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Ever found a glob of mud stuck under the eaves or against the window sill of your home? This black and yellow beauty is an example of the type of wasp that probably put it there. This is a mud dauber wasp (Sceliphron).

mud dauber wasp

Notice her impossibly thin "waist."

mud dauber wasp

Any idea what she is doing on this flower? No, she is not looking for nectar. Depending on the species, she was actually searching for caterpillars or grasshoppers, which she feeds to her young.

The adult wasp catches and stings the insects she uses as food. Then she carries them to her mud nest, where she stuffs them inside a mud tube she has created. She lays an egg on the processed prey. Then she carefully covers up the open end with more mud. Her offspring hatch from the egg inside the tube, and consume the insect or insects she has provided for them. After the larvae finish development and become adult wasps, they chew their way out and to fly off to make more mud nests.

Whenever I see a mud dauber wasp, I always think of the poignant poem called "The Digger Wasp" in Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman, Eric Beddows (Illustrator). This wonderful set of poems about insects is written to be read by two people, although with practice one person easily manage it. Even the most apathetic, disinterested poetry non-fan will love these poems, because they are more like songs without music. In the poem I am referring to, the digger wasp mother provisions a nest for children she will never meet. Really makes you appreciate the hard work they are doing. That's why I never destroy a mud dauber nest unless I know for certain it is empty.

It’s all about energy this morning.  I stepped outside to recharge my batteries and found painted lady butterflies everywhere. This time to year the painted ladies (Vanessa cardui) are migrating south, with rest stops in places like Phoenix where they can bask in the sun and drink lot’s of nectar from the pretty flowers everyone plants.

It’s in the low 50’s this morning, so the first butterflies I saw were basking on a wall with their wings directed to catch the sun. They are like mini-solar panels.

painted lady

Why are they basking? Insects bask in the sun to warm the flights muscles prior to flying.

I knew where there were some lantana plants in the sun, so I went to see what was going on there.

painted lady

More painted lady butterflies basking and drinking nectar. They weren’t cooperative at first, but after sitting still on a cold sidewalk for a few minutes, I was able to get a few good shots.

painted lady

painted lady

painted lady

Here's one basking on a Texas sage.

painted lady

Seeing all these beautiful butterflies was a real charge for me. I hope other people notice them too.

If you are interested in learning more, or if you see painted ladies migrating and you'd like to participate in a study, check out the 2008 Vanessa Migration Project.

As promised, we were able to use the microscope camera unit over the weekend. Here is a photo of a very tiny wasp, in the chalcid group.

chalcid wasp

This photo doesn't do justice to the beautiful rainbow colors in the wings and the metallic blue on the abdomen. I'm afraid the camera was a bit dusty.

Wasps of the chalcid superfamily are mostly parasites, which means they lay their eggs in other insects. They are considered to be beneficial insects when their offspring consume pest insects. You probably wouldn't normally see these wasps because they are so very small, sometime only a millimeter or two in length.

There is an amazing world of tiny creatures visible only under a microscope. This week we have been reading the book "Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek: First to See Microscopic Life" by Lisa Yount. Mr. Leeuwenhoek was not the first person to make a microscope, as sometimes claimed, but he did perfect it and was the first to use a microscope to examine a wide variety of things.

Imagine what it must have been like to be the first person to closely study microscopic life forms as Leeuwenhoek did. He discovered bacteria, protozoa, insects, and even red blood cells. It would have been almost like finding a new planet, sometimes literally right under your nose. No wonder some people had trouble believing him when he told of his discoveries, they were just so fantastic.

If you get a chance, take a look at some insects under a hand lens, magnifier or microscope. You'll be astonished the details you will see.