By Boak Wiesner
When I pulled into the lot at the prairie garden, a large camera was being used to photograph some very interesting insects. With the emergence of cicadas in the last few weeks, the Cicada Killer Wasps are out and around, this one perching on Spike Gayfeather, waiting for unsuspecting insects to come along. My new-found amazement with these big predatory hymenopterans stems from my as-usual complete lack of filter when it comes to asking people using huge lenses,
“Whatcha lookin’ at?” Hence, Bill Johnson was able to me teach me all about these newly seen, at least by me, wasps. The adults actually eat flower nectar but use the bodies of big insects like cicadas, which they have anaesthetized with their venom, to feed their larval young down in a burrow. Once paralyzed, the cicada’s carcass is flown to the burrow, the wasp carrying it underneath looking like nothing so much as a leopard hauling a large antelope up a tree.
A close cousin, taxonomically at least, the Great Gold Digger Wasp was digging such a burrow right nearby. The shiny gold hairs on her
thorax are the source of the name. Dirt was a flyin’ as she loosened it up down below, pushed it to the surface, and moved it away from the neat entrance hole. We try not to judge the fortune of the insect that will be the banquet for her growing larva.
Across the road and into the field which I wanted to see since it was burned black to the ground just last April. How lush the grasses are after so much rain in the past few weeks; most of the vegetation is at least waist high with many grasses reaching taller. And to think that most of the plant, like an iceberg, is below the surface. Here aerial insect predators were the more common.
I found a male Halloween Pennant dragonfly, so named for the color combination of its wings, not the holiday – black swaths across a background of shiny orange, perching waiting for a passing meal. They are not put off by a windy day at all. Their distribution in Minnesota follows the Mississippi as well as the St. Croix River systems.
Chasing each other around were some Widow Skimmer dragonflies. I was able to get a good look at both the female and the male. When the genders look different from each other, this is known as sexual dimorphism. The male has the blue abdomen and white wing patches not found in the female. There are far more dragonflies and damselflies ’round these parts than butterflies so I figured it was time to start looking far more closely into their lives. With all our lakes and streams, Minnesota makes an ideal breeding ground for them.
Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.