Posts Tagged 'insects'

Pond Life and Death

Mud Castles

Wasp nests, provisioned with spiders and other delicacies for larvae to eat. Vintage ’17, awaiting the warmth of ’18. I had a Black & Yellow Mud-dauber Wasp under the balcony at my Cobble Hill apartment. The brand new adult wasps emerged in June.

Sappy

A Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica)A line of sapsucker holes. About 3/4″ deep, through the bark.These holes are chiseled out by, in our parts, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), who drinks the sugary sap and snaps up any insects also attracted to the sweet stuff.

Flies

They get no respect, the two-winged insects known as flies. The biters, bloodsuckers, shit-eaters, in-flesh laying parasites, maggot-spawners.

Ooooog, you say, why are you doing this to me on a Sunday morning?

Well, at least they’re not Republicans.

There are an estimated 17 million flies for each and every human. We’d be drowning in excrement and corpses if not for all these flies, or at least the types that do the dirty work. But as Erica McAlister, a curator of diptera at London’s Natural History Museum, tells us, they do a lot more besides. There are also, for instance, vegetarian flies and pollinators. Indeed, chocolate depends on Forcipomyia genus midges for pollination. Paradoxically — or humanly, if you prefer — the expansion of cacao tree cultivation has meant clearing the forests in which chocolate midges live. Uh-oh. McAlister notes that cultivated cacao trees already have a very low pollination rate….

Obviously in love with her life’s work, McAlister’s enthusiasm is infectious.

And speaking of infection (this is a book review by Borscht Belt routine, evidently…) it’s not the mosquitoes — yes, they’re types of flies — who cause trouble; it’s the disease they carry. And they carry those because of the blood they need to produce their young. As vampires know, blood is very rich food; there are even tiny little midges who tap the blood mosquitos fill themselves with.

Cue up Jonathan Swift:

The vermin only teaze and pinch
Their foes superior by an inch.
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Thus every poet, in his kind,
Is bit by him that comes behind.

Pulp Nonfiction

All right, then, I will admit an obsession with these Bald-faced Hornet nests.

The scraps of paper blown down from one that I bought home recently revealed at least two tiny invertebrate species making their home there after the wasps were undone by the year.

At 10x magnification, you really begin to see the tiny fibers of wood pulp, so painstakingly gathered.

Snow Hat

Within a short distance of the 25th St. entrance to Green-Wood, there are five of these big Bald-faced Hornet nests.A pair in neighboring trees.
And yesterday, I found some of the paper of one of them strewn about.
Now that’s what I call wrapping paper!

Revealed

Paper can be strong stuff, but it’s all relative. The exterior coating of wood-pulp paper made by Dolichovespula maculata hornets, who scrape dead trees (or fence posts!) with their mighty jaws, has been stripped off by the weather. Horizontal layers of comb are revealed within. And still-capped larvae probably all killed by the freeze.

The Bald-faced Hornet does not over-winter in the nest and won’t re-use it again next year. Instead, the sole survivor of the colony, a fertilized queen, takes her genetic treasures into hiding, under bark, in attics, holes in trees, etc., to await the spring.

With the fall of the leaves, these large nests clumping in trees mark the presence of creatures that were around us all summer long. Yet  I, for one, don’t often see the actual wasps themselves.


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