Mining Bee

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We often think of bees as living in hives and cooperating with each other as “social insects.” But of the 20,000 species of bees in the world, 70% live underground and the large majority of those are small and solitary.

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This Mining Bee that I recently saw in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is an example of such a bee. There are 100 over species of this type of insect found in Ohio. These native pollinators are typically 1/4 – 3/4″ long, depending on the species, and most have banded abdomens.

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Females dig individual burrows several inches deep into the soil. They prefer to nest in well-drained soil that is lightly exposed to sunlight. Each excavation is about the diameter of a wooden pencil surrounded by a mound of loose soil particles.

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Though solitary and having no social structure, large numbers of females often locate their burrows in close proximity to one another giving the appearance of an organized colony.

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Mining Bees are not aggressive and their small stingers can’t penetrate far into the skin. More importantly, they are significant pollinators of spring-blooming food crops including apples, cherries and blueberries.

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These fine creatures are also known as Chimney Bees and Mustached Mud Bees.

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Tarantula Hawk

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While visiting Nevada, Arizona and California I have come across this awesome insect on occasion. This is the largest of the spider wasps, which use their sting to paralyze their prey before dragging it to a brood nest to serve as living food.

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These two-inch insects are not only distinctive because of their size, but they are also easily recognizable by their blue-black bodies and bright, rust-colored wings. Their vivid coloration is an advertisement to potential predators of the wasps’ ability to deliver a powerful sting.

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For humans and other vertebrates, the Tarantula Hawk has one of the most painful stings on the planet. American entomologist Justin Schmidt created the sting pain index and described the Tarantula Hawk’s sting as “instantaneous, electrifying and totally debilitating.”

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Female Tarantula Hawks battle tarantulas (which are bigger than themselves), sting them and then drag the paralyzed spider to a specially prepared burrow, where a single egg is laid on the spider’s abdomen and the burrow entrance is covered. When the Tarantula Hawk larva hatches, it feeds voraciously on the tarantula, avoiding vital organs for as long as possible to keep the spider alive.

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Adult Tarantula Hawks derive their energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly of the sugar-rich nectar produced by flowering plants. The consumption of fermented fruit sometimes intoxicates them to the point that flying becomes difficult.

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Despite their large size and fearsome lifestyle, Tarantula Hawks are relatively docile and rarely sting without provocation.

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Paper Wasp

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Each year I share my backyard deck during the warmer months with Paper Wasps. They have a fondness for the wooden rail overhand and sometimes two or three pairs of insects build nests there.

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Paper Wasps are beneficial, since they prey on soft-bodied insects, especially caterpillars. They are not at all bothersome, being uninterested in people or in scavenging for food, unlike some of their yellowjacket cousins.

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I have also encountered this insect when visiting southern Illinois and Maryland. They come in a variety of colors and patterns. The photo above shows a nest in the limestone bluffs that border Snake Road in Illinois and the picture below shows one starting to build its nest on the eaves of a shed in Maryland.

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These insects make nests of cellulose fiber (paper) to brood their young. Paper wasp nests are typically small, attached by a stalk to an overhanging support, and have a single comb of cells.

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The larvae of wasps are grubs. To grow in the nest cell, the grub needs food – so the adult wasp paralyzes a caterpillar with its sting and stuffs it into the nest cell and lays an egg in the cell. The egg hatches and has ample food to grow to full grub size.

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After it eats, the grub enters the pupal, or resting stage, wherein its body is rearranged, and it emerges as an adult winged wasp. In the picture above, an adult has caught a caterpillar to feed its offspring.

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Adult Paper Wasps eat nectar. Dill and fennel are especially favored, but parsley, parsnip or carrot gone to seed are also food sources for these insects.

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Orange-winged Grasshopper

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While visiting a Pine Barrens habitat in Maryland this Summer, I came across this very cool creature.

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Grasshoppers jump to get around and to escape from predators and several species enhance their leaps by having the ability to fly.

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This species prefers old fields, meadows and open woodlands, where it is almost always grassy, sunny and near (but not usually under) trees. It is more often seen in upland areas than in valleys and prefers areas where there are patches of bare soil.

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True to its name, my specimen had orange wings, but the inner wing color can also be yellow or pinkish. The Orange-winged Grasshopper belongs to a group of insects known as Band-winged Grasshoppers, as evidenced by its black wing borders.

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These grass-eating insects are heavy-bodied and equipped with enlarged hind legs. Their head too, has an appearance of being over-sized. It’s bright, intricate, cryptic colors make for a neat looking invertebrate.

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Snowy Tree Cricket

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I often find this insect in the Autumn, not only when visiting southern Illinois, but also in my home state of Ohio.

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This pale green species occurs over a wide distribution in the northern United States and parts of southern Canada.

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The Snowy Tree Cricket is known for having a chirping rate highly correlated with ambient temperature. This relationship is known as Dolbear’s Law and was published in 1897 in an article called “The Cricket as a Thermometer.”

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As their name implies, these creatures live in trees and shrubs, for which they are well camouflaged. The bodies of tree crickets are long and skinny compared to the bodies of other types of familiar crickets.

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Like other species of in their family, they feed on a wide range of items like plant parts, other insects and even fungi.

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The call of the Snowy Tree Cricket is commonly used as a background sound in movies and on television in order to depict a warm Summer evening.

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This is a neat, delicate-appearing invertebrate that I enjoy coming across, whether while doing yardwork or out herping.

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European Hornet

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While searching for snakes in southern Illinois this month, I flipped a rock and under it was this large (over an inch long) insect. This the only true hornet found in North America, having been introduced by European settlers in the 1800′s.

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Most examples I’ve seen have been in the Autumn and are probably females (mated queens) looking for a place to overwinter before starting a new colony the following Spring. Only overwintering queens survive in protected sites such as under loose bark, in tree cavities, under rocks and in buildings. All other colony members produced in the current year perish.

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I have seen European Hornets in my home state of Ohio as well. They are mainly carnivorous and hunt insects such as beetles, caterpillars, moths, dragonflies and crickets. They also feed on fallen fruit and other sources of sugary food. I saw this one at a hummingbird feeder. These insects have been observed stealing prey from spiders, which can be classified as an example of kleptoparasitism.

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Though they probably have a painful sting, they usually aren’t particularly defensive when not protecting their nest. This woodland species constructs its large paper hive in natural cavities, especially in hollow trees. The nests typically have 200-400 workers.

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It’s always a neat experience to observe one of these impressive invertebrates while out on a hike.

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Northern Walkingstick

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While walking on the Buckeye Trail, I came across this very cool insect. Adults are 3 to 3-1/2 inches long and remarkably well camouflaged. They are slender, elongated and resemble a twig.

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Northern Walkingsticks have a wide range, extending down the Atlantic Coast from Alberta, Canada to Northern Florida.

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These creatures feed mainly on the leaves of trees. They are leaf skeletonizers, eating the tissues between the leaf veins before moving on to new leaves.

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There favored habitat is deciduous woodland edges and forests where their preferred food sources (Oak and Hazelnut) are in good supply.

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Northern Walkingsticks have the extraordinary ability to regenerate legs that are lost by attacks from predators. When predators are present, they remain motionless with their legs close to their bodies, thus resembling a stick.

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They tend to lay their eggs in September; they do so, usually from great heights, dropping them down to the leaf litter where they are left to overwinter. The eggs falling from the trees sound like of droplets of rain.

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We often think of strange, exotic-looking insects as creatures inhabiting tropical rainforests, but the Northern Walkingstick graces us with its presence right here in Ohio.

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Moth Fly

Recently I found this strange creature in my basement. It is also commonly known as the Drain Fly, Filter Fly or Sewage Fly. Moth flies are frequently found indoors on windows, sinks and walls. The source of the fly infestation is generally from sinks and floor drains.

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The adult insect is about one-fifth of an inch long. It has a dark gray body and lighter colored wings. It is densely covered with long hair, which gives the body a fuzzy appearance, hence the name “Moth Fly.”

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Their eggs are deposited in moist, decomposing organic materials. These materials, which accumulate in drains, provide an ideal site for metamorphosis. Adults live about two weeks and feed on flower nectar and polluted water.

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During the day adults rest in shaded areas or on walls near plumbing fixtures and on the sides of showers and tubs. Most of their activity occurs during the evening. It was neat to make an acquaintance with this unusual insect.

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Brown Lacewing

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It’s wintertime, yet if you look around, there are still insects to be found, like the Brown Lacewings that occasionally turn up in my house.

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They are predators both as adults and larvae. These creatures prefer soft-bodied insects such as aphids and mealybugs, as well as insect eggs.

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I suspect the reason I’m finding them indoors is that the were inadvertently brought in when outdoor plants came in for the Winter.

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Brown Lacewings are native throughout North America, though are not as abundant as Green Lacewings (these were the first examples I’ve ever seen).

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Adults are small, only about half an inch long, and as their name implies, they have heavily veined wings. The larvae look like tiny alligators with sickle-shaped jaws.

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Although they are fragile-looking, lacewings are one of the most effective beneficial insects to the gardener and I surely don’t mind having them around.

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Sweat Bee

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Sweat bees are the most brightly colored native bees in our area. The shiny, metallic green insects are quite eye-catching.

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Augochlora Sweat Bees nest in the ground, building long vertical nest cavities. Most are solitary nesting, but some species share the same nest entrance, but build their own cavities.

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They are short tongued, so they visit shallow or easily accessible flowers for nectar. They also steal nector collected by plant parasites, like aphids.

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These insects are tiny (less than 1/2 an inch) and are named because of their habit of landing on people and licking the perspiration from the skin in order to obtain salt.

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This brilliant “living jewel” performs the same function as other species bees – they are very important pollinators for many wildflowers and crops.

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Lately fair numbers of them have been visiting my deck garden and I enjoy seeing them every day.

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