Friday, May 13, 2011

Party Animals

There’s a party on my porch.

Not that kind of party, though we’ve had those, too. We have noticed recently some flying insects congregating on a hanging plant late in the day. When a human passes by, some of them fly out and buzz said passerby, encouraging her to “move along, move along now.” During daylight hours, the numbers are much reduced. Upon closer inspection, we don’t see any kind of nest.

Time for a science lesson!           

I sent my daughter out with her bug trapper. Her brother gave her a battery-operated contraption that looks like a water gun. She turns it on and points it at the desired specimen. It suctions the bug into a small, clear canister. She closes the canister (using a rotating magnifying glass lid), and detaches it from the “gun.”

That sounds very clinical, but in practice it’s not usually so clean a catch. On this night, she stretched out her arm towards the infested plant while leaning as far away as she could, disturbed wasps buzzing around her head.  I scurried inside, to watch through the window. Hey, someone’s got to stand back and supervise.

After a bit of effort and bravery, she caught one for us to closely examine and identify. Hurrah!

We retrieved our trusty Texas Insects book (A Field Guide to Common Texas Insects, Drees & Jackman). My daughter paged through the pictures and found a likely looking suspect:  Blue mud dauber (Chalybion californicum). We turned to the description. While our insect looked like a blue mud dauber, it was described as a solitary wasp, and the creatures on our porch were definitely social. Very social. Upwards of 50 little pals were hanging out together, discussing their day, talking about girls, bemoaning the dry conditions, singing “99 bottles of beer on the wall.”

We next googled these wasps, and found a very informative blog, Bug Eric, which explains that the males, whose only job is to procreate (what a life!), spend their days sipping nectar, sap and honeydew (secretions from aphids and other scale insects – ugh), then gather together at night to “sleep it off.”

One disturbing thing to know about these wasps is that they prey on black-widow spiders, using them to feed offspring in mud nests appropriated from other kinds of mud daubers. I’ve not seen any of these spiders, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t here.

It’s possible that we’ve misidentified our wasp. The Chlorion aerareum, or steel-blue cricket wasp, is larger and likes to hunt – wait for it – crickets.  I haven’t found any description of these congregating as ours do, and it is not listed in my handy dandy field guide. So, I choose to believe we have blue mud daubers, even if that means we have black widows lurking about, too.

Party on, little dudes!

Out the kitchen window - what is this foreign substance?
Favorite spot in the garden:

Today my favorite spot is my entire property, as it has at last been rained upon! Night before last, a scary storm blew through, dropping 1 ½” of rain and some larger than pea-sized hail (no damage that we know of). Another storm passed through yesterday morning, dropping nearly another inch of rain.

See the thirsty plants gulping nourishing rain!
It looked like August outside two days ago, or as my husband wrote, it was “dry as a week-old biscuit in Terlingua.” We had received no appreciable rain since January. The grass was dormant, and dust flew when you scuffed your feet. Yesterday morning, I could see some grass clumps beginning to green already.

Blessed rain!


  1. So glad you got the rain! We got very little of it, but we are thankful for the few drops that fell.

  2. I hope you get some rain soon!