Friday, July 24, 2015

A Cast of Small Characters

Painted Lady: Even in a small outdoor space, such as the confines of our condo yard area and deck, you can, with a bit of thought and planning, attract a remarkable variety of pollinators and other interesting garden insects.  We have Joe Pye Weed in a large container. This dramatic blossom brings out the butterflies, such as this painted lady.  Bumblebees love it as well and I sometimes find them sleeping on it early in the morning right where they spent the night.

Golden Digger Wasp: If I could have five acres of oregano, I would.  If you let it run to flower, you will be visited by a delightful mob of charming and colorful freeloaders.  Wasps, such as this Golden Digger, go around and around the blossom clusters endlessly.

Carpenter Bee: When it rains they get wet.  This carpenter bee spent a long, cold night on our citronella following a recent, heavy downpour.  Many people mistake the large and common carpenters for bumblebees, but they don’t mind in the least what you call them.  If you have flowers that they like, they will stop by every day.

Paper Wasp: This paper wasp is of a different species from the one most commonly found on the large, gray nests you see under house eaves, but they are very similar in every way.  They are not at all aggressive and are very beneficial to gardeners because they dine on nectar themselves and hunt for small caterpillars to feed their ever-growing brood.

Fiery Skipper: If butterflies don’t make you smile then maybe you shouldn’t be gardening after all.  Skippers are common in this area, and fortunately the Fiery, like living origami, is one of the most routine you are likely to encounter.  They can be practically tame once they get used to your presence in their luncheonette, so you can see them up close and watch them fold and unfold with relative ease.

Scoliid Wasp |  Hairstreak Butterfly | Thread-waisted Wasp & Sand Wasp: Mention apple mint to some people and they will scorn you.  It runs.  It grows tired.  But during July and August, it serves as the meeting, greeting and eating place of many pollinators, both in numbers and in varieties.  It is not unusual to see two or more species dining in peace - or sometimes not - on the same flower head.  It’s comical to see a tiny leafcutter bee attacking a larger species, much like a mockingbird harassing a crow.

Black Wasp: Many people are frightened of bees and wasps, but the truth is they are generally no more interested in you than your teenagers are.  All they care about is what there is to eat.  In this area, the most aggressive species are the ground-nesting hornets, and they are primarily woodland dwellers.  Dangerous-looking species such as this large Black wasp will sting only if seriously provoked, and will most often use its wings to flee any contact.  Obviously, if you have any known allergies, then you should definitely keep your distance.

Green-eyed Wasp: Another plant I’d like to have planted in five acres is this beautiful flowering garlic.  Some of my more uncommon visitors, like this exotic Green-eyed wasp visit it - and not much else - during the season.  They are very striking animals, and extremely fast.  They can appear to disappear like a magician’s trick.  Keep in mind that where you live, meaning the surrounding habitat, has everything to do with which species can visit you.  But if you build your little garden with the right plants, they will find you, and as I have mentioned before, the insects you see next summer will be the offspring of the ones you fed this summer.

Guest writer: Robert Brown, LRNow Stewardship and Access Committee

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