Nature Notes

Lake Tamarack Explorations

By Holly Einess

Today I’m eager to check out the Arboretum’s new Lake Tamarack property. I drive one mile west past the Arboretum entrance on Hwy 5 and take the first right on a little gravel road just past Minnewashta Parkway [400 Arboretum Blvd., Victoria, MN 55386]. A small parking lot, a couple of old barns, and several picnic tables afford a view out over the property, which includes wetland, prairie, woods, and the lake itself.

I park and take a peek into the barns. Barn swallow nests dot the rafters; the birds themselves are busy swooping and whirling out over the prairie. The webs of grass spiders, covered in tiny dewdrops, are clearly visible in the grass, and I take care not to step on them.

I drive down to the lake, passing through a prairie full of flowers—black-eyed Susan, bee balm, daisy fleabane, gray-headed coneflower, blue vervain, thistle, and false sunflower. I park in the small lot by the lake and set off on one of the mown trails, which takes me past cattails and into the woods before emerging out into the prairie.

lake tamarack trailLake Tamarack trail

Like me, the butterflies, dragonflies, and bees are ecstatic over all that’s in bloom. I spot monarch and common buckeye butterflies; twelve-spotted skimmer and halloween pennant dragonflies; and a multitude of bees.

bumble bee with tongue sheath outstretchedBumble bee with tongue sheath outstretched

There are birds aplenty as well – red-winged blackbirds, goldfinches, song sparrows, and tree swallows. An osprey flies overhead. I hear the repeated “chuck” note of a common yellowthroat and see that it’s been successful in its hunt.

common yellowthroatCommon yellowthroat

Arriving back at the lake I step out onto the dock. White water lilies are blooming and a painted turtle suns itself on a log. Blue dasher dragonflies chase after one another and alight on lily pads.

On my way back to my car a bright orange insect catches my eye and I take a number of photos, planning to ID it later. Once home and at my computer, I quickly discover it’s a great golden digger wasp.

great golden digger wasp 1Great golden digger wasp

It’s not until I’ve scrolled through and enlarged several photos that I realize the wasp is not the only insect in these shots, and as I continue scrolling an involuntary “No way!!” escapes me.

great golden digger wasp 2

great golden digger wasp 3

great golden digger wasp 4

I’d caught this wasp in the act of securing food for her future offspring. Though I witnessed only the first part of the story, I can presume the rest, and it’s not a pretty one for the grasshopper. It goes like this: The wasp stung the grasshopper, paralyzing it, then flew it back to the tunnel nest she had excavated. She pulled the grasshopper, head first, down into the tunnel, then laid an egg on it. When it hatches, the wasp larva will feed on the living, yet immobile, grasshopper until it’s developed enough to leave the nest.

I am both fascinated and horrified by this tale, and it serves as a reminder to me of the complex, interrelated dance of life and death that’s happening around us all the time.

Holly Einess is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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