Sunday, September 25, 2011

Grasshopper hunter!

Click on the photo above to enlarge it. You will see that the red and black wasp is carrying a grasshopper about twice its size. The wasp seems perfectly built for this job; its mandibles hold the grasshopper's antennae and its two pairs of front legs are wrapped around the grasshopper as if in an embrace. The wasp's rear legs are long enough to straddle the grasshopper and keep walking.

Why would a wasp carry a grasshopper, you might ask? And why is the much larger grasshopper putting up with this? The unfortunate grasshopper is about to become a stored food supply for the wasp's future offspring. Mother wasp has probably already delivered a few paralyzing stings. She will carry the grasshopper to a nice sandy spot, dig a hole, drag the grasshopper underground, lay an egg on it, and then refill the hole. When the egg hatches the newborn wasp larva will be sitting on the delicious grasshopper that its mother caught for it.

It's a Prionyx wasp. They raise their babies on a strict grasshopper-only diet. The drama above occurred last September on a sandy path in the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, New Jersey. This September I saw a lot more of them by a parking lot at the foot of the Verrazano Bridge to Assateague Island, Mayland. The  one pictured below was digging a hole in the sandy soil below a row of bushes at the edge of the parking lot. There were about a dozen wasps nearby, all digging holes or dragging grasshoppers from the leaves under the bushes to the sandy strip of waiting holes.

The bushes above were full of unsuspecting grasshoppers, flying and jumping -- a buffet for Prionyx wasps!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Insect Photos on Display in Brooklyn Bridge Park

The NYCSE center in Brooklyn Bridge Park is opening today! NYCSE is pronounced NICE and it stands for the New York Center for Sustainable Energy -- a nonprofit institution for education and research about sustainable energy. (Click here to read more about it.)

Some of my photos of the insects that live in the park are on display for the opening and will be there through next Saturday.

There will be an informal reception from 5:30 to 7:00. Stop in and see the solar powered electric vehicle charging station -- and get a close-up look at the cool insects that live along the fence right across the path from it!

Click here to read more about it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Twelve-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly

The dragonfly in the picture is a mature male 12-spotted skimmer, Libellula pulchella. Its body is about two inches long and its wingspan is about three inches. Females and new males are a little less spectacular with 12 dark spots but no white ones; the male's white spots develop over time. The 12-spotted skimmer is common in summer throughout the United States and southern Canada.

It is sometimes called the ten-spotted skimmer or just the ten-spot, which is the number you arrive at if you count the mark that spans the body on each set of wings as one spot instead of two.

Whatever you call it, it's a good summer sighting. This one was perched by the pond in Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. We can conclude that it is not too sensitive to human activity or noise. Like other dragonflies, the 12-spot eats insects. I am particularly thankful for its voracious appetite for mosquitoes. It devours them in its adult form AND when it is an aquatic larva. It is a mosquito's worst nightmare -- first aquatic dragonfly larvae zip around the pond eating mosquito larvae and pupae and then, just when the adult mosquitoes get out of the pond, along comes a hungry adult 12-spotted skimmer!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Happy Labor Day!

Kids are not the only ones looking forward to the first day of school. During the academic year the starlings in my neighborhood enjoy school lunch leftovers at Brooklyn elementary school PS8. Food falls on the sidewalk when the trash goes out to the curb. Mmmm free apples!