Thursday, May 29, 2014

These Ants Have Been "Sold"

I know it looks like the ant in this photo is battling an octopus, but this is an ant that "got sold" into dispersing and planting Dutchman's Breeches seeds by what I like to call, "ant bait" - those fleshy appendages, or elaiosomes, that give the seeds that octopus look.
ant clasps Dutchman's Breeches seed elaiosomes
  I photographed this ant dragging a Dutchman's Breeches seed across a limestone rock that was on a rich, forested hillside which seemed almost covered with those early spring flowers.  I stood there and imagined that thousands of ants were being baited into doing the work of dispersing and planting the Dutchman's Breeches seeds in exchange for those fleshy little appendages on the seeds.

Here is a photo of the Dutchman's Breeches' flowers.
Dutchman's Breeches

This is a photo of some flowering Dutchman's Breeches plants.
Dutchman's Breeches

This photo shows Dutchman's Breeches seedpods.
Dutchman's Breeches seedpods

I found ripened seedpods which had split open to expose the seeds and, of course, the "ant bait". 
elaiosomes and Dutchman's Breeches seeds
Those fleshy appendages give the little black seeds an creepy-bug look, but they sure work very well at attracting ants and causing the ants to drag the seeds home for food for their colony.
ant feeds on elaiosomes of Dutchman's Breeches seed
I wonder if the ants realize they've been "sold" for pittance after they worked so hard to drag those seeds home, and later, after they ate those little elaiosomes, discover that only part of their haul is edible and are left with those big seeds to discard.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Antlion Pits Keep Us On A Ledge

The sand that weathered from these sandstone ledges has provided a great place for antlions to thrive.  Oh, the drama we've seen among the rock's sandy little grottoes and niches... it's no wonder we stayed awhile.
We've watched the antlions construct their little funnel-shaped pit-traps in the sand on the protected ledges.  We've also seen hapless ants and other insects lose footing on the loose sand of the antlion's  pit traps and fall prey to the well-hidden antlions.
Antlion funnel-shaped pit-traps
Here are some photos of those cone-shaped pits that antlions dug in loose sand.  Actually, antlions construct their pits with many quick flicks of their heads - using their jaws like shovels to toss some grains of sand up and out.
Antlion's circular pits in loose sand

In the bottom of one pit I spotted an ant that had lost its footing on the steep pit sides and had fallen victim to the lurking jaws of an antlion.
ant fell into antlion pit trap

Here is a close-up of the antlion's prey.  I could catch glimpses of the antlion's appendages as it moved the ant around.
ant in pit trap

Here is a photo of an antlion that I exposed by gently blowing away the sand in the bottom of the pit.

Usually the antlions are hidden under the sand in the bottom of their pits awaiting some insect that might fall into their trap, but here the antlion's jaws are visible as it lies in wait.
antlion hiding in sand pit

Even winged insects can be trapped in an antlion's pit-trap.
antlion with insect prey

We blew away a few sand pits in hopes of finding some antlions to photograph and in the process found some antlion pupal cases.
Antlion's pupal case
The antlions pupate in these spherical cocoons they construct of silk and sand.
Antlion pupal case
I'll have to leave posting about adult antlions until I find my photos.  On second thought, I may have to hang out on those ledges until I get to photograph adult antlions emerging from the sand.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Metallic-green Bee's Bottom's-up Building Methods

In our back yard we have these amazing bees that build turreted tunnels using their butts - to put it bluntly.
halicted bee peering from burrow
This small, metallic-green bee builds a tower over its hole by excavating small balls of mud from its tunnel and applying them to the top of the turret.  The bee backs up the tunnel, rolls the mud ball into place with its legs, and them packs the mud into place with the posterior tip of its abdomen.
Metallic-green halictid bee building turreted burrow

 Watch this amazing video of a turret-building Halictid bee as it packs the mud into place with its butt.

Here are a few more photos of the bee in action.
Here the bee is "checking for level".
halicted bee inspecting turret

 Here is another photo of the bee applying a mud ball to its turret.
Halictid bee making turreted burrow

In this photo, a springtail looks on (from the end of the wood chip) as the bee packs mud into place.
bee building mud tower

   These entertaining bees have been living in our backyard for the last few summers.  They showed up again yesterday!  In the photo below you can see the turret is just in the beginning stages of construction.
Halictid bee tunnel with turrret
   I hope to take some good photos of the bees this summer and see if I can identify the species.  In the meantime we will chuckle every time we think of the bees' funny performances happening in our flowerbed.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Dozen Tiny Wasps From A Blueberry Stem Gall

We brought a Blueberry Stem Gall into the house from out in the cold, snowy woods.
Blueberry Stem Gall Wasp emerging from its gall
About a month or so later we witnessed the emergence of about a dozen miniscule wasps from the woody little gall.  These gall wasps were not much bigger than a pinhead.  I think most of the wasps that emerged were Blueberry Stem Gall Wasps - Hemadas nubilipennis.  
What a sight to see those wasps working to extricate themselves from their gall.
Gall of the Blueberry Stem Gall Wasp

In this photo, the Blueberry Stem Gall Wasp struggles to pull its abdomen through the hole it made in the gall.
Blueberry Stem Gall Wasp emerging

Just about free...
emerging Blueberry Stem Gall Wasp - Hemadas nubilipennis

Free at last...
Blueberry Stem Gall Wasp

There were at least two other species of wasps that emerged from this gall.  These are two species of the six that are parasitoids of the Blueberry Stem Gall Wasp.  One of the parasitoids that emerged from the gall is pictured here.
Blueberry Stem Gall Wasp parasitoid

Here is another parasitoid of the Blueberry Stem Gall Wasp.
another Blueberry Stem Gall Wasp parasitoid

Here is a photo of the Blueberry Stem Gall with least eight wasps working to get out of the gall.
Blueberry Stem Gall
Notice how the galls form on ends of the blueberry shoots (these were lowbush blueberry bushes).
Blueberry Stem Gall
  Sure is entertaining and educational to rear galls by bringing them in from the cold.
Now as we hike through the woods and we see those lumpy little galls on the blueberry bushes we can remember...