We Have Fence Poles

This is happy stuff! There are now poles in our stall area! Thank you, Mother Nature for a dry day!

The area near the shipping container. The square pole is part of our roof support.

There are a lot of holes to dig and concrete to pour, but it’s coming along! The big auger makes short work of the digging, but the concrete has to be poured by hand.

Posts are leaning because they are just sitting in big ole holes.

When I’m not working and working and working, I can help with the fencing, too. Some of the fence poles just have dirt in them, so I got to fill the holes back up with a weird hoe. Quite the manual laborer I am.

In front is a sturdy concrete post, behind is one I helped with.

However, I truly wish I’d been outside to see the big gate support go up. It must have been quite a sight! And quite a feat. No wonder I’m impressed with the new horse fencing!

That’s one fine gate support. I feel like we have a real ranch.

I’m looking forward to gates, some of which will be hand made, too. Wow. Apache and the cattle will have fancy digs.

I’m a fancy dog. In a tractor.

In Bug News

And as a postscript I have two cool insect photos to share. First, I saw a spider wasp dragging a hapless wolf spider off for dinner.

The circle of life

Also, my friend Pamela saw baby preying mantises on her property and got a shot of one whose shadow looked exactly like a giraffe. Cute!

See the giraffe?

Respite: Happy Flowers and Bugs

The rain has managed to fill up the tanks (ponds) at last. It really has been dribbling in, but we finally got a day with a whole inch, and that seems to have done the trick.

Black scarab beetle enjoying delicious pollen from a Texas thistle flower.

There was a bit of a respite this morning, and things dried out a little. I took advantage of the only hour I had without meetings today to go out and see what’s going on with the ranch plants and their friends. I’m glad I did it then, because it’s been raining and thundering again for the past two hours, which makes for some unhappy dogs.

Make it stop thundering!

I had set out to find invasive species, only to realize I missed the entire 2021 iNaturalist Texas invasive species survey time, because I was in South Carolina. That’s okay, though, because I enjoyed seeing what’s blooming in late spring. There’s a lot of Indian blanket, and horsemint out there, and you can tell they are native, because there are so many kinds of insects pollinating them. The fields are literally abuzz with activity. Bzzzz.

I got to see a few new-to-me insects, including two types of potter’s wasps (not exactly sure what they are), and these beautiful tachinid flies, Archytas apicifer. They are huge (for flies), have big, black hairs, and feature shiny green abdomens and bright red eyes. I often saw multiples on one black-eyed Susan flower.

And then there were butterflies! Yes, I’ve seen common buckeyes before, along with the perky little fiery skippers and the red admirals, but the pearl crescent butterfly was new to me, and wow, it’s pretty. The little white checkered skipper looks like lace from a distance, too. In addition to the ones I photographed, I also saw orange sulphurs and gray hairstreaks. That’s a lot of butterflies!

Katydid

The other thing I saw were bees, ranging from honey bees to tiny ones to bumblebees. They were zipping around, so no photos. And I found a katydid and lots of jumpy grasshoppers. This was a great way to spend some of my volunteer time at work!

I hope this provides some cheer if you’re living in a dreary place right now. I’d love to know what kinds of flowers are blooming where you live. I know the irises are in full swing in the northwestern US, and I believe I’ve spotted some peony photos from elsewhere. I love it when people share their local flowers, native or not!

Delicate horsemint.

Killer Wasps

Now that it’s summer, the time for pictures of pretty flowers is over, and most of the things I take pictures of are insects. That’s because it’s Grasshopper and Wasp City here in Milam County, Texas. I’ll save you the grasshoppers for now, and instead share what I’ve been learning about local wasps.

Hello, I’m a cicada killer wasp. I’m big. Why did you dig me up?

First, there are so many kinds of wasps in Texas! Second, most of them aren’t out to attack us. They are busy doing their own thing, for the most part. Two types of wasps I’ve been seeing lately are way too busy killing other creatures to mess around with us. That’s good, because one of them is pretty darned big, and the other one can sting painfully, if you let it.

First, I’d been seeing these reddish wasps with black wings around the porch lately, but they would not hold still long enough to pose for a photo. Luckily, my Master Naturalist friend found one doing its “thing” and got a couple of photos, even though he said his were a bit blurry. Here’s his blog on these spider wasps. Yes, those guys flitting around my porch weren’t after ME, they were after the numerous spiders out here in the country. I wish they would get all the black widows, but they seem to go after bigger prey.

Spider wasp (Tachypompilus ferrugineus) going after a rabid wolf spider. Photo by Eric Neubauer.
Spider wasp with an unidentified prey, found at my neighbors’ house. Photo by Mark Ellet.

I got interested in them, and began reading up on spider wasps. It turns out the females drag a paralyzed spider to their burrow (or the spider’s previous burrow) and lay one egg in them. The egg hatches in there, and the baby wasp goes through five instars with the spider as its food source. Interestingly, they save the vital organs until last, ensuring their food remains “fresh.” How appetizing! Here is an article about spider wasps, if you’d like to learn more.

Spiders aren’t the only insects that need to be watching their backs right about now. Remember the insect at the top of the blog? That’s a cicada’s worst nightmare, Sphecius speciosus! From the sounds we are hearing in our woods, cicadas are up and crawling around, singing their tiny hearts out. No wonder the cicada killer wasps are crawling out of their holes in search of yummy morsels. Now, cicadas are pretty large insects. It’s no problem for cicada killers, though, because they are the biggest wasps in Texas.

Even though it’s a big wasp, a cicada is bigger. Good thing the wasp has strong wings!

I was really impressed when I saw the one above just slinging that cicada around like a sack of potatoes. Even more amazing was that it picked the insect up and flew off with it (granted, it didn’t achieve much height). I already knew they lived in burrows, because that’s where we found the one at the top of this page. I now know that the cicadas are used as food for their young, just like with spider wasps. The adult wasps feed on nectar from flowers. They rarely sting humans, and the more aggressive males actually can’t sting. Here is a lot more information on cicada killers. They’re related to my buddies, the mud daubers, who daub pretty much constantly around the ranch.

So, that’s today’s non-controversial news! Thanks to those of you who actually come here to learn stuff!

Humble but Beautiful

Yep, it’s one of those nature posts. I don’t have anything to rant about today. It’s probably because my day started out so nicely, having coffee with Lee on the back porch (usually I rush off to the office, but I had a sinus issue). Looking out at the lawn, Lee remarked that he was glad his brother hadn’t mowed yesterday.

The humble wildflower makes the lawn glow.

There were hundreds of dandelions in the field, with their little faces all turned toward the morning sun, or where it would be if it were less cloudy. More rain is coming. Remember, most of the flowers in our field are actually “false dandelion” (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus) and not the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).

The chickens love both varieties, actually. The highlight of every evening for me is feeding the hens dandelion greens from my hands.

Yellow always pops on a gray day.

While I was out there checking out flowers, I saw this really great spiderweb. If you look closely, you’ll see how big it actually is, but I was drawn to the center, where it looks like weaving. I think I know where the term “orb weaver” comes from now. Too bad the spider is in back, so I can’t identify her. You can tell she is the size of the “woven” area, though.

We have lots and lots of wasps this time of year. Mostly they just fly a few inches above the grass looking for something to eat, or posing as bird food, depending on your point of view. These blue mud daubers sure are beautiful, though.

And just to clarify: No “murder hornets” live in Texas, so it’s okay to get this close.

A Very Humble Fly

I’ll leave you with what I saw when I came downstairs for lunch. This is one big fly. It’s not as big as a horsefly, but it’s big. Eric in our Master Naturalist class says it’s an Archytas. iNaturalist agreed. I just think it looks really, really, prickly and like it would bite. One thing I dislike is fly bites. Shudder.

It’s sitting on a mop. Look at its cool bronze eyes and greenish body. With bristles. Lots of bristles.

Well, I got curious, so I looked up more information on the Archytas flies. It turns out their larvae are parasites, and they often grow in moths, beetles, and bugs that harm crops. So, they are often used as natural pesticides! How about that? I loved this quote by the person who wrote the article I read:

This tachinid fly is one of my favorites. It’s a huge, hairy fly with a blue metallic abdomen. I frequently encounter it nectaring on flowers and mucking about amongst the vegetation, never on offal or other nasty things like many of the more disgusting fly varieties. I would not allow just any fly to walk my skin with impunity; Archytas is just, well, special. (My affection is probably misplaced, and this bugger is just as filthy and revolting as all the others, but what can I say?  One has to find something pleasant to think about.)

Tachinid Fly – Archytas sp. – North American Insects and Spiders

This scientist really loves their flies! By the way, the flies are named for “Archytas of Tarentum (c. 428-350 B.C.) – Greek statesman, military commander, leading Pythagorean mathematician and philosopher; often called the father of mathematical mechanics.” He also invented the screw and the pulley. There’s a crater on the Moon named after him, as well. Again, huh.

I think I found my favorite fly. Humble, yet lovable. And oddly beautiful.

Wasp Watching

Be prepared for lots of writing, it I think I’ve spewed forth enough deep thoughts for a couple of days.

This morning, I was trying to get some exercise before a long car ride and I suddenly realized I was about to step on at least five wasps. What the heck?

I looked around and the area in front of the ranch house was covered in wasps, all flying around a few inches above the grass. They weren’t swarming, just bopping around.

A good old mud dauber.

There were two types out there, mud daubers and great black wasps. I could only get a picture of a mud dauber. That’s too bad, since the black ones are beautiful.

Yay, I found a black wasp picture that’s public domain!

Continue reading “Wasp Watching”