It’s a Polistes party!

If you know me well, you will know that me + wasps are not an equation with a happy solution. Usually, this equals me running away, losing a shirt, or pretty much shoving someone out of the way (a la George Costanza) to escape said wasp.

I know wasps have their place. They eat tons of caterpillars and garden pests. I get it. God made them for a good reason. Okay, fine. What I don’t get is why they have to single me out of a crowd to dive bomb me and make me look like I’ve lost my mind. Despite this fact, when a wasp decided to built its nest on one of our windows at eye level, I decided that this might be a good thing. After all, how often do you get the chance to study a wasp nest safely through glass?

So it’s been a few weeks now and the little nest had two new members. Honestly, I’d pretty much forgotten to check it out but I decided yesterday to snap some pictures. When I got back with my camera, I just so happened to hit the wasp watching jackpot! This was better than the Eagle Cam! (Okay…so maybe not.) There was some activity happening in one of the cells. Let’s tune into the Wasp Cam to see what the excitement was all about!


The nest was buzzing with excitement:

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Here’s a little biology review so you know what you’re seeing:

 

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The excitement builds!

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Could it be? Could it be someone’s…((gasp))…birthday?

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And after the birthday party for Carl, Cheryl had volunteered for the clean-up committee, so she meticulously removed the cell’s cap, balloons, banners, and hats, and put them in the proper recycling bins.

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Yes, Cheryl, Claire, and Carolyn got a new nest member, whom we shall call “Carl”. Carl is a male, as you can see from his curly antennae and yellow face. Now you know! Of course, I had to name the wasps. It somehow makes them slightly less disturbing if I know their names are Cheryl, Claire, Carolyn, and Carl.

I will admit to you that as I was working on my photos, I got a little nauseated. No, a lot. A lot nauseated. Wasps have that effect on me. I was sitting there, trying to put up cute little banners and balloons on the nest and I honestly wanted to throw up my hummus and chips all over this laptop and call it a day. But I suffered for YOU, readers! So that YOU might be able to join in the wasp party, too!

As I was working on this post, this went down:

Jason: “Hey, come here a sec!”

Me: “Hold on, I’m trying to photoshop birthday hats on some wasps!”

Jason: (dead silence), then, (chirping of crickets), then, (a lone wolf howls)


So, there is just a peek at life in our household. Hope you enjoyed the Wasp Cam 2017!!! I’m not sure if I can stomach another year of wasp watching.

Oh! And as for the title of this post, these wasps are Polistes metricus, or,  the metricus paper wasp. I always called them the Black-butted wasps, but what do I know? See, I learned something, too!

 

Flutterbys and more Buzzy things

Today I did something I don’t often do. I got up before 9am. I even made breakfast hash by 8. Yes, it was an amazing day. I also had the chance to plant some seeds and take some nice pictures for you before the wildflowers turn brown and crispy like someone hit them with a blowtorch. April and May are glorious in Texas. June is getting ‘meh’, and from July through September, the grass blades are so dry and crunchy that it’s like stepping on glass shards. It’s the time of year I am willing to move ANYWHERE that has rain. But since we still have flowers, I still have some pretty pictures for you!

First off is the very rare Maydelle Carpet butterfly.

Kidding.

Yes, my dogs peed on my entrance rug and apparently this poor, misguided butterfly enjoyed it. I would think nectar would be nicer, but what do I know? So while I was waiting to finish the rest of the laundry so I could wash a ‘dog’ load, this little critter decided to stop and sniff the dog rug. Whatever. This is called a Red Spotted Purple:

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Mmmmm, urine! (((shudder))) Okay, the rug had already dried out, so let’s just hope it was something else.

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In another disturbing butterfly pic, we have a Spicebush Swallowtail feeding on my compost pile. Gosh, you probably only thought they ate nectar! Sorry to spoil your beautiful butterfly images.

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After the “Finding Butterflies on Disgusting Things” session, I moved over to the flowers. Here we have a weird, green eyed buzzy thing. It had huuuge green eyes and looked bee-ish.

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Now we have a carpenter bee on some white arrowhead clover. This is very popular with the monarchs and some of the bees so I am glad that it reseeded so well.

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This little pollinator was super tiny and adorably coated in pollen.

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Now this pretty green ‘bee thing’ is, I believe, a sweat bee. It’s a terrible name for such a beautiful critter. Why not the Viridescent bee or the Emerald bee? Sweat bee? Seriously?

Yes, they are attracted to human sweat. He was either too interested in this flower to notice me, or maybe it was just that my sweat smells like bacon? I’m not sure. (YES I EAT A LOT OF BACON. JUST SAYING.)

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And now we come to our friend, the honeybee. You will see the orange things on her rear legs. This is called “pollen baskets” and the little bee stores the pollen she collects right there on her legs until she gets back to the hive. Pretty awesome, don’t you think? Scroll up and you will also notice that the sweat bee has them, too. I am always glad to see bees with full pollen baskets!

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I hope you enjoyed this week’s garden tour! Well, I’m off to eat a BLT, heavy on the mayo. But not before I wash my dog rugs!!!

Pond-ering

One of the main things that sold my husband on this property was that it had a pond. He had two requirements: a shop and a pond. Oh, and a house. So I guess that makes it three, although I feel that the house was third on the list. Shop, one. Pond, two, House…a distant three. That’s just the way men’s minds work.

The pond has been a long struggle for us, especially the first seven years. It would go almost completely dry every summer when animals needed it the most. The dam leaked and was situated in the wrong spot. There was no emergency spillway; instead, it had two metal culvert pipes to attempt to take the place of a spillway. Tip for those of you thinking about building a pond: Do not use metal culvert pipes in your dam. Just…no.

Things really started shaping up when Jason brought home his new girlfriend. I am not jealous. She weighs about 16,000 pounds. I suppose you could say she is blonde if you consider “construction yellow” to be blonde. I’ll give her this; she is a very hard worker and never complains. They spend many hours together, but he always comes home to me. Yes, the backhoe is really more of an ally to me than an adversary.

Now that we had a dirt-mover, the pond could be repaired. We found that most of our dam was not clay, but trash covered in clay. A stove, car batteries (!), glass bottles, tin….you name it, it was incorporated into the dam. Nice. Tip #2 for dam builders: Do not use trash to make your dam.

Now that Jason has removed Appliance World from the dam, water tends to stay in it. This year has been great for the fish. We have largemouth bass…big ones! They have spawned and make jillions of babies. We stocked with bluegill, ‘shellcrackers’, and fathead minnows. There is an abundance of life in our pond that I can’t even begin to document for you, but I will give you a little bit today!

Let’s start from the “less frightening” to “most fear inducing” critters. That is, at least for most of my readers. I don’t want to scare you off!


I caught this dragonfly in mid-molt. Did you know that they begin life as an aquatic creature? In fact, most of their life is in this larval form. They are only in this adult phase for two months or so. The shell you see at the top was the old exoskeleton that Mr. Dragonfly (or Mrs.) crawled out of, just like a cicada does.

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My daughter took this picture of a baby Red Eared slider. Now that the pond stays full, they have been breeding. I love sliders! They live a long time, reaching ages of 30+ years in the wild. They eat water plants, but also snails, insects, tadpoles, etc. and are considered omnivorous.

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Another photo by my daughter. This is another slider, but I am having a hard time deciding if it is a Yellow Belly or a Red Eared since I can’t see the red on the head. Either way, it’s a female. We call her Bertha. Bertha loves fishing corks and chases them when you go to fish. She will eat top floating fish food if you don’t spook her off first. You can tell a female from a male because male sliders are usually smaller and they have “Freddy Krueger” nails on the front. They are very long, whereas the female’s are short. And now you know!

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Last spring, we had a plague of bullfrog tadpoles. I do not know why Spring 2016 was the year for these, but we had so many it was a little scary. The pond was fairly BOILING with huge tadpoles. If you have ever seen adult bullfrogs, you know that they are huge and prehistoric-looking. Yes, they are slightly intimidating. I snapped this picture of one in our new secondary pond and when I went to check the photo, I was happy to see that it still had its tail. Pretty cool!

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Now, for everyone’s favorites! The snakes. Oh wait…you mean it’s just me? Oh well, I’m used to being the black sheep!

These were, again, snapped by my daughter. She calls this one “Camo”, because of its interesting pattern. We only have four venomous species of snakes in the US and they all live in Texas, which is no surprise to those of us who live here. We are one step away from living in Jurassic Park. If you don’t like scary, venomous, or poisonous things, I wouldn’t recommend moving to Texas. This brings me to a point: Poisonous and venomous are not the same. Don’t call snakes “poisonous” and all herpetologists and reptile enthusiasts will clap with glee and throw you a party. Just kidding! I mean, about the party thing. However, we might clap and give you a button or something. Poison must be inhaled, absorbed, or ingested to harm you. Venom is injected in some way. So when people say “poisonous snakes” it is technically incorrect. Sorry, but my inner nerd is now pleased and now you know the difference. Moving on…

Camo. Yes, “Camo” is a broad-banded water snake. We have quite a few in the pond and sometimes in late summer they will head up to my house at night to eat the baby toads and frogs. Many people mistake them for the moccasin AKA cottonmouth, but moccasins are not brightly colored like this. You can also see the round pupil here, as opposed to the ‘cat-eye’ slit pupil of the moccasin. They can grow up to three feet long and eat small fish and amphibians.

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This is a photo of a baby broad banded water snake that I almost stepped on. When I first saw it, it looked like a goldfish (from above…I could only see the eyes/head). I had just read that goldfish will tear up your pond and make it a muddy mess, so I scooped it up. Then I was like, crap! It’s a snake! But it did give me a great opportunity for a good close-up! We then released it and let it on its merry way. It stayed in the shallow plants.

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The next two pictures are of a Yellow Belly water snake. These are very often mistaken for a moccasin because of their drab coloring and the fact that when they are frightened or cornered, they will flatten out their head and body, which unfortunately even MORE resembles the venomous moccasin. So, a lot of them are shot for no reason. Again, in the second photo, you can see the round pupil and also that they have a bright yellow, non-banded tummy.

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So, life is good at the pond now! We see new baby animals and that means that adults are calling the pond their home, which is exactly what we wanted to happen.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-tour today!

Callapitters and buzzy things

***If you are a long-time reader of my blog, you will notice that I have changed formats. I wanted to put a larger emphasis on my photos. Let me know what you think in the comments! Thanks for reading! ***

No matter how long I live on this piece of property, I will never cease to be amazed at the sheer magnitude of the biodiversity that inhabits this fifteen acres. As a passionate learner of things, I have to tip my hat to a wondrous God who has knit all of these living creatures together into this planet that we call Earth.

Springtime in Texas offers some great opportunities to take beautiful pictures. Whether it’s the wildflowers, the landscape, or the critters that dwell within, you can get some nice photos if you are patient (and lucky) enough.

One of the critters that I have always loved are the caterpillars. When I was little, I would catch the ‘webworms’ (Eastern Tent caterpillars) that fell from the trees. To me, they looked like tiny, living Oriental rugs. As I grew up, I was sad to discover that they would happily defoliate my fruit trees. However, I still love to pick them up and marvel at those little living rainbows.

One of the caterpillars I see frequently are those of the White-Marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma). These remind me of the Chinese Lion dancers’ costumes with their lacquered red heads, fuzzy protuberances, and poofy backs.

I found this little guy on our tomato plants yesterday. Since I have sensitive skin, I don’t handle caterpillars bare-handed except for the tent caterpillars, which I know don’t affect me. Even caterpillars who don’t have poisonous or irritating spines can cause skin reactions in sensitive people (like ME). Still, it is noted that this caterpillar may cause allergic reactions in some people according to my guide book. So, gloves it is!

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Now, see if you don’t agree with me on the Chinese Lion thing!

Now for some more garden critter photos!

I took about twenty shots before I got this lazy honeybee to NOT stick her bee butt into the lens rather than her face. I like that I was able to get her feeding on the nectar. Patience pays off!

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Here is a photo that I’ve been waiting years to snap. This is a Grey Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus). They can be flighty little things, which is why I could never get a good shot. Again, patience won when I found these lazy guys on my standing cypress flowers:

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I hope you enjoyed your guided bug tour for today!