have slightly more interesting garden 'pests' in Florida. This paper wasp nest was tucked out of the way against the eves, and anyway it was very small.

rj_firefly2

And one day I turned over a few small orange logs stacked roughly against the fence and found these termites. These are a major nuisance in the southern USA and we regularly saw whole houses wrapped up in plastic sheeting whilst the termites eating them away were gassed.

With them was a lovely spider, long-legged, glossy black, body the size of a marble, and with a pretty red hour-glass mark on its belly - Latrodectus mactans, the black widow. I scooped it into a jam jar for show and tell in the house. Needless to say my enthusiasm was not matched by my host's fiancée. She was on the phone when I came into the kitchen and her voice rose to an anxious crescendo squeak when she saw what I was carrying.

I was told, in no uncertain terms, to get rid of it immediately. An hour later the logs had been cleared and that area of the garden repeatedly mown. It's a good thing I didn't tell them about the snake.



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