Archive | October 2017

WELCOME THE POTTER WASP TO YOUR YARD

I recently discovered irrefutable evidence that potter wasps are among the fascinating insects that inhabit my yard.  Although I have not been able to identify any adult potter wasps on my property, I found a couple of their amazing pots.
POTTER WASP NESTS

Potter wasps range from 1/2-5/8″ long.  Their body color ranges from dark blue to black and marked with yellow or white.

There are some 270 species of potter wasps in the United States and Canada.  Members of the genus Eumenes build mud nests that look like clay pots, complete with short necks.  Interestingly, it is thought Native Americans used potter wasp nests as inspiration for some of their pottery.

The pots are constructed from the soil found nearby.  Since the soil in my yard is red, the potter wasp nests shown here are red.

Typically a female potter wasp will lay a single egg in a pot.  She then proceeds to capture and paralyze all sorts of critters such as spiders, caterpillars and beetle larvae and stuffs them into the pot.

When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the bounty of food surrounding it.  Depending on the species, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year before an adult potter wasp slips through the narrow opening at the top of the pot and flies away.

Potter wasps help control insect pests and, since the adults feed on nectar, they help pollinate a variety of flowers.

Look for potter wasps around your yard.  The pots can be found on leaves and stem or in more bizarre locations.  The pots in the accompanying photograph were discovered attached to the body of our vehicle.

I recently discovered irrefutable evidence that potter wasps are among the fascinating insects that inhabit my yard.  Although I have not been able to identify any adult potter wasps on my property, I found a couple of their amazing pots.

Potter wasps range from 1/2-5/8″ long.  Their body color ranges from dark blue to black and marked with yellow or white.

There are some 270 species of potter wasps in the United States and Canada.  Members of the genus Eumenes build mud nests that look like clay pots, complete with short necks.  Interestingly, it is thought Native Americans used potter wasp nests as inspiration for some of their pottery.

The pots are constructed from the soil found nearby.  Since the soil in my yard is red, the potter wasp nests shown here are red.

Typically a female potter wasp will lay a single egg in a pot.  She then proceeds to capture and paralyze all sorts of critters such as spiders, caterpillars and beetle larvae and stuffs them into the pot.

When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the bounty of food surrounding it.  Depending on the species, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year before an adult potter wasp slips through the narrow opening at the top of the pot and flies away.

Potter wasps help control insect pests and, since the adults feed on nectar, they help pollinate a variety of flowers.

Look for potter wasps around your yard.  The pots can be found on leaves and stem or in more bizarre locations.  The pots in the accompanying photograph were discovered attached to the body of our vehicle.

PHOTOGRAPHING WILDLIFE THROUGH YOUR WINDOWS

       At some time or another, practically all of us have tried to photograph wildlife through the windows of our houses.  However, in far too many cases, when we pull up the images on our computer we are not happy with their quality.

       To say the least, photographing wildlife through windows is a difficult proposition.  Here are a few tips that just might help you take better pictures through your windows.

       It goes without saying that the best pictures are made through the highest quality window glass.  If your windows appear wavy, you are doomed to failure.

       If the window glass in your house shows little distortion, before taking any photographs thoroughly clean them.

       Then when a photo opportunity suddenly presents itself, shut off the lights in the room where you are standing.  This accomplishes two things.  First, it cuts down on reflections.  In addition, I have found that I can move about a darkened room more easily without frightening the wildlife I am trying to photograph.

       Even then, as you get into position to take a photo, move very slowly, and avoid any quick movements.

       If possible, try to take your pictures from a spot where the camera lens is parallel with the glass.

       Once you get into position, hold the camera lens as close to the glass as possible.

       If you are going to use a flash, place it close to the glass also.

       Refrain from taking pictures when the sun’s rays are streaming directly toward your window.

       These tips may help you take better backyard wildlife shots.  However, it has been my experience that I can consistently take better pictures when I raise the window just high enough to focus on my subject through this opening.  When I am able to do this, I know the odds of my taking a picture are much better.

 

POISON IVY FRUITS & SEEDS ARE RELISHED BY MANY BACKYARD BIRDS

        For our backyard bird neighbors that eat fruits and berries, autumn is a time of plenty.  During this glorious time of the year, many of the native and ornamental plants that grow in our yards are laden with fruits and berries.  Most of these plants such as oaks, dogwoods, sumacs, zinnias, are easily recognizable.  However, other fruit and berry-bearing plants are often overlooked.  Believe it or not, one such plant is poison ivy. 

       I doubt that even the most dedicated wildlife enthusiasts encourage poison ivy to grow in their yards.  However, as hard as we might try to eliminate this woody vine from our property, invariably the plant’s woody vines decorated with three leaflets crop up again and again.

       Should you find a healthy poison ivy vine growing in an undeveloped corner or along the edge of your yard, as long it could serve as a source of food for birds without posing as a threat to you.

          If the dried fruits and seeds are not gobbled up in the fall, they provide a nutritious source of food for more than a dozen backyard birds well into winter.

       The list of birds known to eat the fruits and seeds of this reviled native include the eastern bluebird, Carolina chickadee, northern flicker, dark-eyed junco, ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-bellied sapsucker, white-throated sparrow, tufted titmouse, yellow-rumped warbler, northern mockingbird, brown thrasher, as well as hairy, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers.

       If you look at your yard as a giant smorgasbord, it may be a little easier for you to look at a smattering of poison ivy vines in a different light.  Just do not touch them. 

IT IS LONG-TAILED SKIPPER TIME

       One of the most abundant butterflies in my backyard now is the long-tailed skipper.   Although this butterfly can be seen through the state somewhere in the state from April through November, I seem to see more around my Middle Georgia home in the fall.

       The long-tailed skipper is to identify.  The bases of its wings and body are cloaked in long blue-green scales that give them a shaggy appearance.  From above, the butterfly’s wings are brown and marked with light-colored spots.  When viewed from beneath the wings are decorated with two dark brown bands.  In addition, each hindwing is equipped with long tails. 

       Sometimes, however, you will find what appear to be long-tailed skippers but they lack the species’ characteristic long tails.  These butterflies are not a different species; they are simply individuals that have lost their tails to wear and tear.

       On cool mornings this time of year, I often seen long-tailed skippers with their wings outstretched with their backs facing the rising sun.  This enables them to warm their bodies so they can begin nectaring.

       Unlike most other butterflies, long-tailed skippers often feed upside down.

       The long-tailed skipper is one of a handful or our butterflies that emigrate.  Each fall many of them escape cold weather by flying into Florida.

       The long-tailed skipper uses a number of different legumes as host plants.  This list includes bean, beggarweed, wisteria and beans. 

A PLEA FOR PASSIONFLOWER PLANTS

        The zebra heliconian (also known as the zebra longwing) is the state butterfly of Florida.  It flies throughout the year in south Florida. 

       Each year untold numbers of zebra heliconians find their way into the Peach State.  Some years these colonists remain in the Coastal Plain.  However, this year they have been routinely seen throughout Middle Georgia and points to the north.  This summer I have personally received more reports of zebra heliconians than ever before.  Many of these butterflies reproduce here in Georgia. 

       Today I received a call from a woman that lives in Macon.  She called to ask me if I knew where she could find some passionflower vines.  It seems that she has been hosting zebra heliconians for about a month.  Recently she saw a female zebra laying eggs on a passionflower vines growing in her yard.  Realizing that her meager vines will not support very many zebra heliconian caterpillars, she wanted to where to find some.  It seems she cannot stand the thought of the caterpillars starving to death.

       Not knowing the location of any plants, I suggested she check with nurseries that deal with butterfly nectar and host plants.

       If you know where she could find some passionflower vines, please let me know.  I will pass the information on to this concerned butterfly enthusiast.

      

THE LOCUST BORER IS A STRIKING BACKYARD RESIDENT

Chances are you have never seen this insect.  This strikingly black and yellow-marked insect is known as the locust borer (Megacylene robiniae).        

       It is interesting to note that entomologists believe the insect’s bold yellow and black pattern deters wasps from preying this boldly marked beetle.

       The only known host of this insect is the black locust tree. Consequently, if you spot on your property, chances are a black locust is growing nearby.

       The emergence of the adult locust borer coincides with the blooming of goldenrod.  It seems that the locust borer is far more often seen dining goldenrod pollen than anywhere else. With that in mind, if you would like to see one of these insects, now is the time to take a close look at the golden, plume-like blossoms of this beautiful fall flower.  Don’t delay, once the goldenrod blooms fade, along with their passing your chances of seeing this insect also disappears until next year.