Wildlife Wednesday: April 2016

Choose an animal you really like. Write a 250 word report about it. That or something like it was the assignment. By the time the recess bell rang everyone already had a topic: tigers, baby seals, grizzly bears … If an animal had any charisma at all it was already taken.

As I listened to everyone’s excitement an image of the sandbox in my backyard popped into my mind. Why do ants travel in parades? With great enthusiasm, I made a proposal to our teacher but she looked baffled. She tried to steer me away with what she probably thought were sensible questions, “Why ants? You know they are pests, right? They hurt people. Have you ever been bitten by one?” She was so insistent part of me wonders today if maybe she had an insect phobia! Poor thing.

But none of her objections held any weight against the idea of a creature with three main body parts and skin as hard and as glossy as polished Smarties. Plus, they were in my backyard so I could actually observe them.

I wore her down with nerd logic and she eventually agreed with some reluctance. I wrote that report with joy. I turned it into an illustrated manuscript. Lines of ants ran along the edge of the pages. I even attempted a pop-up of a giant ant for the centre-fold. I never actually got to observe them or find out where they were travelling to since it was still spring in Canada and we wouldn’t be seeing any ants for months yet. David Attenborough’s job would be forever safe. Like everyone else I wound up getting my information from a battered encyclopedia leaving the ant parades a mystery never to be solved.

Looking back through time, I imagine that poor phobic woman looking at my report sitting on the top of a pile of marking. She probably had to ask someone to put the letter A on the back page. Bad enough that the content was yet another re-worded encyclopedia entry. Far worse were the creepy ants drawn all over every single page. I think I remember her commenting on how it must have taken me a long time to draw all those ants. Sounds like a compliment right? it might have been if her face had been more smile than grimace.

I remain undaunted. The hymenoptera order still captures my imagination. Bees, wasps, ants hold an endless fascination for me.

The spiderwort flowers found in various weedy and abandoned places are starting to disappear but for a short time I could see honey bees all over them. I have no doubt many of the bees I saw in passing are ‘our’ bees. Hi, neighbour!

SPIDERWORT BEE

I learned that some species of spiderwort are good indicators for radioactivity. The fuzzy stamens will reliably turn pink within a couple of weeks when exposed to even low doses — levels that human made equipment has trouble detecting.

I added this violet coloured Spiderwort to my backyard collection for the colour and as bee food. Bees love blues, whites and gentle yellows.

spiderwort

Our feral bees are alive and well. I saw them bearding during our mini heat wave in March. If they split and swarmed I missed it — even though I obsessively watched.

bee beard march 2016

I’ve also been watching this lovely creature.

paper wasp queen
upside down shot of the queen

Sometime in March or maybe late February she came out of hibernation and started nest construction. It took a long time to make the first cups. I shared a picture of her efforts here.

She spends almost all of her time at the nest. Journeys out are brief. She leaves to gather food for the young and supplies for nest construction but returns quickly. I read that these queens are terribly vulnerable when they leave their nests. Most queen deaths occur away from the nest. So when she isn’t actively building her nest she fusses over the larvae within. My husband keeps expecting me to get stung but she never shows any sign of feeling threatened.

We once hired some workers to come out to our place. When they saw wasp nests in the car port they nearly stampeded out onto the road such was their terror and panic. Call 911! Send in the National Guard! Ignite the family atomics! I think my poor husband still carries a bit of shame due to their complete over-reaction.

Here’s what the nest looked like yesterday:

paper wasp larvae

Little faces. If you look carefully you can see various stages of development from a newly laid egg (7 o’clock-ish on the outside edge) to grubs nearing completion in the inner chambers. The first ones to complete their development will assist their Queen. I am sure she is eagerly waiting for that day.

Or she would be. Today I went out to say hi but the nest was gone! No sign that it ever existed. Birds typically go after queen wasps but apparently mammals are usually responsible for eating the juicy larvae. I feel so bad for my neighbour. I doubt she will survive the season now without helpers.

So once again I am unable to complete my observations making this report rather light on substance. I was going to chronicle the development of this little colony but the story has come to an end already. Some things never change. I remain the worst naturalist ever. haha

wasp queen
long live the queen

And … I’m late again! If you haven’t already done so do check out Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday meme. Her post and the commenters who arrived on time are well worth a visit.

 

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22 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday: April 2016

  1. I’m late, I’m late, for a very important…post! Ants are so fascinating, we all grew up singing about that marching (two by two, the little one stops to tie his shoe, etc.) which purports to explain they are marching down…to the ground…to get out…of the rain. Somehow I doubt the scientific basis for the ditty, but it is a long time favorite.

    I can’t help but wonder what misadventure that teacher must have had to inspire her reaction to your topic. I’m with Tina though – “A” for sure and no grimacing about it. Very sorry to hear about the disappearance of your queen. Perhaps she has teamed up with a sister somewhere for the rest of this season and will be back next year, though perhaps at a new site? I understand they return to sites where they’ve had success previously and eventually abandon those that offer too many challenges. That is the philosophy behind my carefully sweeping down the earliest starts of nests too close to the doors of our house – I’m fine with their proximity but don’t like it when they get inside and become game for the cats to chase.

    Wonderful photos – wonderful post!

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    1. Thanks, Deb. I don’t have to work too hard to imagine her horror. I do appreciate bugs and things but put a roach in front of me and I lose it. I try to see their beauty and yeah I admit that they have some really amazing adaptations but … nope … revulsion wins pretty much every time.

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  2. I just loved this post. What a great read! I can just imagine the teacher .. We have a paper wasp nest very near our house .. Huge with loads of wasps. They are not aggressive and will allow me close to take pics or when I simply forget they are there … Wonderful images. I think you may have missed the swarm .. Keep up the great work 😀

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    1. Thanks, Melissa. haha I wish I could say it was a birdhouse but it is actually a squirrel house. I think I am the only person around for miles who likes the rascals enough to consider sheltering them. But the attraction is not mutual. The local squirrels ignored it for years before the bees moved in. I was worried that the box wouldn’t have enough volume to sustain the bees but apparently it is -just- big enough.

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    1. I honestly don’t know what will happen to her. We have a long growing season so I think there is a possibility that she can try again. But it took her a month just to get started and the larvae take another month to complete their metamorphosis. That adds up to a whole lot of resources and time to lose. I wish her the best. They say that wasps can recognize faces. I will keep a look out for her and see if I can spot her again.

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    1. Emotions. I couldn’t begin to guess at the content but I do remember how it felt. They really do fascinate me. I can’t help but compare our own ways of organizing with theirs.

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    1. Thanks David. haha Nothing new under the sun. What was true then remains true today. My heart remains sincere but I haven’t much aptitude for being a naturalist.

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  3. Of course it may be that your teacher was just waiting for you to go home so that she could change back into an ant! Love your photos, story and memories.

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  4. You’ve quite outdone yourself, Ms. Debra, with these photos. I’d give you an A–and I wouldn’t grimace. Thanks for joining in–I miss you so! :) Really, these are all fabulous photos. The spiderwort are favorites of my bees, native and honey–there’s always someone on a bloom!! Love that your feral honeys are so happy!

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    1. Thanks, Tina.. Your meme is truly inspiring. Having a regular event helps me get out to notice the world around us. I do like the spiderwort a lot. Fingers crossed for its continued survival in my less than ideal garden.

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  5. Well documented photos, sorry about the way it turned out. The way of the wild.
    I enjoyed your ant essay story. I hope the teacher learned from you…at least you offered an opportunity for enlightenment!

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