Thoughts on Alabama

I have been in my new home for a little over a week and I have some basic observations about Hymenoptera on my part of the mountain.  Yellowjackets are by far the most prevalent type of wasp that I have encountered.  The company that surveyed my property made it seem like my forest was full of nests, but I have only seen the ones in my bait traps and around my hummingbird feeder.  The bait trap was exclusively Vespula squamosa while the hummingbird feeder has been covered by a mix of V. squamosa and V. maculifrons.  I encountered no nests the two times I hiked to the back of my property.

I had a few Polistes nests around my house when I moved in.  P. exclamans and P. carolina seemed to be the most abundant.  I also spotted an unknown Crabronidae that flies and hovers similar to the Trypoxylon punctivertex I captured in Fort Worth.  I have truthfully been a little disappointed thus far in the diversity of wasps.  I plan on surveying as soon as I can get a new microscope but that might be a while.

I am most excited about the ants, however.  I have already noticed differentiation of species dependent on soil types and hill slope position.  I am planning on cutting a transect through my property and surveying the ants.  I have diverse habitats and I will write a little biodiversity report about species and nest location preference.

For now, that is all that I have for you.  I am still unpacking but I already have about a dozen collections I want to do.  Stay tuned for the results of these expeditions.

Sphex ichneumoneus (July 2015 – Logan – Hocking County – OH – USA)

First, a quick note about my absence.  This past year has been a busy one.  Between homeschooling my boys, searching for jobs, and moving to Alabama, I have had little time for insect collecting.  All of my gear and equipment has been in storage for about four months and I will not get it back until the beginning of August.  I am looking forward to collecting and cataloging in a new state, however, and all of my adventures will be documented here.

I found this beautiful Great Golden Digger Wasp at Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, OH.  They seem to have a large geographical range as I have seen them in Texas, Florida, and now Ohio.  This is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing it construct a nest.  I did not stay long enough to observe its prey but i have a pretty good video of it digging out its nest.

I do not have much else to post.  Once I’m settled in Alabama and I am able to collect again, I will be more active in my posting.

Cheers!!!

Trypoxylon politum (June 2014, Pensacola-Escambia-FL-USA)

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I caught this beautiful wasp in my mother’s yard in Pensacola, FL.  It is commonly known as the Pipe Organ Mud Dauber because of the shape of its nest (see the last picture above).  I did not see any of these nests on my mother’s property.  Her soil is mostly sand and I do not think this would make the best nest-building materials, so the lack of nests is not a surprise.

I find this species interesting for a few reasons. First, it is an extremely large species of Trypoxylon.  This specimen is approximately 23mm in length, much larger than the Trypoxylon punctivertex I collected earlier this year.  According to Bug Guide, T. politum is the largest species in the genus (1).  It is also interesting that this species builds its entire nest out of mud.  It is in the family Crabronidae, which almost exclusively build their nests in hollowed cavities.  Sand wasps and cicada killers are what come to mind when I think of Crabronidae, not a mud dauber.  It is not even in the same family as the more common black and yellow mud daubers, which are classified as Sphecidae.  It does hunt spiders like other mud daubers, however.

The nests are fascinating, but I find their parental style to be even more interesting.  They are the only species of Crabronidae to engage in biparental care.  This behavior has been observed in some species of the social genus Polistes (paper wasps), but T. politum is a solitary wasp (2).  The males of T. politum will stand guard while the females forage for food.  These males protect the nests from predators and parasites (1).  I plan on doing a little more research into this behavior, but I cannot currently access TCU’s journal database due to some technical issues they seem to be having.

And now we come to the ventral hook.  Look at that thing!  This is the first time that I have seen anything like this.  Only the male T. politum have this hook.  I have no idea what function it serves.  Maybe it uses it to drag small parasites out of the nest!!!  I am just speculating, but I’m hoping that my research into the parental behavior of this species uncovers some information about the hook.

Identification Resources:

Goulet, H., & Huber, J. T. (1993). Hymenoptera of the world: an identification guide to families. Ottawa, Ontario: Centre for Land and Biological Resources Research.

Species Trypoxylon politum – Pipe organ mud dauber. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2014, from http://bugguide.net/node/view/7276

Sources:

(1):  Species Trypoxylon politum – Pipe organ mud dauber. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2014, from http://bugguide.net/node/view/7276

(2):  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4014040/#bibr05

Picture Credit:

The picture of the nest has been used with permission by Rich Kelly.

Myzinum sp. (June 2014, Pensacola-Escambia-FL-USA)

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While visiting my mother in Pensacola over the summer, I captured around 20 specimens of this wasp.  About a decade ago, my stepfather had to perform some repair work on our septic tank and dug up a decent amount of sandy loam soil to do so.  The extra soil from this project is now a small pile on the side of my mother’s home.  This soil has been very successful at growing various types of flowers, and it is these flowers that attracted the wasps.

I caught almost all of these wasps in the morning.  There were so many that I was able to casually swing my net back and forth and still catch almost two dozen.  I am glad that I caught so many because it turns out that male identification comes down to the shape and size of the genitalia.  Not the easiest thing to do if you do not have the proper tools.  Luckily, I was able to get a pretty good picture of the genitalia and it is this that led me to believe that I had captured Myzinum carolinianum.  I have submitted the images to Bug Guide and I am waiting for a response.  I will update this post if I get any experts to reply.

Identification Resources:

Goulet, H., & Huber, J. T. (1993). Hymenoptera of the world: an identification guide to families. Ottawa, Ontario: Centre for Land and Biological Resources Research.

Krombein, K. (1938). Studies in the Tiphiidae (Hymenoptera Aculeata): II. A Revision of the Nearctic Myzininae. Transactions of the American Entomological Society, 64(3), 227-292. Retrieved November 9, 2014.

Another Blog?!?

The original intent for my website was to create a online collection documenting Hymenoptera in Tarrant County.  I decided this objective was too narrow after I began collecting outside of Fort Worth.  I then created a website to focus on Hymenoptera in Texas.  This objective became too narrow when my collecting expanded to Florida, Ohio, and Washington.  I have now decided to create a website for all of my collecting throughout the United States and hopefully the world.  I will tag all posts with location and species information to improve content filtering.

This website is part field journal and part collection resource.  I am heavily influenced by Tony Burgess, Jean-Henri Fabre, and Howard Ensign Evans.  In short, I am a scientist with a naturalist bent.  Expect scientific detail and poems about wasps.

I have kept the old website up as an archive for those who are interested.  Even though most of my collections will take place in Texas, I will not be updating the old site anymore.