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YELLOW JACKETS SEEM MORE PRONE TO STING IN FALL

       Throughout most of the year, it seems that we have a truce with yellow jackets.  For the most part, these small, yellow, and black wasps will not attack unless we antagonize them in some way or just happen to venture too close to their nests.  However, have you ever wondered why, from late summer into fall, folks seem to be stung more often by yellow jackets than at any other time of the year?  If so, read on. 

       There are a few plausible reasons why the chances of being stung by yellow jackets increases as the days are cooler the foliage transforms from green into a kaleidoscope of color.

       Entomologists tell us yellow jackets are simply more abundant in autumn.  At this time of the year, a yellow jacket nest may contain upwards of 800 individuals.  Faced with this overcrowding, the members of the colony become less tolerant of one another as well as humans and other animals alike.

       Some biologists suggest this behavioral change may also be linked to the insect’s switch from a predominantly protein diet to one rich in carbohydrates.

       Realizing these insects are more apt to sting without provocation at this time of year, we all need to use caution when changing the nectar in our hummingbird feeders or working about our yards.         

       This threat will slowly diminish as the sterile female workers begin dying with the approach of winter.  Interestingly, the only yellow jackets that survive the winter are the queen.

CHANGING WATER IN ANT MOTES HELPS THWART THE SPREAD OF WEST NILE VIRUS

       The recent news of two cases of West Nile virus being diagnosed in the Georgia has heightened the fear that this dreaded disease might show up in our neighborhoods.

       Public health officials have advised that, since the disease is spread by mosquitoes, we can all help thwart the disease is by reducing the places where mosquitoes lay their eggs. One of the easiest ways for homeowners to accomplish this is by ensure water is does not collecting in open containers.  When folks police their yards for buckets and other containers that collect water, they often overlook a potential place of mosquitoes to lay their eggs that is hiding in plain sight.  What I am referring to are ant motes.     

       For years, ant motes have been used to prevent ants from converging on hummingbird feeders.  In case you are not familiar with an ant mote, it looks much like the plastic lid of an aerosol can.  A wire runs through the center of the bottom of the mote.  It is hung, with the open end of the mote facing up, between a feeder and a shepherds hook or other support.  Once in place it is filled with water.  It works because ants trying to reach a feeder will not swim across the water in the mote. The downside of this simple device is it can also serve as a great place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.  Consequently, if we want to protect our hummingbird feeders from ants and not encourage mosquitoes that might potentially carry West Nile virus, all we have to do is to empty the water in a mote every two to three days.  This will prevent mosquito larvae swimming about in an ant mote from developing into adult mosquitoes.

WELCOME TO THE TOOTHPICK GRASSHOPPER

Literally hundreds of different creatures live in our backyards.  One reason we do not seem many of them is they are masters of disguise.  One such animal is the toothpick grasshopper.

       This odd grasshopper looks unlike any grasshopper you have probably ever seen.  It is slender and looks much like a twig, plant stem, or blade of grass and is pointed.  Consequently, if it remains motionless, more often than not, you will walk by and never see it.  However, if you happen to see something out of place shaped like a sliver, has eyes and three pairs of legs, you have probably discovered a toothpick grasshopper.  

       The toothpick grasshopper often lives its entire life on its favorite food—tall grass.  However, from time to time it will venture out into a grassy lawn.   

       If this grasshopper is flushed, it tries to either hop or fly away.  Should it fly, it will not go far as its wings are very short.

       I first met the toothpick grasshopper in my backyard some nine years ago while on a walkabout the back of my property with my daughter and wife.  Needless to say, we had no idea such a bizarre insect was living in the yard.

       The other day I encountered my second toothpick grasshopper while participating in a butterfly count on the Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area.  In the meantime, I have seen literally hundreds of grasshoppers, but not a toothpick grasshopper.  This tells this is because I am not very observant, its camouflage is very effective, or it is an uncommon resident in my neck of the woods.

       Keep your eyes peeled, you may have toothpick grasshoppers living in your yard too.

BACKYARD SECRET: Coneflowers Are Great For Wildlife And People Too

        The coneflower’s value to wildlife is widely recognized.  It is a source of food for native pollinators such as native bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  In addition, long after its blooms fade, American goldfinches and other birds feed on the plant’s prickly seeds.

       Those of us that plant this plant in our gardens enjoy the beauty of it uniquely shaped, colorful flowers.  However, according to many herbalists, the value of this plant to humans may go far beyond its pleasing appearance.  It has been purported to be beneficial in treating a wide variety of ailments.  For example, it has been reported that chemicals found in the coneflower a natural antibiotic and even enhance white blood cell counts.

       While I cannot substantiate claims of its medicinal values, I can attest to its value to wildlife.  This year, for example, my wife and I enjoyed watching bumblebees and carpenter bees daily visiting the blooms of coneflowers growing in our backyard.   In addition, the flowers produced by these plants were particularly popular with common buckeyes.   In fact, this year we saw more common buckeyes on coneflowers than any other plant growing in our backyard.  Numerous times, a single flower hosted four or more buckeyes.  

MOWING LESS OFTEN CAN HELP NATIVE BEES

        Increasing numbers of Georgia homeowners are striving to give our native bees a helping hand.  Some of the most popular things they are doing to help these valuable insects include providing them with nesting habitat, reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides, and planting native plants that produce both pollen and nectar.  If you are looking for another way to promote the native bee population in your yard and neighborhood, simply mow your yard less often.

       Ecologists working for the United Forest Service made this recommendation after monitoring bee activity during the summer in 16 yards located in Springfield, Massachusetts.  They compared the number of bees found in these yards and learned there was more bee activity in lawns mowed every two weeks than those mowed weekly. In addition, the greatest bee diversity was found in those lawns mowed every three weeks.

       The ecologists attributed their findings to the fact that yards mowed every three weeks hosted more plants that provide the bees with pollen and nectar.

       Amazingly, during the study the researchers identified 111 species of insects, including 25 percent of the bees known to occur in the Bay State.

       The Susannah Lerman, lead author in a paper based on the study recently published in the journal Biological Conservation, stated, “We can all contribute to improving bee habitat in our own backyards.”

       If you do not enjoy pushing or riding a lawnmower around your yard any more than I do and want help give the bees a boost, you might want to mow your yard less often.  

BACKYARD SECRET: WORKER HONEYBEES CHANGE JOBS

            Since the only honeybees most of us see are those that visit flowers foraging for pollen and nectar, it is natural to assume that this is the only task these tireless workers perform during their lives.

       The truth of the matter is female workers begin their lives taking care of the tiny larvae in the hive.  Then, when they reach the ripe old age of two to three weeks, they suddenly become for foragers and leave the confines of the hive to collect to food.  Once they make this career change, they will perform this job throughout the rest of their lives.

WHERE ARE ALL OF THE BUMBLEBEES?

        Have you ever wondered why you don’t see many bumblebees in early spring?  In fact, in my case, when I spot my first large bee of the year, I automatically call it a bumblebee.   However, more often than not, the bee turns out to be a carpenter bee.  Unlike bumblebees, carpenter bees have shiny, hairless abdomens and frequently hover.

       The truth of the matter is very few bumblebees are flying about in early spring. It seems the only bumblebees we see at this time of the year are queens (fertilized females).  All of the other members of their colony died when the flowers disappeared the previous year.

       Queens are able to survive frigid temperatures is because a chemical called glycol flows through their bodies.  This substance prevents the bumblebees’ blood from freezing.

       Once spring arrives and temperatures rise, even a few degrees above freezing, the queens emerge.  When you do see them they are either trying of find flowers where they can consume much-needed food, or looking for burrows where they can lay their eggs and begin a new colony.  At times, they will even nest in above ground cavities such as bird nesting boxes.

 

 

MONARCH VISITS HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER

I have used hummingbird feeders for more than four decades.  During that time, I have spent countless hours watching the comings of and goings of literally thousands of hummingbirds.

I have also witnessed Baltimore Orioles and house finches drinking nectar at hummingbird feeders.

Earlier this year I posted a blog and picture of a downy woodpecker visiting a feeder in McDonough.

As for butterflies, red-banded hairstreaks and cloudless sulphurs are most often seen making brief visits to my feeders.  I have even spotted an American snout or two drop in for a visit.  However, I cannot say for sure the snouts were actually feeding on nectar.

After having logged untold numbers of hours watching my hummingbird feeders, you can imagine how surprised I was about a week ago when a monarch fed at one of my feeders for most of an afternoon.  One visit lasted over fifteen minutes.  During that time, the monarch had the tip of its proboscis dipped into the reservoir of sugar water at the base of the feeder.

Interestingly, there was one other monarch in the yard throughout this time.  However, it did not even attempt to drink at the feeder. 

I should also mention that a specially designed butterfly feeder hung a few feet away and neither butterfly paid it any attention.

Records of monarchs visiting hummingbird feeders are few and far between.  With that in mind, I will always wonder why this particular butterfly chose to feed at my feeder on a warm Saturday afternoon.

A week has passed now and no monarch has made another visit to my feeder.  I hope I do not have to wait years for another monarch to discover a bounty of nectar in one of my feeders.

In the meantime, please let me know if a monarch has ever visited a feeder in your backyard.

 

 

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.