A walk through the woods at this time of years reveals dappled sunlight and splashes of crimson red.
The bright red berries are those of Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Spicebush is a common native understory shrub and this was a very good year for blossoms in the spring and the abundant crop of seeds that have now turned from green to red. The berries are a valuable wildlife food.
It is also the season for other things......WASPS!
At first glance, the picture above might appear to be just a hole in the ground. But on closer examination it is evident that some thing (an animal) has excavated the dirt in a rapid manner. A short distance from the hole is another clue seen below.
Chunks of paper comb are scattered around the hole. These are the remnants of a Yellow Jacket nest. With the extremely dry weather at the preserve this year, many Yellow Jacket nests have been found in the ground. (In wetter conditions, they will build above ground.) One of the best predator of these wasps is the Stripped Skunk. The scientific name of the skunk , Mephitis mephitis means "bad odor" "bad odor". Once considered a member of the Weasel Family, genetic studies have shown that skunks are not related to weasels but in a separate family all there own - Mephitidae. Skunks are well equipped to prey on the Yellow Jackets. They have dense fur for protection and long sharp claws for rapidly digging and tearing the paper comb from the nest. This happens in the cool of the night when the insects are less active and caught off guard. The skunk feast on the high protein larva in the comb.
Another type of wasp also reaching its peak numbers at this time of year is the Paper Wasp. Like it's cousin the Yellow Jacket, Paper Wasps built a paper comb. The paper is manufactured by the wasp chewing weathered wood and mixing it with saliva.
Paper Wasps are well known to many people as they built their small nests in more conspicuous places - like the corners of door and windows or under eaves as in the photo above. Paper Wasps and Yellow Jackets are both in the Family - Vespidae and are considered "social insects"that live in "large" colonies.
Below is a picture of a Mud Dauber Wasp colonies. Mud Dauber are in the Family - Sphecidae, also known as hunting wasps. The Mud Dauber female constructs a mud chamber in which to lay an egg. She then stocks the cell with paralyzed spiders - food for the new developing larva.
Like the Paper Wasps, Mud Daubers build their nests is somewhat exposed areas like under eaves, as in the above photo, or on vertical surfaces that have some measures of overhead shelter from the elements.
Another stinging creature of a different kind is the Saddle Back caterpillar (a moth) seen below.
The Saddle Back (Acharia stimulea) has structures called scoli (a club-like shape) covered with spines. These spines can inflict pain that is similar in feel to that delivered by a bee or wasp. This insect is an excellent example of aposematic marking and coloration. Animals marked in such a way are sending a warning to potential predator to back off or else somewhat bad will happen!
And now for sometimes completely different. September is usually a good time to see a variety of fungi (mushrooms). However, once again it has been so dry that this year the "crop" is not so good. I did spot this small cluster of Puffballs along the trail.
I believe these are Gem-studded Puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum) that grow on decomposing organic material on the ground. They are considered edible as long as they are still firm and white in the center. As the puffball matures the center becomes a bag of powdery, brownish spores. A pore or hole develops on the top and when disturbed a cloud of spores can be seen "puffing" out into the air.
Posted by TS