Tag Archives: Scarab Hunter Wasp

Lots of Springtime Insects, 04-20-19

I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed out to the American River Bend Park. It was overcast and in the 50’s when I went out, but by the time I got back home, around noon, the clouds were breaking up, and it was sunny and breezy for the rest of the day. Just lovely.

I wanted to see if I could find butterfly eggs at the park, and I was able to find some, but only on my way out. So, it was a long wait for the pay off, but I found a pipevine with several groupings of eggs on it. Actually, my photos turned into a kind of unintentional “study of pipevines” with pictures of the leaves, twining vines, seed pods, etc. It’s such a cool-looking plant.  In Victorian Era gardens it was all the rage; now people don’t plant it much anymore – and I think that’s partly because everything but the vines themselves die off each year, so it just looks “ropey” for half of the year.  It’s a boon to the Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, though, who literally can’t live without it.

CLICK HERE for today’s photos.

While I was there, I saw a European Starling come out of her nesting cavity, so I waited by the tree to see if I could get a photo of her when she came back. Smart bird, though, she flew in behind me, making me turn as she went by, and went back into her cavity with an angry grumble.

I also saw some Wild Turkeys, including a leucistic female, and while I was watching them a bonded pair of Mallards came flying in and landed right near my feet. There was also a bonded pair of Common Mergansers on the bank of the river. These ducks are sometimes referred to as “Sawbills” because their bills have a serrated edge, which helps them hold onto the fish they catch. (They’re fish-eating diving ducks, as opposed to filter-feeding dabbling ducks like the Mallards.)

Saw lots of Craneflies (Mosquito Hawks) all over the place and Elder Moth caterpillars in the elderberry leaves. There were also a lot of Tussock Moth caterpillars, little nests of earwigs, some micromoths, and a mayfly that had just shed and was hanging next to its exuvia. This time of the year is soooooooooooooo interesting! I was surprised to see the earwigs snuggled in the tops of mugwort plants. I thought mugwort was a kind of natural insect repellent. I guess no one told the earwigs.

There were a lot of still-green Oak Apple galls in the trees, but I was really happy to come across some second-generation galls from the Live Oak Gall Wasp.  The first-generation galls are really obvious and visible: round balls covered in spines.  The second-generation galls are tiny and sit on the back of the leaves; they look like upside down volcanoes. Finding them is difficult, so I’m always excited when I get to see them.  The first generation of this wasp is comprised of all females that reproduce asexually, and the second generation is comprised of males and females that reproduce sexually. Cool, huh?

And while I was watching a male House Wren, I saw him look down below him. There was female down there with a feather in her beak. I’m assuming they had a nesting cavity near there somewhere and she was literally feathering her nest. Awwww!

I overdid it again today – because there’s so frigging much to see – and didn’t get back home until around 11:30. Four-and-a-half hours of walking; my body was really mad at me for the rest of the day.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine
3. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
4. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
5. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea
6. California Buckeye, Aesculus californica
7. California Manroot, Marah fabaceus
8. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
9. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
10. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
11. Click Beetle, Conoderus exsul
12. Common Earwig, Forficula auricularia
13. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
14. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
15. Elder Moth caterpillar, Zotheca tranquilla
16. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
17. Flatheaded Mayfly, family Heptageniidae
18. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
19. Hoptree,Common Hoptree, Ptelea trifoliata
20. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
21. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
22. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
23. Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii
24. Ladybeetle, Convergent Ladybug, Hippodamia convergens
25. Ladybeetle, Multicolored Asian Ladybug, Harmonia axyridis
26. Large Cranefly, family Tipulidae
27. Little Robin Geranium, Herb Robert, Geranium purpureum
28. Live Oak Gall Wasp gall, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis, 2nd generation
29. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
30. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia parviflora
31. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
32. Oak Apple Gall Wasp gall, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
33. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia
34. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
35. Puffball Fugus, Bovista dermoxantha
36. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
37. Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua
38. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
39. Scarab Hunter Wasp, Dielis tolteca
40. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
41. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
42. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
43. Twirler Moth, Mompha sp.
44. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
45. Vetch, American Vetch, Vicia americana
46. Vetch, Winter Vetch, Hairy Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
47. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
48. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare

Lots of Cavity Nesting Birds, 05-19-18

I got up around 6:00 am and was out the door by 6:30 to go over to the American River Bend Park. I was sure the Great Horned Owl owlets were fully fledged by now and off hunting, so I didn’t expect to see them. I wanted to go out there, though, to see if the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars were mature enough yet to start making their chrysalises. It’s apparently still too early for that around here, but I still got to see a lot birds and bugs and other things.

A lot of the usual suspects were out – Wild Turkeys, Starlings, Tree Swallows, Mourning Doves, House Wrens – and I was able to get photos of some of the cavity nesting birds in and around their nests. One pair of wrens was just starting to work on their nest, bringing sticks and soft stuff to line it with; another pair of wrens had babies and were flying food to them every few minutes. Standing nest tot heir tree, I was able to hear the bay birds inside cheeping away. I need to get a camera with a stretchy arm that can reach up and look down into the cavities…

The neat find of the day – even though I didn’t get many good photos because of the lighting and where the birds were – was a Western Bluebird nesting cavity. Both the male and female were feeding their nestlings (which, like the wren babies, I could hear from inside of the tree). Western Bluebirds are shy, though, and move really quickly, especially if they think you’re looking at them. (As brightly colored as the males are, it always surprises me how easily they can disappear into the shadows.) Still, I managed to get some photos of both the mom and the dad and they flew back and forth and brought bugs for their babies. At one point, the papa Bluebird figured I was getting too close to the nesting cavity, and he flew right at me, beak open. I got a few shaky photos of that before I backed off from the tree. I’m there to observe, not interfere…

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I also found a male hummingbird high up in a tree, and tried to get photos of him, but I couldn’t tell if he was an Anna’s or a Black-Chinned.

I saw some Scarab Hunter Wasps hovering close to the ground, looking for grubs to infest, and some other wasp-like insects that I haven’t been able to identify yet. There are sooooooo many insects with superfamilies, families, and tribes to go through before you ever get down to the genus and species level… They’re really difficult for me to identify properly. I really admire entomologists and their bug and insect proficiency.

One of the odd-ball insects I found was a small wasp-like thing with an iridescent blue thorax, red-orange abdomen, and somewhat clear wings. I was thinking maybe it was a kind of “Digger Wasp”, but I couldn’t find one on Bugguide.net with the right color legs. Maybe a “sawfly”?  I also found a golden fly-like thing with red eyes and an iridescent green thing I think is some kind of cuckoo wasp. I’m not sure. I’ll have to continue the search for the IDs.

I also came across quite a few Tussock Moth caterpillar cocoons. Most of them were already spent (with an opening at one end through which the mature moth emerged), but one was completely intact and had a layer of hard white “fluff” over the top of it. I’d never seen one like that, so I took photos and then did some more research when I got home.

I knew that the female moths (which are wingless) laid their eggs on their old cocoons and then covered the eggs with a layer of hair and foamy secretions from their bodies (which hardens to protect the eggs as they overwinter), and that could have been the case with the cocoon I found, but it seemed at first glance that the pupal casing was still inside the cocoon, which meant the moth hadn’t emerged yet.  A puzzle.

My research indicated that sometimes parasitic wasps will lay their eggs on top of the cocoons and as the larvae emerge they build a tight white webbing around them to protect themselves while they feast on the moth pupa inside the cocoon. I wasn’t sure which scenario I was looking at, so, I opened up the cocoon to see if there was anything inside of it.  Although the cocoon itself was intact (no emergence hole in the end of it), the pupal casing inside of it was empty.  I’m still not absolutely positive about what I was seeing, but I’m assuming the white fluff was made by a wasp, not by the female moth, and the pupa was devoured before the moth had a chance to develop. Nature is so fascinating.

The buckeye trees are all in bloom right now; so pretty. And some of the black walnut trees are already sporting new walnuts. I was surprised to see that many of the Hop Trees around had already lost most of their seeds. Lots of hungry birds out there, I guess.  Along the river, I found a lot of Elegant Clarkia in bloom as well as Bush Monkey Flowers. I would have gone further along that part of the trail but by that time I had already been on m feet for over three hours, and I needed to get back to the car.

All in all, I ended up walking for about 4 hours.