Tuesday, November 5, 2013

About that pumpkin....

So Halloween has come and gone, but it's still Fall (Thanksgiving's on the way!) and everything is already red, yellow and orange. Why not keep that pumpkin spirit going?

Happy pumpkins are just glowing! (Photo by Matt Bertone)

Unfortunately, chances are by now your pumpkin is looking more like this:

This pumpkin used to be happy. (Photo by Sara Prado)

If you're lucky you can get it to the trash or compost without the bottom falling out (I wasn't that lucky). Even if you didn't carve a scary face in it, it will likely be in decline seeing as it is a fruit off the vine and it is slowly being broken down by bacteria and fungi. If there is a wound on the pumpkin from rough transport, it opens the pumpkin to these microorganisms. This is prime food for many insects that love to eat the nutritious soup.

Most of these insects are flies. Flies love rotting vegetable matter. Vinegar or fruit flies (Drosophilidae) are particularly fond of rotting fruit. Some walk all over their giant bounty, waving their patterned wings around while seeming to dance. They do this to attract mates and establish that they have found a nice source of food for their precious little maggots.

This vinegar fly (Drosophilidae: Chymomyza amoena) may have a dance party on your over-ripe pumpkin.

Other common flies include dark winged fungus gnats (Sciaridae) whose larvae love to eat the molds and other fungus growing happily on the pumpkin flesh. The small black flies swarm around the pumpkin and settle after a disturbance.

A mating pair of dark-winged fungus gnats (Sciaridae) - a scene you may see on your rotting pumpkin.

Many other fly species may be found among the decaying Jack-O-Lantern as well. However, flies aren't the only visitors to such a great source of food. Beetles, earwigs, isopods (sowbugs & rolly-pollys), slugs/snails, and other organisms like this type of substrate to feed on as well.

Picnic beetles (Glischrochilus) and other Nitidulidae love rotting vegetation. This is from last year's pumpkin.

Isopods may nestle themselves inside or under the pumpkin to feed.

"I am looking for a nice moldy pumpkin pie" says the snail. Slowly, he might find yours....

Of course, if you are responsible and discard your pumpkin while it is still fairly fresh, you won't have to deal with these insect and other small animals. But then again you may not see some of these cute little critters setting up shop and recycling your autumnal fruit festivity. Oh well, they can find the compost bin too I guess...

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