Top Ten Facts About Bald-Faced Hornets

Bald-Faced Hornet, photo source rescue.com

While walking Lucy one recent morning, I came across a huge wasps’ nest that apparently fell out of a tree and split open. The wasps were busy inside, trying to repair the damage and salvage their nest. They were not at all concerned with me, so much so that I was able sit down on the road to take a closer look.

I’d never seen Bald-Faced Hornets before. Interestingly they are actually wasps, a type of yellowjacket, with patterns of white bands and lines on their abdomens and tips. The inside of the nest was amazing! The cells were perfect hexagons. Outside, the whorls reminded me of seashells.

You know what I had to do, hon? Research! The following are the:

Top Ten Facts About Bald-Faced Hornets:

  1. “Bald-faced hornets are considered a beneficial species because they prey on flies and other yellow jackets (notoriously aggressive).” They also eat other insects and, in late summer, will collect nectar.
  2. In these large social colonies numbering 200-400, all have specific tasks. The queen lays hundreds of eggs and raises sterile daughter offspring. The females enlarge and maintain the nest, forage for food, and raise the offspring. “The male drones function is to be ready to fertilize a receptive queen.”
  3. The queen lays all of the eggs in the colony and fertilizes them using stored sperm from the spermatheca. What is a spermatheca? It’s a structure inside the queen which allows her to control the fertilization of eggs. She can lay eggs that are either unfertilized or fertilized. Unfertilized eggs develop into males or drones. Fertilized eggs develop into females, which may be either workers or virgin queens.
  4. Non-fertilized eggs have only half as many genes as the queen or female workers. The resulting male drones have no sting.
  5. Males have an additional white band on the first abdominal segment and on their tip.
  6. Queens, which measure 18-20mm as compared to workers which measure 12-15mm, are the only members of the colony to survive the winter.
  7. Adults will chew flies into a pulp and feed them to their larvae.
  8. Their large, aerial, gray nests are made from paper like material which is created when chewed wood fibers are mixed with saliva.
  9. Inside the nest, there are 3-4 tiers of combs that resemble honeycombs.
  10. “Nests are built every year. The abandoned nests are often destroyed by birds looking for food.”

Sources: insectidentification.org, naturemapping.org, rescue.com

Bugging Out!

Little Miss Cicada.
Little Miss Cicada spreading her wings.

Little Miss Cicada hanging out.
Little Miss Cicada hanging out.

“Every time I see them, I scrunch my shoulders and feel weird inside.  They freak me out!  They’re gross!”

Best quote award goes to my daughter Hannah, who was a teenager in 2013, the last time Brood X cicadas created a stir (of wings) in the Garden State.

Yes, our dog Lucy thought they made tasty treats. Yes, that’s me holding an adult cicada. No, no one else in my family thought they were cool.

Repost: Cicada City Part 1

One of my favorite summer nighttime sounds is the collective hum of cicadas.  They start somewhere at the end of June and continue, if it’s warm enough, into October.  I make a mental note the night I don’t hear them anymore. Then, I know winter’s on its way.

This year, a different cicada has come out of its 17-year hibernation.  If you haven’t heard of the periodical Brood II cicadas, I’m afraid you’ve either been living under a rock or under the ground as a separate cicada species. The, ummm, buzz about the buzz started before the first cicada wriggled out of a 1/4 “diameter hole in the ground.  The bugaboo about these bugs reached an all-time high about the same time a rash of little holes covered my yard.  It looked like someone had aerated the ground.  Ohhh, I guess someone did!

Hon, guess what came next?  A condition I’m calling “Cicada Hysteria!”  In fact, plenty of people are still afflicted with “Cicada Hysteria” since the insects are still underfoot, climbing trees, flying around and altogether creating a modern day horror movie.  Take Teenage Daughter #1.  Here’s what she has to say about them, “Every time I see them, I scrunch my shoulders and feel weird inside.  They freak me out!  They’re gross!”

Unlike Teenage Daughter #1, Teenage Daughter #2 is indifferent, and Tween Daughter thinks they’re cool.  From afar.  She doesn’t mind looking at them from a safe distance, but she’s not about to let a six-legged cidada crawl on her arm.

Hon, guess who let a six-legged cicada crawl on her arm?  You got it.  I bonded with Little Miss Cicada! LMC hung out on in my hands for a half hour.  LMC wasn’t trapped, tied down or otherwise constrained.  She hung out of her own free will.  I think we were equally fascinated with each other.

She allowed me to touch her hard shell and peer into the black pupils in the middle of her red eyes.  The antennas under her eyes were short and black.  She picked up her leg and “waved” to me and Tween Daughter.  Really!  Her legs were sticky in an “I can cling to bark” kind-of-way.  I have no idea what LMC was thinking.  Do cicadas think?  If they do, maybe she was thinking, “Please scratch my shell.  It’s really itchy when it first comes out of its exoskeleton!”

I placed her on the side of a Tulip tree, and now I listen for her loud buzz when I water the flowers, walk Lucy and drive through town. I hope that as soon as the song of the Brood II cicadas dies down, the annual cicadas that sing in the night return.

Then I’ll sit outside at dusk, watching the trees turn into silhouettes against the indigo sky. The bats will flit about catching mosquitoes, the fireflies will wink to each other and the screech owls will whistle and hoot.  The perfect, warm temperature of summer nights will fill me up…with hope and happiness and satisfaction. 

Little Miss Cicada.
Bonding with Little Miss Cicada. (photos courtesy of Tween Daughter)

Bubbly and Black Flies, a Mystery

Tuscany, Italy.

Tuscany, Italy.

It all started in Tuscany.

In August 2016 while traveling in Italy, my daughter Morgan and I took a day trip to Tuscany. We toured two vineyards and an olive oil farm, enjoying a lovely meal prepared by the owners of the smaller vineyard. Once we returned to the U.S., we excitedly awaited our shipments of wine.

Fast forward to Spring 2017. In Brooklyn, Morgan’s roommate was enjoying a quiet day when, out of nowhere,  POP! SPRAY! SPLASH! a bottle of wine exploded! It was wine shipped from Tuscany. The cork popped out and the wine sprayed all over the kitchen. How very strange!

Fast forward again, to Summer 2017.  In New Jersey, our house was plagued by black flies. Not small house flies but big, bluebottle flies. Yuck! We closed doors and windows, cleaned fastidiously, and “disposed” of as many as we could. But they kept on coming. Hubby and I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from.

One daughter who doesn’t like bugs of any kind, wore a hat in the house and hid in her room.

Another daughter who likes some bugs, practically dove into her cellphone.

Our dog Lucy caught and ate some. They wiggled in her mouth! Double yuck!!

Still, Hubby and I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. It was a mystery!

Then, out of nowhere, they were gone.

A few months later, in preparation for Thanksgiving, Morgan was choosing wine and happened upon an empty bottle. “Who drank a bottle of wine and put it back empty?” she asked.

“Who indeed?” I wondered.

Hubby hadn’t and neither had any of my daughters. It was a mystery!

Then Hubby had an epiphany. “Remember those black flies? I bet the cork popped out of that bottle the same way it did in Morgan’s apartment. The flies must have been attracted to the wine.”

We checked the label and, sure enough, it was a bottle from the same winery as the exploding bottle in Brooklyn. Mystery solved, except for one more mystery…

Do you think the flies got tipsy from the wine?

Why would corks pop out of a bottle? Here are some possible reasons:

A cork would start to pop out of the bottle only if the wine or pressure inside the bottle started to expand, and that only happens at temperature extremes of hot or cold.

 

[Corks popping out of bottles is] more than likely caused by either: (1) not allowing the fermentation to complete all the way before bottling, or (2) adding sugar after the fermentation to sweeten the wine, but doing so without adding a wine stabilizer.

Barrels in Tuscany.

Me and Morgan in Italy, August 2016. 

Sources: Wine SpectatorECKraus, Ehrlich

Top Ten Cool Facts About Plains Lubber Grasshoppers

Plains Lubber Grasshopper

In my last post, Tarantula Territory, I lamented that I didn’t see any tarantulas on a hike but, guess what I did see? A Plains Lubber Grasshopper! The approximately five-inch insect caught my attention–how could it not?–and I had to get a closer look. I looked at her and she at me. We bonded.

I can’t believe I got such a clear photo of her awesome exoskeleton, which protects her against predators and prevents dehydration. (Come to think of it, that could be a great pick-up line. “Excuse me, but you have an awesome exoskeleton.”) Plains Lubbers are native to southern and central USA and Northern Mexico.

Top Ten Cool Facts About Plains Lubber Grasshoppers

  1. A Plains Lubber can’t fly because its wings are too small.
  2. A lubber has a pod that holds approximately 20-35 eggs. After incubating in the ground during the colder months, or for as long as two years, the eggs hatch in May or June.
  3. It uses two pairs of eyes (simple and compound) to see.
  4. It uses its bluish-brown antennae to feel and smell.
  5. The tympanum, or round membrane located on either side of its body near its legs allows it to “hear” or detect sound waves.
  6. To breathe, it has spiracles, or tiny holes located all along the abdomen.
  7. A lubber is capable of jumping from several inches to several feet using its oversized hind legs.
  8. A young lubber will molt its exoskeleton five times at roughly 15-day intervals before reaching adulthood.
  9. Bright coloring and patterning on a lubber’s shell warns predators that it’s unpalatable to downright poisonous. A lubber ingests substances in the plants it eats that, although harmless to humans and the lubber itself, are toxic to many predators. These chemicals may kill smaller creatures such as birds or leave larger animals quite ill after ingesting a lubber.
  10. To protect against predators, a lubber can secrete a noxious foam while making a loud hissing sound. It can also regurgitate a dark brown liquid (commonly called tobacco spit) as a defense.

Hon, which category are you in? Cool or ewww?

For all of the ewww’s, consider the photos below as visual palette cleansers.

Peace along the path.

I “heart” hiking.

 

 

 

 

 

Reaching for the sky.

Sources: The Big Zoo, American Orchid SocietyWikipedia, 

Tree Tops

The start of the ropes course.
The start of the ropes course.

DSC_2279

DSC_2280DSC_2281_2

In the trees, I…

touch the blue sky,

trust and defy,

stop asking why.

Continuing down the poetry path with Tree Tops.  When I finished traversing the log and wires, peacefulness seeped into my soul. I decided that not only was I born in the wrong century, I was born in the wrong form.  Because amongst the branches, squirrels, birds and bugs, I left fear, worry and material things behind.

My true self, the one who is happy and curious, who is once again 10 and 11 years-old, hiking in the woods inhaling the scent of oak and sassafras, waking up smiling at the raccoon on her chest, counting the comets in an inky sky firefly-lit with constellations, who loves that Tonka, a baby goat, kisses her hair with his milky mouth, who is allowed to forge a new identity with a name she’s chosen herself and is therein called “Flower,” that girl believes in her poems, characters and stories.  She believes someone else will want to hear them, too,  But, in that treetop world, if the only ones who hear them are the squirrels, Robins, Daddy Long Legs and Praying Mantises, that’s okay because Mother Earth and Father Sky are listening and Mother Earth and Father Sky value that curious, happy girl.

Cicada City Part 1

Little Miss Cicada.
Little Miss Cicada spreading her wings.

Little Miss Cicada hanging out.
Little Miss Cicada hanging out.

One of my favorite summer nighttime sounds is the collective hum of cicadas.  They start somewhere at the end of June and continue, if it’s warm enough, into October.  I make a mental note the night I don’t hear them anymore.  Then, I know winter’s on its way.

This year, a different cicada has come out of its17-year hibernation.  If you haven’t heard of the periodical Brood II cicadas, I’m afraid you’ve either been living under a rock or under the ground as a separate cicada species.  The, ummm, buzz about the buzz started before the first cicada wriggled out of a 1/4 “diameter hole in the ground.  The bugaboo about these bugs reached an all-time high about the same time a rash of little holes covered my yard.  It looked like someone had aerated the ground.  Ohhh, I guess someone did!

Hon, guess what came next?  A condition I’m calling “Cicada Hysteria!”  In fact, plenty of people are still afflicted with “Cicada Hysteria” since the insects are still underfoot, climbing trees, flying around and altogether creating a modern day horror movie.  Take Teenage Daughter #1.  Here’s what she has to say about them, “Every time I see them, I scrunch my shoulders and feel weird inside.  They freak me out!  They’re gross!”

Unlike Teenage Daughter #1, Teenage Daughter #2 is indifferent, and Tween Daughter thinks they’re cool.  From afar.  She doesn’t mind looking at them from a safe distance, but she’s not about to let a six-legged cidada crawl on her arm.

Hon, guess who let a six-legged cicada crawl on her arm?  You got it.  I bonded with Little Miss Cicada! LMC hung out on in my hands for a half hour.  LMC wasn’t trapped, tied down or otherwise constrained.  She hung out of her own free will.  I think we were equally fascinated with each other.

She allowed me to touch her hard shell and peer into the black pupils in the middle of her red eyes.  The antennas under her eyes were short and black.  She picked up her leg and “waved” to me and Tween Daughter.  Really!  Her legs were sticky in an “I can cling to bark” kind-of-way.  I have no idea what LMC was thinking.  Do cicadas think?  If they do, maybe she was thinking, “Please scratch my shell.  It’s really itchy when it first comes out of its exoskeleton!”

I expedited LMC’s journey by placing her on the side of a Tulip tree.  Now, I listen for her loud buzz when I water the flowers, walk Lucy and drive through town. I hope that as soon as the song of the Brood II cicadas dies down, the annual cicadas that sing in the night return.

Then I’ll sit outside at dusk, watching the trees turn into silhouettes against the indigo sky. The bats will flit about catching mosquitoes, the fireflies will wink to each other and the screech owls will whistle and hoot.  The perfect, warm temperature of summer nights will fill me up…with hope and happiness and satisfaction. 

Little Miss Cicada.
Bonding with Little Miss Cicada. (photos courtesy of Tween Daughter)