Monday, August 15, 2016

Buzz ON

A few weeks ago, Kenn and I threw a party in honor of some dear friends. While prepping the area near our fire ring, I started to move a rotting log at the edge of the area - and the doggone thing started buzzing -- like, LOUD! At that point, I turned to hightail it outta there, but it wasn't long before three of the angry residents (some species of small bumblebee) caught up and delivered three notices to the back of my thigh to let me know how they felt about being disturbed.

After nursing the stings, and allowing what I hoped would be enough time for the buzzles to calm down, I returned to the scene of the crime, and here's what I found.


If you look closely at the bottom of the stump, you can see the nest and 
the little cluster of "alien pods," each containing a Bumblebee larva. 


I felt terrible for disturbing the nest. And, in order to at least turn this into a teachable moment, we cordoned off the area and encouraged our guests to peer inside. And now, I'm sharing this unique view with you, totally sting-free! :-)


A closer view reveals a glimpse into the bizarre and fascinating lives of Bumblebees.

From the Bumblebee Conservation Trust: When she has chosen her nest, the queen will begin to collect pollen from flowers, to bring back to the nest. She forms a mound of pollen and wax (which she secretes from her body) and lays her first brood of eggs. She also collects nectar which she stores in a pot-shaped structure made of wax which is positioned in front of her mound. The queen keeps the eggs warm by sitting on her wax ‘nest’ and shivering her muscles to keep warm.

Sipping from the nectar-pot gives her enough energy to incubate the eggs for several days until little white grub-like larvae emerge. These larvae are fed on pollen and nectar which the queen goes back-and-forth to collect from nearby flowers. Once they have eaten enough, after around two weeks, they spin a cocoon, inside which they develop into adult bees. Read more, here: https://bumblebeeconservation.org/about-bees/lifecycle/

I encourage you to do your own research on the life history of Bumblebees. They're incredibly fascinating, and the process of sex determination sounds like something from an episode of Star Trek! (Google search "Haplodiploid.")

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

Our big patch of zinnias continues to provide great habitat for pollinators and is attracting a sensational variety of flying insects right now. Today's featured flyer: Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis).




From the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America: 
"The Snowberry Clearwing is typical of a small group of clear-winged, day-flying sphinx moths that are good mimics of bumblebees -- except that they hover in front of blossoms instead of landing on them."




Here in the Midwest, the other two species in the genus Hemaris are Hummingbird Clearwing and Slender Clearwing.


Here's a video of this remarkable moth at our zinnias. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bird's Nest Fungus

I can't even tell you how excited I am about our most recent‪ backyard nature discovery‬.  I've always wanted to see Bird's Nest Fungus, and we've looked for it in many different places on our travels. The last place I expected to see it for the first time was in our own backyard!


It's not hard to see how this fungus of Lilliputian proportion gets its name. And while the cups do look like tiny bird's nests, they're actually the fruiting body of the fungus. Inside, the "eggs," are the peridioles that contain the spores which are the basis of its reproduction.

NATURE IS THE COOLEST THING EVER!! :-)




I am not ashamed to admit that I sort of lost my sh*t when I discovered these. First, I ran to get Kenn, and then I made an emergency fungus discovery phone call to my best friend Tiffanie. Now listen, you know you're picking your friends right when they heed your emergency fungus discovery call and immediately jump in the car to race over!







These remarkable little bird nests in miniature are yet another powerful (and cosmically-cool!) reminder that the natural world never disappoints. Get outside. Exercise your curiosity. Feed your soul. #BackyardNatureDiscoveries

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ode to Baby Bluebirds

For many days we waited, watched, and hoped. We heard your tiny voices calling from inside the box. We listened as your voices grew stronger and noticed when your parents stopped going all the way into the box to feed you. Instead, perching only at the entrance while tiny beaks poked out of the shadowy hole to receive the offerings.


And today, you vaulted out of the little green box in the middle of our prairie and found your place in the sky. Oh, you beautiful little bluebirds. How you have graced our world.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Super Cool Cat(erpiggle)

Kimberly Writes: This spring, a friend gave me a flat of Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea). While I've grown many different plants over the years, this was a new one for me, and I was thrilled to have them, as they're hummingbird magnets!

I've tended them through a hot, dry summer, and they've rewarded me by doing their job, attracting hummingbirds like crazy. Yep, I expected the hummers, but I never thought of them as a host plant for caterpiggles. Not until THIS incredible creature appeared!

A few days ago, we were walking through our gardens with our friends Tiffanie and Delaney Hayes, and we paused to talk about our little patch of Cuphea. It was a total shock to look down and see this gorgeous caterpiggle munching away, and such a joy to share the discovery with our friends! 



A bit of searching turned up two of these big old cats. Kenn did some research and discovered that they're White-lined Sphinx moth caterpiggles. They've grown a lot the last few days, so I took a photo today with my hand in the shot for size reference.


Aren't they amazing?!?! Get outside and explore the natural world. You will never be disappointed!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Deer - and Near to My Heart

Kimberly Writes: Movement in the shadows of the old apple tree alerted us that she was there. It was a surprise to see her so close to the house, and we wondered if the hot, dry weather had driven her here, in broad daylight, to seek out the cooler temperatures and tender plants in the shade beneath the tree.

You have to look closely to see her among the lower limbs of the apple tree. 

 With so much financial and sweat equity in our native plants, we were torn with how to feel about her presence here. But it didn't take long to decide to simply embrace the beauty of the moment, and accept her grace and loveliness for the gift that it was.




I hope the bit of respite served her well, and I thank her for moving on with no damage whatsoever. The world seems like a dark and frightening place sometimes, but there is beauty in it too. And if our hearts are open, and we know where to look for it, it's easy to find.