What is that big mysterious brown, empty bug shell sticking on the side of tree? Or, in this case, on the side of our pullet house? It’s a cicada! Imagine my delight when I was cleaning cobwebs off the pullet house and found this recently emerged cicada resting on its shell. Can you see it here?
Here’s another shot from a different angle with different lighting:
This is truly one of nature’s miracles, and it’s a beauty! I’m not sure what species it is, but it’s not the one that appears in huge quantities every 13 or 17 years. Those aren’t green. If you want to learn more about cicadas, you can go to this website. It’s kinda fun, too…your cursor turns into a tiny cicada on this website.
These are big insects, and I imagine just one would make a nice meal for a bird, or a wasp.
Wait…a wasp? Yes! A cicada killer wasp! I just learned about the cicada killer wasp at the Journeyman Beekeeping course I took this year. I had no idea! Here’s a picture and then I’ll tell you about it. (I borrowed this picture from a blog that wasn’t copyrighted, although I’d love to see one of these in action and taking a picture myself.)
I’ll tell you, there are so many bees and wasps out there that it’s not easy to tell what species one is when it flies by but, if you see this one toting a big cicada, then you’ll know exactly what it is now, right? It dwarfs the cicada…it’s huge in the world of wasps! It’s a good thing that these wasps aren’t aggressive or defensive of their dens. (Just don’t try to pick one up because the females deliver a painful sting.) The males hang out around the opening of the dens, hoping to get lucky. They don’t have stingers, so no worries there.
Cicada killers live in tunnels in the ground, just one female per tunnel. She hunts till she finds a cicada, then stings it, paralyzing it, and then drags it on its back to her tunnel. She might capture two or more, and then she lays an egg in the tunnel. The larva that emerges feeds on the paralyzed cicada for the next 11 months or so, before it pupates into a wasp and emerges from the tunnel. You might imagine that the timing of this is perfect…it coincides with the emergence of the cicadas, which only live for about a month. Now is the time! So be on the lookout for the big cicada killer and wish her good luck on her hunt. Everybody has to eat!
Sunday during our market, we happened to see another little marvelous and beautiful insect, the red velvet ant. They crawl on the ground, so you’re more likely to see them hurrying across bare earth or, as in our case, across the gravel in the driveway, than in the grass. NEWSFLASH! These are NOT ants, they are wasps, and they are commonly called Cow Killers. They cannot kill a cow, but it’s said that their sting is so painful that it’s thought it COULD kill a cow. Here’s a picture of one of these beauties (with the photo attribute):
Adult female “cow killer,” Dasymutilla occidentalis occidentalis (Linnaeus), a velvet ant. Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.
This is another species we learned about in our beekeeping class, and were told that their exoskeleton is so hard that if you step on one to try to kill it, it will survive and may even turn and run toward you to attack. It has no wings, so you have no trouble outrunning it, but I sure wouldn’t try to get one upset. I’ve enjoyed examining these closely over the years. You can get down close to look at them and they just mind their own business and hurry, purposefully, on their way. We have never had any of our cats or dogs bother them…they must instinctively know to keep paws-off. The red velvet ants you see scurrying on the ground are all females. The males have wings but not the bright coloring, so you won’t even notice them.
One really cool thing about this species of wasp is that the female lays her egg in the nest of other bees, such as bumble bees (and other native bees that nest in or on the ground), and then makes a hasty exit. The pupa emerges to feed on the pupa of the host bee, then makes a cocoon using the host’s body, and emerges fully developed in a few days. Wow! I hope you get to see one of these red velvet ants because they are just stunningly beautiful.
I don’t know if I’ve always been a bug nerd (I really think I have), but it sure has become more obvious since I’ve become a beekeeper. The more you know, the less afraid you are of these amazing creatures. You’re welcome for your lesson on wasps and cicadas! Now you know and won’t be afraid, right?
We have a nice big gravel drive so, when you come see us on Sunday afternoons, you might just see one of these beautiful red velvet ants, or a cicada emerging from its shell on the side of the goat barn or brooder house and, if we’re very lucky, watch a cicada killer gathering up a meal for her offspring.
We give a guided tour of the farm at 2:00 on Sunday afternoons, and our farm market is open from 1:00-5:00 for stocking up on fresh eggs, lamb, our raw honey, baked goods, soaps, and quilted and crafty things. Hang around a bit and you might just see some of nature’s magic!