Prowling for Pollinators . . .

So maybe this morning wasn’t the best choice to go searching for pollinators since the temp was in the 50˚s and delightfully so. Crisp air. Blue sky. Autumn Teaser. What’s not to love?

But search I did. I suspected most of those I sought were sleeping within the flower petals or had found some other warm spot to spend the night and early hours of the day.

One well wrapped and ready for the next season was a native young Hickory Tussock Caterpillar. Do you see the detached hairs above it on the yet unmunched half of the Sweet-fern leaf? In a way, tussocks remind me of porcupines for their hairs are barbed like a porky’s quills and can easily detach.

Though most that I’ve been seeing are about one inch long, I discovered one that was at least three inches and perhaps considering using the hairs to spin a cocoon.

Recently friends and I commented that we hadn’t seen many of these caterpillars this year and then we recalled that last year’s prolific sightings occurred late summer/early fall. The good news is this: though they defoliate many tree species including but not limited to hickories, they do so at a time when the trees are preparing to shut down and so no overall harm seems to be done. And being native, they are subject to natural enemies so we can only hope that this year’s prevalence is much lower.

Mind you, as the morning progressed, there were a few pollinators on the move including this tiny hoverfly upon an aster. Though they don’t have pollen baskets and can’t carry as much pollen as a bee might, hoverflies visit so many flowers that they are seen as pollinator champions.

As my search continued, I stumbled upon a female Katydid walking along a wooden fence. Katydids’ antennae are long (as in at least the length of the body) and thin, thus differentiating them from their grasshopper cousins.

Another way to identify one is the camouflaged leafy structure of their wings, much resembling the veined foliage upon which they spend their time dining. And this one–a female, so proclaimed because of its thick, upwardly curved ovipositor (egg-laying structure).

Under the same fence post, a grasshopper did rest, its antennae much shorter.

What surprised me most as I explored one place and then another and another: the variety of dragonflies that still did fly. I’m rather partial to a few, including this male Pondhawk Darner with its greenish face and white claspers. If only his gal had been around, they would have made a handsome couple.

In another spot a Paper Wasp paused. Watch its hind legs.

Ever so slowly . . .

it practiced . . .

Edward Scissorhands moves. Paper Wasps are pollinators and I had to wonder if it was transferring some pollen on its legs in wasp-ballet style.

Finding a few pollinators and other insects was fun, but the creme de la creme of this morning’s expedition was time spent with so many Autumn Meadowhawks who shared every trail I walked.

Not only do Autumn Meadowhawks have yellowish legs, but their coloration matches the newly formed American Beech buds, making their timing seem serendipitous.

Being a coolish morning, I thought I might entice at least one upon my hand for they seek heat. These are wee dragons as you can see by the size of this female.

I swear she smiled at me. I smiled back.

While prowling for pollinators . . . I made some great finds and my morning search was well rewarded.

The Will of the Wasps

While doing some work on our house today, I suddenly heard a thump and then saw my guy down on the deck. Huh? He’d been on a ladder last I knew. I grabbed the phone as I dashed out the door.

With a grin, he assured me that he was OK, but that he’d been stung on the ankle, first by a bee and then a double sting by a wasp. Neither of us was surprised, given the wildflowers in the garden where the ladder was placed so he could reach a second floor eave.

I spend hours watching all the pollinators at work, getting to know them by species and habit. But . . . I stand still for the most part and they fly around me. His movements were much quicker and more intentional.

h-hornets nest 1

As we surveyed the garden and figured the best path for his return to it, we made a discovery–the wasps were building a home of their own right beside the narrow path my guy had been following to retrieve different tools. Notice the topaz-colored wing? It fluttered like mad, though that wasp stood still.  Was it sending some sort of message to others?

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If so, there were plenty of workers available to receive the memo–each doing its job of contributing to the construction project.

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Below and above, they came and went, the tools of their trade being within their mouths.

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They’d collected plant and wood fiber, mixed it with saliva, and chewed it into a papier-mâché of their own form.

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The location of choice for this latest construction was against an old tractor wheel that leans against the house. Over the years, we’ve found them building everywhere, but what my guy doesn’t know …

h1-horn 1

is that a few months ago a queen began an umbrella-like structure in the back door jam.

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I watched the dangling nest slowly take form.

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Within each cell . . .

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an individual egg was deposited.

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Two wasps never seemed to mind that I pulled a kitchen chair over and climbed up to watch the action.

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Work continued from morning to night, the wasps slipping away through a sliver of space in the outer door and then returning. Late in the afternoon, they settled on the nest and didn’t move until the next morning. Eventually, I knew I had to put an end to this construction project and while the adults were off seeking more fiber, I removed it. And felt guilty. But, I didn’t want my family to get stung–famous last words.

h-hornet on goldenrod

Paper wasps aren’t typically aggressive unless they perceive a threat–and today, much to my guy’s dismay, they felt threatened.

Despite the confrontation, we have to remember that they are beneficial to the garden as pollinators and predators.

My guy survived and for a bit longer, so will the wasps.