Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A woodpecker and its bait tomato

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, my friend Eric and I each had vegetable gardens. It was a period of time when self-sufficiency was on the rise and we were caught up in it. Never mind that our labor and other costs resulted in ten-dollar tomatoes, they were good tasting tomatoes and they were of our own making!

One afternoon Eric came over to talk about a perplexing problem. It seems that a red-bellied woodpecker was drilling holes in his beloved tomatoes. Each time Eric picked off and threw away a woodpeckered tomato, the determined avian would find another tomato to damage. Eric didn’t want to kill the woodpecker, of course, but he didn’t want to lose any more fruit to that bird. So, what’s a fellow to do?

I had to admit I didn’t have a solution, but I promised to give it some thought and research to see what I could learn. I, too, had noticed a woodpecker drilling holes in my tomatoes, so I watched for that bird to see where it had damaged my fruit. When I observed it on a plant, after it left I examined the tomato I had seen the woodpecker on. I saw that the holes it had tapped into the top of the tomato fruit over the next few hours drew in sap-lapping insects. I kept watching, saw the woodpecker return to the plant and then leave again, and when I re-checked the pierced tomato the insects were all gone.

Eureka! Evidently the red-bellied woodpecker deliberately created bait for insects that it could return to and sup upon. I told this story / experiment to Eric, who then kept watch on his tomatoes and the woodpecker, and confirmed that was the story in his garden, too. True, we lost a few tomatoes to the woodpecker, but our plants produced more tomatoes than we could eat. Besides, the woodpecker was catching and removing tomato-sucking insects that otherwise would have destroyed as many if not more fruit than the bird preempted. It’s a sin to kill a woodpecker.

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