The buzzing of flying insects coming from a clump of willows
caused me alter course to investigate.
There were hornets moving in and out of the tree canopy, making me think
I may be lucky enough to find an active nest.
Once beneath the tree, I could detect minute drops of
moisture hitting my face and arms. It
felt as though I was standing in a cool jungle mist, but I knew what it really
was and what was responsible.
I was in a rain of honeydew being discharged by colonies of
aphids. As a byproduct of their feeding,
these sap sucking insects expel droplets of sweet liquid.
Large aphid colonies can cause a steady downfall of tiny
honeydew droplets. The branches of this
willow were almost completely covered by aphids.
Many aphid predators are attracted by the odor of honeydew. This small fly larva, aka maggot, is the
larva of the Aphid Midge, Aphidoletes aphidimyza. The adult fly feeds on honeydew and lays its
eggs among the aphids. The larvae then
consume the aphids. The larva’s gut
takes on the color of the aphid juices being eaten. This coloration then shows through the
Plants growing beneath the willows have been completely
covered by honeydew. The primary buzzing
insects were various species of flies feeding on the sugary droplets. After a while a black mold begins to grow on
the leaf. Shed aphid exoskeletons, dust
and other detritus get caught in the sticky mess. This can’t be a healthy condition for the
plants. Fortunately, massive aphid
colonies are a product of late summer and fall, so the plants have already
completed their seed production and energy storage.
A variety of fly species was present. Leaves that hadn’t molded displayed an
unnatural shine. It reminded me of
houseplants that have received a coating of liquid wax to make their leaves
Of course, if there’s a sweet liquid to be had, the
Yellowjackets will be there to claim their share. They constantly skimmed over the leaves
searching for fresh droppings. Even when
they found one, they paused for only a second to lap it up.
The Bald-faced Hornets foraged higher in the tree and rarely
came down to ground level.
The hornets also took the opportunity to grab a live
meal. This guy is subduing a freshly
caught fly. The blue stripe is part of
the pattern on the fly’s abdomen.
Several butterfly species were present, dragging their tongues across
the leaf surface, sucking up honeydew.
Red-spotted Purple is one of my favorites. The blue, black and white pattern is quite
reminiscent of the colors in a Blue Jay’s feathers. Quite appropriate coloration for a resident
of Blue Jay Barrens.
I have a feeling that even people who aren’t fond of snakes
can’t help feeling kindly towards a cute little snake of green. I found this Rough Green Snake when I
revisited the Sycamore that yielded so many caterpillars a couple of weeks ago.
It was caterpillars that I was actually looking for. At the time of the snake discovery, I was
taking a close look at this Drab Prominent caterpillar.
I lifted my eyes from the caterpillar and on a branch just a
few feet away was the snake. Green Snakes are insect eaters and hairless caterpillars are readily consumed. The snake and I may have been looking in this tree for the same reason.
The Rough Green Snake is the only species of green snake
likely to be in this area. Even so, on
the rare occasions that I find one of these snakes, I like to verify the ID by
checking the scales on the snake’s back.
The scales of the Rough Green Snake are divided by a slight ridge. The ridges align to form faint stripes
running the length of the snake. They
also give the snake its rough feel that earned it its name.
This snake is typically found in the trees and is remarkably
adept at moving about through the branches.
It must have remarkable balance and muscle control.
It moves along a narrow branch as if it were traversing
If it desires a higher elevation, it just lifts its head and
It’s like a snake mime hitting an invisible wall.
The head just continues to ascend.
Finally the snake connects with the petiole of a grape leaf
and begins to slide its body along the narrow stem.
The diameter of the grape vine is smaller than that of the
snake, but the snake proceeds along this new avenue without complication.
Blue Jay Barrens had its first frost of 2014 on the morning
of September 23. This is a full month
earlier than last year. Only the most
susceptible of creatures showed any signs of damage, but it’s an indication
that most of the marvelous insects will soon be disappearing. While doing some work near the barn, I had
this big Robber Fly use the bed of my wheelbarrow as a hunting perch.
This is a female Promachus hinei, a species that is quite
abundant here during late summer. Robber
Flies are predators that sit and wait for suitable prey to fly by. When a likely victim, such as a smaller sized
flying insect, is spotted, the Robber Fly darts out and snatches it from the
Like most flies, the Robber Flies spend a lot of time on
personal grooming. Even while combing
its abdominal hair, the fly is alert for potential meals.
The capture is quicker than my camera. The Robber Fly is just a loud buzz and a blur
as it grabs a passing insect.
Usually, the predator will bring the catch back to the same
resting spot for consumption. The fly
inserts its tube-like mouth into the prey and begins to drink.
The presence of four wings identifies the victim as a small
bee. Feeding appears to occur rapidly,
because this fly ate three of these bees in just a few minutes. It’s also possible that the fly just can’t
resist a fresh kill and discards the previous catch before it is totally
drained. I love watching these big flies
Later in the day, I found this medium sized Robber Fly. This is a species of Diogmites and it tended
to perch down low in the vegetation.
It also frequently changed its hunting perch.
When it spotted something moving in the air, it quickly
turned its head in that direction.
If the object of interest remained in view, the fly would
realign its body with the head. I think
this guy made a catch, but it didn’t return to its perch and I failed to see
where it ended up.
Soon after, I located this small robber fly from the genus
Holcocephala. This genus is commonly
referred to as a Gnat-Ogre and it may actually have eyes bigger than its
belly. Gnat-Ogres perch on the tips of
narrow leaves. The wind was blowing this
little guy around so much that I wondered how it could ever focus on a passing
meal. I’m going to enjoy the insects as
much as I can before cold weather closes that particular avenue of pleasure.
This is a male Polistes fuscatus, the Northern Paper Wasp. It is part of the group of wasps that creates
the paper nests commonly found beneath the eves of houses, on porch ceilings
and above door jambs and window openings.
I encounter more nests of Polistes species than of all other wasp
I find Northern Paper Wasp nests in many locations. Each nest is active for only one summer
season. The nest begins in spring with
initial construction by the founding queen and dies in the fall when newly
produced queens leave to mate and find a place to spend the winter. For the past several years, wasps have
constructed their nests inside the hollow spaces in the blocks used to create
my barn walls. Access to the interior of
the blocks is through these two holes that, at some pre Blue Jay Barrens time,
held mounts for some type of apparatus secured to the side of the barn. I’ve never seen the actual nests inside the
blocks, but I’ve become accustomed to the cycle of wasp activity around the
The nest is approaching the end of its life. The queen has stopped laying eggs. She and her squad of workers are dead or
dieing. The bulk of nest occupants are males
and unfertilized queens. As the number
of workers decreases, the flow of food to the nest is interrupted. When the food supply diminishes, the female
wasps respond by driving the males away from the nest. The first light of day reveals male wasps
being given the boot. They struggle to
remain inside, but the relentless females use as much force as necessary to
push the males out.
Male wasps, identified by their curled antennae and light
colored faces, loiter in the area around the hole. The faces of the next group to be turned out
can be seen at the entrance to the hole.
The wasps don’t go far from the nest. They will spend most of the day lounging on
the wall. Occasional forays are made to
a nearby water source.
The males spend considerable time socializing. Some of the activity appears to be an attempt
to solicit food from each other. While
in the nest they would have been fed by worker females who spent much of their
The function of a male wasp is to mate with a female. At this time of year they will attempt to
mate with any wasp, male or female, that comes by. A wasp flying to the wall arouses an instant
mob of males. Males are attracted to
concentrations of females. As long as the
young females are still present in the nest, the males will stay close. The females will soon leave to find suitable
hibernation sites. The males will follow
and at that time will interact and mate with females from other nests. Males will not survive the coming cold
As temperatures drop with the setting of the sun, the males
are allowed back into the nest. The time
is rapidly approaching when the wasps will be absent and the buzzing inside the
wall will cease. I expect next summer to
again see the familiar flight of wasps flying to and from these holes.
An early morning encounter with a Saddleback Caterpillar
made me believe that it may be helpful to some if I were to provide a few more
images of this remarkable creature. I’ve
been seeing large numbers of this species on a variety of different trees and
shrubs. Those stinging spines suggest
how this caterpillar can make a lasting impression on an unsuspecting person.
Each of those spines contains a chemical irritant that makes
initial contact with the power of a wasp sting, progresses into a chemical burn
and finally settles into an intense itch that lingers for several minutes
before dropping to a mild irritation causing brief periods of itching for an
The brown and green pattern on this caterpillar makes it
difficult to see as it sits feeding on a leaf.
However, once you have a search image in mind, they are pretty easy to
locate and avoid. Unfortunately, it’s
usually not the ones you see that give you a sting; it’s the ones hidden from
view beneath the leaf that catch you by surprise. You can easily see the caterpillar to the
left, but it’s the one farther down the stem to the right that’s liable to get
This is the one that got me yesterday morning. I was leaning backwards, trying to get a look
at a bird in a tree, when my shoulder pressed against the caterpillar. I think he got me with spines from all four
After rubbing my shoulder and voicing my dissatisfaction
with the encounter, I decided to take a few shots of my assailant. It seemed totally undisturbed by my
The actual head of the caterpillar is located beneath the
first body segments and is generally hidden from view. A ring of spined protrusions protects the
head from undesired attention.
This is what you would see if trying to sneak up on the
caterpillar from the rear. Two white
spots give the appearance of a menacing creature facing down a potential
attacker. Next year will be a lot of fun
if all of these caterpillars live to produce adults in the spring.
Located in the Bluegrass region of Southern Ohio, Blue Jay Barrens contains excellent xeric habitat inhabited by a wide variety of rare native plant and animal species. Since 1985, this private property has been managed to improve the integrity of the special ecosystems found here. This blog provides information on the current activities at Blue Jay Barrens.
RESPONSE TO COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS BLOG
It’s my intent to share information on current events at Blue Jay Barrens. Unless otherwise noted in the text, all photos were taken by me at Blue Jay Barrens.
Plant scientific names are from Gleason and Cronquist 1991. I realize that some changes in preferred nomenclature have occurred, but this is the principle reference I have been using for flora identification. Knowing this, I believe most people can figure out just what plant I’m talking about.
My discussions of flora and fauna are not intended to be a complete life history. There are plenty of good references for this type of information. I am discussing my personal experiences with plants and animals on this specific property. Any other information I may provide is intended to help you understand the significance of my observations.
1- Of Mosquitoes, Moths and Mice, by C Brooke Worth. 2- Mosquito Safari: A Naturalist in Southern Africa, by C Brooke Worth. 3- A Naturalist in Trinidad, by C Brooke Worth.
MY 3 FAVORITE FICTION BOOKS:
1- The Witches of Karres by James H Schmitz 2- The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham 3- The Windhover Tapes (1st 3 volumes) by Warren Norwood
MY 3 FAVORITE MOVIES:
1- Vanishing Point 1971 with Barry Newman 2- Flim Flam Man 1967 with George C Scott - also like the book by Guy Owens 3- The Lathe Of Heaven 1979 with Bruce Davison - also like the book by Ursula K LeGuin
MY 3 FAVORITE TV SHOWS:
1- The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan 2- Fawlty Towers with John Cleese 3- Kolchak: The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin