Posts tagged with Biology

Cow Killer!

Several people have reported seeing these wonderful insects over the last couple of days. These are sometimes called velvet ants. They are not ants but mutillid wasps. The females are wingless and usually brightly colored-orange or orange and black, though a few are grey. The males are winged. The females are enter the burrows of ground nesting bees and wasps and lay their eggs on or near the larvae of their host. The eggs hatch and the Mutlillid larvae feed on the host's larvae.

Mutillids can pack a powerful sting-especially the one pictured here. That probably is the origin of the other common name as a figure of speech- "Cow Killer." The females are extremely active and never seem to stop moving so it is difficult to get a decent picture of them. Fortunately I had a plastic lid to a lens filter handy and was able to trap this one long enough to get a good shot.

Reply 25 comments from Frankie8 Tange Agnostick Paul Decelles Katara Riverdrifter Notaubermime Roedapple Steampunque

Teach the Controversy!

Should kids learn about Math?

A bit sexist, but the parallels with Kansas and what certain presidential candidates say about science needs no additional comment from me. ;-)


Don’t Kill These Guys!

You may have noticed these large wasps flying around and making burrows in loose soil.


They may look fierce and frightening but they are actually not very aggressive. These are Cicada Killers and the female digs burrows in loose soil and she provisions the nest with cicadas that she paralyzes by stinging them before carrying them to the burrow. It is possible to be stung by these wasps but you have to little put your hand on one to get stung-which is a pretty stupid thing to do. The sting hurts momentarily and the site doesn't seem to swell as a hornet or paper wasp sting does.

How do I know this? Well, guess who was stupid.

At The University of Kansas they used to aggregate around the entrance of Strong Hall - the entrance facing Snow Hall. I haven't checked to see if they are still nesting there.

Here is a pretty good summary of the natural history of these wasps:

You can control them with chemicals but there really doesn't seem any reason to do this from my way of thinking. Supposedly cultural practices like improving your turf in areas where they nest help, but I rather have the wasps myself.

In terms of identification there isn't a whole lot of insects with which you can confuse these wasps. The females are two inches or so long, their burrowing and swarming behavior in areas where you have loose soil is pretty distinctive. Again they are not likely to sting you; in fact I was standing in the middle of a cluster of wasp burrows on the JCCC campus when I took this particular shot. So use some common sense (not like me) and enjoy!


Mad Dogs and…

Biologists? Now that my summer semester is over, I just had to get out yesterday to do some hiking so went over to Prairie Park for a couple of hours. What struck me was how green the prairie area was with no maintenance.

Do you think maybe this is an indication of the sorts of plants we should use around our yards rather than the usual garden store fare?

Here by the way are a couple of shots from my visit.

First up is a hummingbird moth-resting- until I went to take the NEXT shot.

Next a very nice orb weaving spider that was hanging out near the nature center itself.

There was at least one other photographer out-a fellow from Ottawa with his new camera- and I steered him to the spider. Hope his shots came out well and that enjoyed his visit to the park.


Ah what a beautiful day; just a tad windy said the spider to the fly.



Cats and Birds..merrow!

There is an interesting article in the science section of the New York Times about the effects of domestic cats on bird populations.

As the headline suggests, domestic cats are a major threat to bird populations. The article suggests that over 500 million birds are killed by cats each year in the United States-half by feral cats and half by house pets. The article also makes an interesting point that people get all upset about bird deaths due to wind turbines and yet seem to be much less upset about bird deaths due to cats. Wind turbines by the way can apparently be situated to minimize bird deaths.

We accept predation as somehow natural but forget that the domestic cat is not native to North America and so is really an invasive species-so they are more like those big constrictor snakes that people have let loose in the everglades. Now if only we could train cats to attack non native birds such as starlings or English sparrows but I don't think that is going to happen.


Just by chance, our declawed indoor only cat Carl caught and killed a chickadee (pictured) that had gotten on to our screened in back porch yesterday. He had caught one other chickadee during the winter but he just held it in his mouth very gently and we managed to rescue the bird. This time he clearly figured out that the next step in hunting, after catching the bird, is to kill it.

I hope he never figures out the eating stage.