urbpan: (dandelion)
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I was called up to see a tree up in a non-public part of the zoo, which (the thought was) might have a hornet's nest in it. A hornet's nest in a tree is pretty obvious--either it's a big gray paper football, or it's hidden in a big dead cavity in the tree. This was a pretty small elm, with no big holes, no big paper nests, but plenty of wasps and hornets on and around it. However, there were other insects involved as well, such as this Calliphorid carrion fly.

Read more... )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I stood with another naturalist (actually a bona fide scientist who I admire and feel honored to hang out with sometimes) waiting for a third to arrive, when we noticed this wasp. Neither of us felt threatened, as she was extremely busy digging about in the sand. The sand was left over from the winter road treatment, and so was shallow and not very hard packed--not great for the wasp's purposes. She dug in one area and then another, occasionally picking up a pebble larger than her head with her mandibles and placing it away from her work zone. She was trying to find a place to dig a burrow in which to lay her eggs. Once she found one (she'll have better luck over at the baseball infields across the street) she'd then go find caterpillars and sawfly larvae (which humans often mistake for caterpillars, so I guess, close enough?) sting them to paralyze them, and stuff them down the hole with her eggs.

This genus of moth is Ammophila which means "sand-lover," and the silvery dashes on the thorax indicate that this is probably A. procera.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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This ichneumonoid wasp is the test subject for my use of the bugalien bug catcher. It's a clear plastic pac man that you clomp over the insect or spider you want to catch. So far it's only worked for me for relatively large and slow bugs.

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I like that it allows you to catch and release beneficial insects like this one without harming them. Although you could easily mishandle the clomper and maim a bug in the attempt to catch.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I stopped along the expanse of goldenrod to look at a small wasp. In the field, I was sure I would not be able to identify it without a lot of help. Once I blew up the picture and looked at it, I recognized an old friend--smaller perhaps than I remembered her, but unmistakeable in her red outfit with yellow stripes. This is a native paper wasp--I'm so used to seeing the invasive European variety that I'd forgotten what to look for.

Two experts that I've consulted disagree, albeit slightly, on what species we're looking at here. One says that it's the species that was more common before the European displaced it, the northern paper wasp Polistes fuscatus.* Another somewhat more intriguing theory, is that it's P dorsalis** one of the smaller species in the group, more common in the Southeast but known to occur in Massachusetts. Either way it's a native social wasp, peacefully drinking nectar and pollinating native goldenrod.

* "Smoky-colored founder of the city"

** Dorsalis refers to the back of the body. Dunno.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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How come a wasp shows up at a moth night? This particular type of parasitoid ichneumonid* wasp is nocturnal, and has a history of appearing at porch lights. It flies at night looking for sleepy caterpillars. You can see this one cleaning its very long antennae--doubtlessly important for finding its hosts. It penetrates their hide with a short sharp ovipositor, and places an egg within. The wasp grub consumes the caterpillar, depriving the world of a moth but giving us another glorious orange Enicospilus** wasp.

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This one, not content to land on the lighted sheet, landed on the light itself.

* "tracker"

** Boy can I find nothing at all about the apparent nonsense word "Enicospilus."
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I'm pretty sure my blog project for next year will be called "Habitat" or "Habitats" or some title that includes that word. To understand an organism you must understand its habitat needs. Above you see a bunch of yellow jacket worker sentries, guarding their nest entrance. The nest is built in the wall void of a handmade shed. The gap between the boards is a minor oversight of construction, but it was the perfect opening for the queen wasp to start her nest.

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A little harder to see, in the very center of the top third of the image, is a round wasps' nest. This is another yellow jacket nest, probably a different species. In this case the queen's instincts told her to get up high, and to attach the nest below a rain-proof overhang. This is a hay barn--the doors that lead into it never close perfectly flush, so there is always enough space for foraging workers to fly to and fro.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Face down, abdomen up, that's the way she likes to dig a burrow for her eggs. Then this golden digger wasp Sphex ichneumonius* will hunt for an animal in the Tettigoniidae** family--a katydid, in other words--sting it to paralyze it, drag it into the burrow and lay an egg on it. The wasp grub then enjoys fresh insect flesh as it grows. In this case, however, the wasp was digging in sand that was about 2 inches deep over asphalt. Hopefully she found a more appropriate place to raise her young.

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* "Mongoose wasp"

** from Greek τεττιξ (τεττιγ-) 'cicada'
urbpan: (dandelion)
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A light fixture is no place to establish a colony. I mean, it has its virtues--it's under the eave protected from the rain, for example. But whatever benefits this location provides are vastly outweighed by being an inconvenience to the humans within the building.

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It's a shame because the architects of this young nest were bald-faced hornets Dolichovesula maculata*, who voraciously hunt other insects to feed to their young--I have read that they even catch their closest relatives, the much hated yellow jackets. Adults feed on liquid sugar, either flower nectar or the juice of discarded fruit. Workers defend the nest bravely and energetically. One memorable time I was attacking a mature nest and the workers kept bouncing off my bee veil, directly in front of my eyes. More often then not these social wasps build their nests high in the leafy canopy of trees, and we don't even know they were there until the autumn reveals the empty nest.

* "Spotted, long little wasp"
urbpan: (dandelion)
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A mason wasp (Family Eumeninae*) drinks some raspberry nectar to get energy for her tasks. Those tasks: 1. build a chamber of dirt and saliva 2. find, and sting to paralyze, a caterpillar 3. place that caterpillar in the chamber and lay an egg on it 4. repeat.


* Named for the Greek general Eumenes (which means "friendly")
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The far back corner of Contentment Cottage's yard is full of a low creeping mint that bears purple flowers and little fruits that look like testicles. The plant is ground ivy, or "creeping Charley" Glechoma hederacea* and the little ball bags are galls that protect tiny wasp larvae.

Both the plant and the wasp Liposthenes glechomae** are Old World species. The plant, like many mints, has a long history of culinary and quasi-medical uses. It grows well in shady yards that get mowed fairly infrequently, but is sometimes grown as a potted plant. Europeans brought the plant with them to New England, and the plant brought the wasp.

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* "Glechoma"is a reference to Pennyroyal, a related plant, while "hederacea" implies that it is in the ivy family, a biological lie.

** I'm going out further on a limb than I usually do with this one, and that's saying something. "Liposthenes" seems to mean "fat palms (of the hands)" which has to be wrong--this wasp has fat parts, but not its hands. "Glechomae" refers to the wasp's relationship to genus Glechoma.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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At the end of the autumn, the fertile males and females are born. They leave the nest and mate. The males die. The fertilized females seek shelter--under the loose bark of a dead tree perhaps, or in the gap of the exterior of a worn and shoddy building. That's how this would-be yellow jacket queen (Vespula sp. or Dolichovespula sp.) ended up indoors. Disoriented from the long winter and working off of reserves of energy, she headed the wrong way from her hiding place, emerging into a room and heading toward a full-spectrum fluorescent light instead of the light of day.

Her resemblance to the European paper wasp ends at her black antennae (the EPW's are orange) and her stout body. Her workers, should she be successful in establishing a nest will be as small as houseflies, and more protective of their home than the average guard dog. I can knock down a EPW nest with a short stick and no more protection than sunglasses and a baseball cap. A yellow jacket nest might require a full tyvek suit and bee veil to safely tackle.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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A European paper wasp Polistes dominula* accompanies me as I hang out the laundry. She and I are both focused on the clothespins; me because I'm trying to hang the damn laundry, and her because its nice untreated dead wood, perfect to chew up into pulp to form a paper wasp nest. Even though these are non-natives, and they can sting, I pretty much leave them alone. They eat only other insects, hopefully winter moth caterpillars this time of year, and they are not especially aggressive. They do love to build their nests on human-made objects like eaves, sheds, and fences, which can be a nuisance. The biggest problem comes from people who don't notice living things around them, inadvertently disturbing the nest and getting themselves stung.

*"Little mistress who founded the city???"
urbpan: (dandelion)

280 days of Urbpandemonium #6: On our urban nature walk we tried to identify a shrub: it looked like a blueberry bush but was very tall. This gall confirmed our suspicions. This was the nursery for a bunch of tiny blueberry stem gall wasps,Hemadas nubilipennis. The tiny gravid wasp lays her eggs in the stem of the blueberry, which causes this woody growth to envelop and protect them.

The many little holes on the outside of the gall are the exit holes of the young, who grew to adulthood inside, and chewed their way out as grown wasps to repeat the cycle. Or perhaps the holes were made by a parasitoid wasp: at least four different species of other wasp are known to lay their eggs in the cells of the blueberry stem gall wasp, where their larvae feed on the larvae of the gall-maker, and benefit from the gall’s protection.

urbpan: (dandelion)
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There was a pool party the last night we were there--this is the pool. It turned out that most of the zookeepers were at another pool, but the 12 or 15 of us at this one had a nice time.

Read more... )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Well, not the brown anoles--these are pretty much everywhere. Nothing weird about little brown lizards darting around everywhere you go.

Read more... )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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On Friday my plan was to mostly tidy up my work so that I could leave for a week with a good conscience. Then I got a call saying there was a "huge yellow jacket nest in the playground." That sort of thing needs immediate attention. Fortunately when I arrived on the scene I re-evaluated the situation to "small European paper wasp nest." Still technically in the playground, so I killed them. At least I didn't have to put my moon suit on.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Kikipuff and I were eating lunch outside at a picnic table when she began to be vexed by a single persistent yellow jacket worker. The wasp was intent on sampling my friend's chicken sandwich. Kiki ripped a chunk off of a chicken nugget and set it aside as an offering. The wasp's behavior didn't change. I realized that while the insect had originally oriented by scent, now she remembered the location of the food source and was not to be dissuaded. We slid down the bench and Kiki left the chunk of chicken at her now vacant spot on the table. Immediately the yellow jacket landed at the meat and took her time cutting a piece, before flying off to bring it to the larvae back in the nest.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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While trimming some of the viburnum shrubs in the zoo, one of our horticulture department staff found these two large nests. The top one is belongs to aerial yellowjackets (probably Dolichovespula arenaria) and was discovered right above a pathway through the Children's Zoo. When I took it down I noticed that they had already started producing next year's queens.

The second one belongs to bald faced hornets Dolichovespula maculata, which are also yellowjackets (notice they are in the same genus) but are black and white instead of black and yellow. They are also much larger than most species of yellowjacket. I generally leave them alone since they are not as aggressive as some other species, and are beneficial predators of other insects. Some sources say they'll even prey on other yellowjacket species. Unfortunately this nest was discovered right over a picnic/special event area, so I took it down.

Sentry

Aug. 2nd, 2014 09:38 am
urbpan: (dandelion)
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A yellow jacket worker guards the entrance to a subterranean nest.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Here's half of my mushroom class from last Sunday. I'm getting less shy about saying, when my alarm goes off, "it's three o'clock, I'm going to take a picture then we should head back--if you don't want to be in the picture let me know!"

2 bugs one mushroom )

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