Cicada @ Angkor Wat

Cambodia in December meant fewer insects than a traveling entomologist might hope for, so this cicadal interlude was welcome.


Vox Hortus update + crane flies

Yes, Vox Hortus got another update!  Now it’s all horticulture, all the time.  And entomology.  And that’s it.  Now, here’s a crane fly on a Nasturtium leaf while you get used to the idea.

Before I knew anything about insects, I was told that these guys eat mosquitoes. Not so. The adults actually don’t eat at all, though the young larvae feed on decomposing vegetation, and they can be a pest in turf grass. They like to get into the house in my neck of the woods, and it’s dicey taking them outside without injuring their legs. They go frantic when you pick them up. They’re harmless though. And they don’t eat mosquitoes. Bummer.

These bees are Buddhists

This is the little garden out at our research farm where the honeybees have one half of the 10 acres and the horticulture department and organic farmers have the other.

The hives are out of sight, but do you see the all the birdhouses hanging up in the tree? Bumblebee nests.

The hanging bells are CO2 cannisters cut in half and painted gold. There is a Thai Buddhist symbol of the elephant and the monkey with honeycomb hanging in the center. Just behind, there’s a drop off to a small tributary of the Willamette River.

My club was out there with the master gardeners planting a water wise garden. While we were having tea during a break, we were standing around the hives.

You have to believe me: these are the calmest bees in the world. Several landed on my sweater, and I petted them. And they were like, “Okay”.

Then we went back to work, and here’s part of the garden coming together. You can see a good amount of the farm in this view. Did I mention it was foggy?

The plants in this garden are several sedum varieties, penstemon, rosemary, agastache, one tiny juniper, cistus, ceanothus, a dwarf native iris, helianthemum, and coreopsis.

As I write this, I am wondering if the deer, who ran by that hoop house in the distance maybe 2 minutes after I took this photo, came and did a little mowing last night. Beasts.

These guys provided the background music.

And I have nice things to say about this Shantung Maple. Lovely.

Paper Wasps and Facial Markings

Every spring and summer, I’ve given the wasps that build their little paper nests around the house very wide berth. My father had a violent run in with a yellow jacket while on a ladder, and I couldn’t differentiate between my yellow and black hovering beasties and the ones he described. Incidentally, my father does a hilarious “something is stinging me” dance to which I have been an audience several times. He’s got moves.

When I started working in the entomology department, I took a keen interest in my wasps and did a little research. It turns out they are paper wasps, Polistes dominulus, and they are a more relaxed social wasp than the dreaded yellow jacket. They tolerate human proximity of about 8 inches with interest but no apparent alarm. This was driven home one day when I opened the passenger door of the car we use for ferrying dogs around and right below the hinge was a perfect little nest with a perfect little queen. Sometimes she was there when we pulled out of the drive, so presumably she is well traveled. She’s never wandered into the passenger compartment or been concerned by the door slamming or dogs nearby.

The paper wasp can be somewhat easily differentiated from yellow jackets by their orange antennae; they also fly with their legs hanging down and out, but there are other wasps who do this as well.

In the course of finding out more about them, I came across a study done by Elizabeth Tibbetts and James Dale of the University of Michigan. They’ve looked at facial markings and their role in individual recognition in a colony. After reading one of Tibbetts’ articles, I went out and observed the nest that hangs from the window ledge right above a shrub rose. That time and every time thereafter, the wasps that were at the outside of the nest and apparently standing guard were those with the heaviest facial markings.

With the judicious use of a long bamboo stake, I discovered they are also the ones most prepared to give chase if threatened. They are less shy than the wasps with the solid yellow faces who usually fly off when you touch the flower they are in or brush against foliage they are on. The wasps with the black markings on their face turn to face you when disturbed and notably, they do not back down. I haven’t tested their tolerance much, but it’s interesting to see how the markings so seem to rather obviously correlate with certain behaviors and roles in the colony.

Now that I’ve identified and made peace with them, I’m sorry that they’ll be gone soon as temperatures drop and the populations of the insects they eat drop steadily.