There are over 1,000 North American species of solitary hunting wasps. All of them prey on arthropods, which the female stings and paralyzes (but doesn’t kill so that they don’t begin to decompose immediately). Most solitary wasps specialize on a single type of prey, and many build highly characteristic burrow nests. Once the prey is stung, the wasp carries it back to her nest where she then lays a single egg and closes up the nest. The developing wasp larva feeds on the paralyzed prey, pupates and emerges as an adult wasp.
One group of solitary hunting wasps is referred to as thread-waisted wasps (family Sphecidae), due to their long, stalk-like waists. While most close up their nests (by kicking sand over the entrance) after stocking it with prey and laying an egg, some species close their nest with a pebble and return, remove the pebble, and periodically restock the nest with fresh caterpillars for the growing larva. (Photo by Mardie Holland: thread-waisted sphecid wasp with caterpillar prey)
The fungal family Clavariaceae includes simple, unbranched upright clubs and fleshy, intricately branched, coral-like forms. This family includes several groups of fungi that, due to their appearance, are commonly known as coral fungi. Coral fungi come in every color imaginable and among them are “fairy clubs” – small, mostly fragile fungi that live off of dead or decaying organic matter. They are found on the ground or occasionally on rotting wood. These delicate fungi are usually unbranched or sparingly branched and shaped like slender, erect clubs. Appearing in late summer/early fall, they are often found growing in clusters. Due to their small size and fragility, they are not considered to have any food value.
When it comes to ingenuity, the Golden Tortoise Beetle (Charidotella sexpunctata) larva has all others beat! Instead of discarding its feces, it collects them and uses them as a means of chemical protection. Golden Tortoise Beetle larvae have a “fecal fork” on their last abdominal segment which they hold over their body. They also possess a muscular, telescopic anus which they can manipulate in such a manner as to deposit their feces onto their fecal fork. Bits of shed exoskeleton combined with days of feces accumulate on this fork and create an effective fecal shield. Golden Tortoise Beetle feces contain alkaloids from the plants that they’ve eaten (Bindweed and other plants in the family Convolvulaceae) and consequently the shield wards off predators. (Photo: Golden Tortoise Beetle larva with fecal shield; inset – adult Golden Tortoise Beetle)
Being my favorite species of frog, the Gray Treefrog may get more than its fair share of exposure on the Naturally Curious blog. This amphibian is rarely noticed outside of its June mating season, when the males’ bird-like trills can be heard throughout the night from shrubbery bordering wetlands. Due to its emerald green coloration when young, and its mottled gray/green adult appearance, in addition to its nocturnal habits, this beguiling amphibian escapes detection by most of us throughout the rest of the summer.
However, if you keep an eye out in August, near where you heard those trills in June, you may be successful in spotting a juvenile Gray Treefrog. Having developed legs and lungs, absorbed their gills and tails, and reinvented their digestive system for insects, not plants, they are now permanently terrestrial, except during the breeding season. When a Gray Treefrog is young and newly metamorphosed, it usually remains near the forest floor. As it ages, it may transition to living in the forest canopy. (Photo: juvenile Gray Treefrog; inset – adult Gray Treefrog)
Ambush bugs, a type of assassin bug, are true bugs, in the order Hemiptera. (Although insects are often referred to as “bugs,” technically only insects in this order are classified as bugs by entomologists.) All true bugs have piercing and sucking mouthparts, and wings which are membranous and clear at the tips, but hardened at the base.
Ambush bugs are usually brightly colored (yellow, red or orange) and have thickened front legs which are used to capture prey up to ten times their own size. They live up to their name, patiently lying in wait for unsuspecting prey, often in goldenrod flowers where they are very well camouflaged. An ambush bug, upon sighting an insect, suddenly seizes the prey in its powerful forelegs and quickly dispatches it with a stab from its sharp beak. It then injects digestive enzymes into its prey, after which it drinks the resulting liquid innards.
Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta), a multi-stemmed shrub, is named for its fruit — a nut with a tubular husk (a modified leaf known as an involucre) that extends at least an inch beyond the nut, resembling a beak. The surface of the involucre is covered with fine filaments that can irritate the skin. The fruit grows individually as well as in clusters. There are two species of hazel in the Northeast. The other, American Hazel (Corylus americana), lacks the prolonged husk and instead has a short involucre with fringed edges.
The nuts of Beaked Hazelnut may be roasted and eaten — they ripen in August and September. One must be quick to harvest them, however, as they are highly sought after by Ruffed Grouse, Hairy Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, White-tailed Deer and squirrels, due to being rich in protein and fat. Most (99 percent) of the hazelnuts consumed by the U.S. are from a European species of hazel and are grown in Oregon.
Sightings of Monarchs have been far more numerous this summer than in the recent past, and there is reason to celebrate. The Monarch population that will be migrating to Mexico in a month or so is projected to be higher than it’s been since 2012. This optimistic forecast by Monarch Watch (www.monarchwatch.org is based on several factors: higher numbers of overwintering Monarchs in Mexico last winter, relatively good migrating conditions throughout their flight north this past spring, and summer temperatures and rainfall conducive to survival. Both migrating and well as overwintering numbers are projected to be significantly greater than in recent years. Those of you with children may have the best opportunity in years to raise a Monarch caterpillar and have your children witness the miracle of Monarch metamorphosis!