Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Wonderful World of Wasps

I remember as a child learning that wasps were bad. Every nest needed to be erradicated, sprayed with heavy-duty pesticides, then removed. They MIGHT sting. Just the possibility makes them bad. Well, I may not convince all of you, but I would like to share with you a bit about what amazing creatures they really are. So today I am going to cover three species I find fascinating.

Black and Yellow Mud Dauber, Sceliphron caementarium is a beautiful and agile creature. This one I found near our pond gathering mud for its nest. The second part of its name caementarium means "builder". This is the wasp that builds the cylindrical mud structures on the side of your garage or house. The female wasp will find spiders and parasitize them. She carries them back to her mud nest and stuffs them inside. She then lays an egg on the spider and seals it in. When the young wasp larva emerges, it has a fresh meal. Not a great way to die for Mr. Spider!

I challenge any human to build such pefectly cylindrical shapes with their hands. It would be a difficult feat. But could you even imagine doing it with your mouth? These wasps fly to the soft mud, scoop up a mouthful, fly back to their nest and form perfectly shapes tubes with their mouth. Amazing! Another fact, these wasps rarely sting.

On the same day I captured the image of the mud dauber, I found this beautiful creature about 20 feet away. It was snacking on a Marsh Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. This is a Great Golden Digger Wasp, Sphex ichneumoneus. It was in constant motion.

The females will dig burrows that are almost vertical. They will then construct cells radiating out from a central tunnel. Each tunnel is filled with crickets, camel crickets, and katydids. An egg is laid on the prey in each tunnel. When the larva hatches out, it will have a ready-made orthopteran meal. Talk about room service!

This beautiful wasp was found by my buddy Linsi, here in Indianapolis. She is now in Australia and you can follow her blog here. She asked me to ID it for her. I was having a bit of trouble, so I asked Eric Eaton for a some help. He knew right away that it was a Spider Wasp, Tachypompilus ferrugineus. It has a beautiful, rich rusty-colored body offset with black iridescent wings. Ferrugineus is Latin for "rusty", a very fitting name.
A spider wasp will sting the spider in a ferrocious battle, then drag the parasitized victim quite a ways back to its underground nest. Note its long legs, which is a characteristic of spider wasps. I am guessing the long legs aide in dragging the victims. The female spider wasp then lays an egg on the spider and again, the larva will have a fresh meal. Poor spider!

All of these wasps are a valuable part to the circle of life. They are an important part of nature's checks and balances. Not all wasps will attack, so with caution one can enjoy some of the world's most fascinating creatures.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Capturing Red Dragons

Yesterday I got out for a bit and wandered around the pond. Lots of cool finds, as always. And, I finally snuck up on a dragonfly and got some decent shots.

Bugs in general have always been a fascination for me. Empty containers-margarine bowls, coffee cans, peanut butter jars, etc..were trasformed into my display cases. I even converted my Mom's laundry pails that she used to soak her silk stockings. She was NOT happy with that choice. I would cart my bug treasures around to the horror of many of the neighbors and share my finds with the neighborhood kids. I had to leave them outside at night and Dad would kindly leave the lids off and let many of them escape. (I didn't catch on to that until I was older. :)

But, dragonflies were a different story. Giant wings buzzing around my grandparents' pond while I was fishing with my Dad. Well, to be honest, HE fished while I caught grasshoppers and katydids for bait. My ADD brain just would not allow me to sit for long. So he would fish, I would sort of fish while he would watch my bobber, and I would look for bait. I would try to sneak up on the dragonflies, but never caught them. So colorful, and big, and fast. Never succeeding made them magical to me...

Nowadays, the problem is capturing them with the camera. The normal scenario unfolds like this. I spot a cool dragon. I quietly try to sneak up on it and right when I get where I want to snap a pic, ZOOM, off it goes. And I am left with a picture of a stick. Frustrating! So yesterday, I moved ever so slowly, barely inching closer and closer, snapping shots as I went.

Patience paid off. Here is a shot from behind. This red and orange looker is a Halloween Pennant, Celithemis eponina . The pattern on its back wings look somewhat like a Jack-o-latern's face. This is a male, the females are similar but paler and a little more orange, than red, in color. It is showing a cool behavior called obelisking. By putting its abdomen high in the air, like an obelisk, it lessens the surface area exposed to the sun, thus keeping it from overheating.

It is now aware of me. Slightly turning so it could keep a watch on me. "I am watching you, so no fast moves, buddy!" This behavior gives them the "pennant" name, like a pennant waving in the wind.

Now it is face on, checking me out to see if I am a risk. You can notice all the veins in the wing. They help strengthen the wing for flight. Finally off it flew, deciding I had ventured too close.

Five minutes later, this huge red dragon flew by, but I could not get a pic of it. It was a gorgeous Red Saddlebags, Tramea onusta. Sigh...I guess I will have to "slay" it another day. (This photo is from BugGuide by Gary Rankin.)

For more ABC WEDNESDAY posts visit here. and visit Nature Notes here.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Pond Discovery

Warning: This post is filthy-lots of grimy hands. :)

The last day of summer camp brought lots of great finds at the pond. This dragonfly nymph was about two and a half inches long. This is the nymph, or young, of a Common Green Darner dragonfly. A Common Green Darner is a nymph for a few years before it matures into an adult. Dragonfly nymphs have an amazing jaw that can shoot out double the length of their head to catch prey. You can see that here in this video.

Another great find-a Giant Water Bug. This critter is also known as a toe-biter. They can grow to to the size of a person's hand. They float in the water mimicking a dead leaf. An unsuspecting victim comes along and BAM!, the water bug grabs it with its front legs and stabs it with its needle-like stylet, injecting it with digestive enzymes. Yep, a rough way to go, even for a bug. The MALE water bug will carry eggs on its back which will eventually hatch. The eggs will cruise around on the Pop limo until they get old enough to bail, which takes about six days.

Another cool insect is the water scorpion. It is not a scorpion; it does not sting. The part on the back that looks like a stinger is actually a breathing tube. This allows the water scorpion to float under the water resembling a stick. Then it will quickly grab a hapless victim that wanders too close.

One of the kids found a tadpole thats legs were beginning to form. Some of the larger tadpoles will take up to two years to develop into a frog.

A small leech. Most people are grossed out by them because they latch on. But many do not know they are used in the medical profession to help regain circulation in severed fingers, toes and other body parts. The finger is reattached and then the leech is placed on the once severed part to force circulation into that area and prevent clotting. I am not making this up! You can read more about it here.

Hoping you get a chance to visit a pond near you and discover all the amazing creatures there!StumbleUpon

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Creepy Crawly Consumer

Last Friday was our last day of camp and we took the kids out to our pond to look for critters. Lots of great things were found and I plan to cover them in my next post. But the one that I thought was really cool was this baby. Man, was I excited to find this.

Warning: Frog-lovers Look Away, Do Not Proceed Any Further

I was chasing tiny young Blanchard's Cricket Frogs, Acris crepitans blanchardi with the kids. There were hundreds of them about and it was such fun trying to catch them by coralling them and coaxing them into a net. One was bounding along and disappeared into a clump of Soft Rush, Juncus effusus. (Note: we let all the frogs go at the end of the day.)

When I parted the rush, I found this big mama, a gianormous Six-Spotted Fishing Spider! I instantly was distracted and forgot all about the frog. How could one think of frogs with this thing around. It was huge! The kids rallied around me to check out the monster. Then I noticed that the spider was eating something... and it wasn't a bug.

It was the frog! It had captured the tiny amphibian and was having a froggy milkshake! Spiders eat by injecting venom into their prey. The venom paralyzes the victim and also digests its innards. Then they slurp the tasty beverage up like a soccer mom does an iced frappuccino from Starbucks!

I had read that Fishing Spiders will devour fish, tadpoles and frogs. Before now, I had only personally seen them eat insects. Six-Spotted Fishing Spiders, Dolomedes triton, have an amazing adaptation that allows them to float on the water. They have a waxy coating on their legs that repels water. They can float using water tension, but also have a rowing motion and a gallop that mimics the Jesus Lizards' when they need to grab prey quickly. This fascinating article explains the physics behind their bizarre locomotion. They also will hide allow the edge of the water in wait of prey. They use the element of surprise to overtake their quarry. Nature never ceases to amaze!

This post is for Watery Wednesday and ABC Wednesday. To see more posts about the letter C, go here and to see more posts involving water, go here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Gone Batty

I had mentioned in my earlier post that Friday was one of those nature-filled days, one chock-full of interesting finds.

And here was a great one. The ever-observant camp kids heard a buzzy squeaking noise. It ended up belonging to a colony of bats!

This was the first one we spotted. Look at that face!
One little...

My friend Samantha Williams ID'd them when I posted them on Facebook as Northern Long-eared Bats, Myotis septentrionalis. I had thought they were the more common Big Brown bats.
Sam said the Northern Long-eared bats have longer ears, Big Browns have smaller more rounded ears. I looked up a little info on another site and it said the tragus, the triangular fleshy part inside the ear, is more pointed on Myotis species. Myotis septentrionalis also has ears a bit longer than their snout and fur on their muzzle, the area around their mouth.

Soon a second one emerged.
Two little...
Curious, I looked up a little info on these critters. They have two habitats: a summer roosting and foraging site and a winter hibernation site. So in the fall, these bats will migrate south and then hibernate, most likely in a cave with other bat species. Northern Long-eared Bats mostly eat moths and beetles, with a few other flying insects thrown in. About 13% of their diet is spiders and caterpillars that they glean from the trees. I could not find any information on how common they are in Indiana, but will try to find out!

A third one popped out its head and quickly went back to sleep.
Three little sleepy bats!

Number three was sleeping with its little tongue sticking out,

just like my cat does when she is content. How adorable!

In this picture you can see the triangular tragus and fur on the muzzle.

My friend Linsi found a few more in another crevice. I am guessing we had about 20 total.

This one had to have its own private lodgings. There

always has to be a prima donna of the group!

For more Camera Critters visit this site!

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