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

It’s High Moth Season! Who Knew?

Doesn’t this moth, a Tulip Tree Beauty, look cool set against a screen?

Despite the fact that moths eat holes in my tee-shirts (I keep emptying and cleaning my drawers so where, oh where, are they hiding?!), I am fascinated by them…well, the ones that are outside anyway. Some resemble butterflies, and Hummingbird Moths, also called Clearwing Moths, look like tiny hummingbirds. Their wings move so fast, you can see through them! I often wonder if I should have studied entomology!

I found this dragonfly on the sidewalk, soaked from rain. It hung out with me for about 20 minutes, drying its wings before it flew away.

Bees feeding on flowers are fascinating to watch.

Little Miss Cicada and I bonded.

Little Miss Cicada.

I enjoyed Margaret Roach’s August 12th The New York Times article, The Pleasures of Moth-Watching It’s high moth season, and drawing you out into the dark is one of the many ways moths can enrich your life, if you let themBelow are excerpts from the article.

Summer isn’t just butterfly season and tomato season, it’s also high moth season. And while you may think that a moth garden doesn’t sound quite as enchanting as a butterfly garden, I beg to differ. Thanks to guidance from some patient experts, these days you can call me the moth gardener.

In all of North America, there are about 700 species of birds, and maybe 750 of butterflies. Moths number more than 11,000 species, with scientists regularly identifying more, particularly tiny micromoths.

Since my moth awakening, I have counted more than 175 kinds in my own garden, mostly after dark. Many are night flyers, which is why I was once oblivious to them.

Drawing you out into the dark is one of several ways that moths enrich life, if you embrace them. (Clothes moths or grain moths in the pantry — many people’s only experience of moths — are excepted from that embrace.)

The night garden is a whole different world, filled with organisms that use the cover of darkness as a tool to avoid predation. I think of these new companions — not just the obvious fireflies, but scarab beetles and caddisflies, giant millipedes and tiny, primitive bristletails and many others — as my garden’s night shift. Each is going about its business, in hopes of surviving to start a family.

Moths’ extra-special power: They will transform you into a citizen scientist, no binoculars required.

Why Focus on Moths?

“One thing that makes moths interesting is their role in the food chain,” Mr. Cipkowski said. “They’re so crucial for birds and other animals.” (Dylan Cipkowski is a field biologist surveying the moths of Columbia County, N.Y. for the nonprofit Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program.)

Many bird species, he said, rely on caterpillars as high-value food to sustain their young, while other species, including bats, spiders and birds, consume adult moths.

“Once they hear how diverse and compelling moths are, they usually want them counted, too,” Mr. Cipkowski said. “Also, the fact that they are elusive and understudied compared to other large insects gets people excited — and especially when they learn that some species are pollinators.”

Loosely speaking, Mr. Cipkowski said, butterflies could be described as a type of moth that has evolved to fly by day. That said, some moth species are day flyers, so like other typically cited distinctions, it’s not absolute.

Both are in the order Lepidoptera — from the Greek for “scaled wings” — as they are covered in microscopic scales that serve various functions, including making escape from a sticky spiderweb possible. Losing a few scales beats losing your life.

Most moths have feathery antennae. Butterflies’ threadlike antennae are usually clubbed at the ends. At rest, moths generally hold their wings open, either flat or tented over their bodies; most butterflies hold theirs closed overhead.

A majority of adult butterflies draw nectar from flowers. Certain moths do, too. But at the other extreme, some moths (including silk moths like the luna, cecropia and polyphemus) do not feed in their short adult phase, focusing only on reproduction.

I asked one of the authors of that question in 2012, when the book was published.

“One of the fascinating things about moths, as a group, is that if it in any way resembles a plant, there’s a moth that eats it,” said Seabrooke Leckie, a Canadian biologist who wrote the guide “Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America” and a subsequent Southeastern volume with David Beadle.

“The diversity of moths and butterflies is partially a reflection of a site’s botanical community,” he said. “It can work both ways: You can be in a particular vegetation zone and then see the moths — or see what the moth community looks like first, and get an idea of what the vegetation is.”

“Moths are everywhere,” the Peterson guide begins — which is particularly true on warm evenings, as far from light pollution as possible. The visitors you get will change throughout the season; different species have distinct flight periods.

Flipping on the porch light will attract some customers, but here’s a better way: Outdoors, on a wall or using rope, stretch a white cotton sheet within extension-cord range of an electric outlet. Plug in a clamp-on light socket fitted with an inexpensive CFL black light bulb. (A reminder: Light pollution at night is a major killer of insects, particularly moths, contributing to global insect decline, so if you have security lights, operate them on a motion sensor, or switch bulbs to yellow LEDs, which are less attractive to insects.)

Have a headlamp? Take a garden stroll, plotting a course for tubular flowers.

“A way to see the moths is looking at deep-throated flowers on summer nights, like Monarda, that the sphinx moths nectar at,” Mr. Cipkowski said. Phlox paniculata is another target.

The best part, he said: “If you have a headlamp on, you’ll see their eyeshine.”

You likely have caught larger glimpses of deer or raccoon eyeshine in the headlights, the work of specialized tissue called tapetum. This reflective surface behind the retina improves the odds that, in a lowlight world, essential visual information can be processed effectively, eye to brain.

My layperson’s explanation: The tapetum offers a second look, bouncing incoming information back like a mirror, another chance for light to be absorbed if the eye’s photoreceptor layer didn’t fully take it in at first. A do-over, evolved to manage in the realm of night.

Careful, or as with bird-watching, you’ll start playing favorites. Mr. Cipkowski and I both love the group called underwings (genus Catocala), whose forewings are marbled in neutral grays and tans like antique book endpapers, rendering them unseen on tree bark.

Nudge one wing ever so gently aside with a fingertip, though, and you’ll reveal hindwings patterned like colorful petticoats — often striped in brown and gold, reddish or orange, a peekaboo costume befitting the brashest strumpet.

You never know what you’ll see in the dark.

“To be up at night, outside, mostly just sitting there, while it was pretty quiet,” Mr. Cipkowski said, “with the only sounds the insects batting against the sheet sometimes, and an occasional owl — it’s really a different perspective on the natural world.”

So don’t be afraid. Take a walk in the dark.

Margaret Roach

Sources: MassAudubon,  Insect Identification for the Casual Observer

Grand Canyon, Small Creature

The Squirrel Census inspired me to dig up photos of the time I bonded with a small creature in the Grand Canyon. My hubby, daughter and I had stopped to have a snack when this squirrel, who’d been hanging out on the rocks below the rest area, came right over to us.

 

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Apparently we weren’t the first people who’d fed him! It was only after we’d packed up that we spotted a sign,

“No feeding the squirrels.

Dragonfly or Fairy?

The most unusual thing happened this week.

I was walking Lucy when something on the sidewalk caught my attention. I bent down to find a dragonfly sitting motionless–was it alive? I touched it carefully, but still no movement. I put my finger near its front legs and, guess what, hon? It crawled onto my finger and didn’t fly off! The dragonfly stayed with me, its beautiful, dew-drop, lace wings glittering in the morning light. When I got back to my house, it stayed put, cocking its head as it cleaned its face. Fascinating!

Contemplating my new little friend, I wondered: Was it waiting for me? Was it a sign (from someone)? Was it a fairy?

I tried with all my heart to listen because, surely, the dragonfly was telling me something important. I’m not sure if this was its message, but I thought:

I have a child’s curiosity 
and that is magical.

I told my little friend how grateful I was for its visit and then set it on a purple petunia in a window box. When I checked later, it was gone. I imagine it flew off to deliver a message to another curious soul.

Flower Photography

One of the many things I love about summer are the hot colors.

Every morning when I walk Lucy, I never know what I’ll see. I might come across wild turkeys strutting, tiny chipmunks scurrying, squawking bluejays chasing, circling hawks diving, hungry bunnies nibbling, or busy bees buzzing. All of these alive things are framed by greenery and gardens. The vivid purple coneflowers below, also known as Echinacea, attract butterflies, songbirds, and busy bees buzzing. Lovely!

Dale Chihuly in Denver, Fifty Shades of Grey

Dale Chihuly, Perennial Fiori, Blown Glass, 2014
Perennial Fiori, Dale Chihuly, Blown Glass, 2014

Many shades of grey exist between black and white.

In my last post, Glass in the Garden, vibrant colors resemble Monet’s Impressionistic paintings. Here, black, white and grey stand in stark contrast to grass, leaves, bees and a wall of water.

Aside from contrasting colors, I am taken with the dichotomy between straight and curved lines borrowed from nature and mirrored in glass and stone at the Denver Botanic Gardens

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As stems reach for the sun, bees drink up the shine.

Nicholas Kadzungura,Chapungu Sculpture Park, Zimbabwe, Africa.
So Proud of My Children, Nicholas Kadzungura,Chapungu Sculpture Park, Zimbabwe, Africa.

This African mother may walk tall and straight , but the curve of her face, tilt of her head, and bouquet in her hand form a circle of devotion around her children.

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I’m passionate about children and reading, so it’s no wonder why this sculpture spoke to me.

The Boy and a Frog, Elsie Ward Hering, stone 1898
The Boy and a Frog, Elsie Ward Hering, Stone 1898

I am always amazed at how material such as stone can be chiseled to look like a person. This sculpture’s curves harmonize with the brick path and bushes.

Surprise! Instead of spires, around a corner were huge, wavy glass blooms. I wasn’t expecting these white flowers. Their clear “petals” blend with the falling water yet, at the same time, they wave upward and outward in an unnatural way. I do like the way they are both opaque and translucent.

Dale Chihuly, Perennial Fiori, Blown Glass, 2014
Persian Towers, Dale Chihuly, Blown Glass, 2014

Dale Chihuly,

“I want people to be overwhelmed with light and color in a way they have never experienced. ” (quote by Chihuly)

Hon, what do you think of the black and white glass?

Summer Blooms

I love the way the Swallowtail's wings curve ever so slightly towards the Cone Flower.
I love the way the Swallowtail’s wings curve ever so slightly towards the Cone Flower.

Happy First Day of Summer!

I’ve used up all my “Bmore Energy” throwing a huge party.  Last weekend, we welcomed guests from as far as Colorado, New Mexico and Nashville to help us celebrate a family milestone.  It was beautiful!  It was wonderful!  I’m exhausted!

Planning a weekend of festivities for over 200 guests took all of my time, so my blog simmered on the back burner.  My house is in clean-up mode and my energy needs to be recharged.  Tomorrow’s plans?  A hike to clear my mind.  After that?  DIY decorating blog posts.

In the meantime, here are some photos to welcome summer.  I took them at Ringwood Manor State Park.

When I say I have "Hot Pink Hope," I'm thinking of this Zinnia's color!
When I say I have “Hot Pink Hope,” I’m thinking of this Zinnia’s color!

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Two Swallowtails flitted around the flowers.  I was so excited to capture both feeding at once.
Two Swallowtails feed at the same time. The angle of their wings seem to form one continuous line.  Exquisite!

 

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Teen Daughter and fellow photographer.  We were snap happy in the gorgeous gardens.
Teen Daughter and fellow photographer. We were snap happy in the gorgeous gardens.

Happy Summer, hon!