For every one mound you treat, they build three more.
September 10, 2018
Could be worse. Could be leaf cutter ants, driver ants, Africanized bees…
Leaf cutter ants wouldn’t chew holes in my walls and swarm all over the inside of my house every time it rains! I got stung on my foot this weekend because these jerks were all over my stairs, and I had to tear up the carpet to seal up the hole. They’re moving up since I finally blocked off all their inlets downstairs. Pretty soon they’ll be swarming all over my bedroom upstairs.
I can’t go in my yard wearing anything less than knee-high boots, and I can’t mow or do any gardening without disturbing at least one nest like this. The above gif was from when I was weed whacking yesterday and accidentally hit a mound.
Any baby bird that falls out of their nest is almost immediately totally engulfed in a swarm of fire ants like this. If they get bored, they’ll climb the trees and get them while they’re still in the nests.
I mean, give me driver ants. I sometimes get the males, and they definitely have never come into my house and attacked me.
I’ll gladly trade the fire ants for Africanized bees.
September 11, 2018
seriously tho fire ants suck and I would take africanized bees and leaf cutter ants over them. They make ant balls and bridges when it floods and in puddles so its super easy to get swarmed and bit when doing field work or yardwork when it’s super wet. And they bite AND sting. Like yeah stepping in a yellow jacket nest and having them chase me was super sucky and frightening but I was prepared for it because of the amount of fire ant swarming I experienced as a child in florida. Like I was that dumbass who used to freeze after stepping on an fire ant hill and then my feet and legs would get covered with them. Plus fire ants are highly invasive species and are now ubiquitous across the southeast. When I visit my relatives in Wisconsin and now living in Colorado its amazing that I can go bare foot in a yard WITHOUT having to watch out for fire ants. I went black lighting in sandals on my advisor’s several acre property in the dark and DIDN’T STEP IN A SINGLE ANT HILL BC THERE WAS NO FIRE ANTS. I went fossil hunting and pissed of some harvester ants bc I picked some teeth off their mound and they don’t even hold a candle to the fire ants despite my professor being a weenie about getting bit by them.
Yes yes yes. When Harvey hit last year, and the entirety of Houston (and MANY other cities that were devastated and never got a mention, like La Grange!) flooded, the survivors treading through floodwaters had to deal with rafts of millions of fire ants floating on the water. They are an invasive species from an area prone to regular flooding, so they are especially well adapted for and thrive in very wet and flooded environments. Alex Wild (ant expert extraordinaire) gave a talk at one of my clubs, and said he thinks fire ants are so pervasive because of stupid irrigated lawns providing the perfect environment for them, and a hostile environment for our native ants who are better at dealing with very dry conditions.
Anyway, if you would prefer fire ants to literally anything else (except maybe bedbugs?), then you obviously have never been stung by them. My first Fire Ant Experience: I used to keep my cat food in a closet. I would grab the bag, carry it to the cat food bowls, feed the cats, then put the bag back. The bag was one of those resealable ones. But apparently fire ants are small enough that they can sneak in through the tiniest gap. While I was at work one day, they had chewed a hole in the wall below the baseboard and started going to town on the bag of food. The closet was in the hall, and so it was dark when I grabbed the cat food. I had walked several steps when I felt a strange sensation on my hand. I looked down, and to my absolute horror, my entire hand was covered in hundreds of fire ants. I couldn’t just drop the bag of food and get fire ants all over my living room, in addition to the closet, so I had to keep holding onto the bag long enough to walk back before I could start screaming. Luckily I got away with only a few stings (miraculous), but they were so painful I wanted to cut my hand off. They will bite onto you and sting you repeatedly until you get them off. One of my coworkers was gardening in shorts, and he hit a fire ant mound. Both of his legs were covered in hundreds of stings.
That first instance was over two years ago. My hand still has scars from those stings. Since then, this scenario has been repeated no fewer than 10 times, except now I am totally paranoid at first sight of an ant inside my house. The outside of my house is covered in fire ant mounds, and they will even build tunnels going up into my walls under my siding. There is absolutely nothing I can do about it, besides keeping a tube of caulk ready.
I’m from Seattle. I had never seen an ant mound before moving to Texas. But now if I go anywhere that isn’t Texas and see a mole hill, I’ll have a mini-freakout. I can’t wear sandals anymore unless I know I will 100% be indoors or on pavement. And the idea of wearing sandals at night?????? Or sitting on the grass???? Are you mad??????
Some of my guests from the past week.
1. Jumping spider (Colonus sp.)
2. Potter wasp
3. Juvenile Texas spiny lizard
4. Flower weevil
5. Billbug snout beetle
6. Longhorn bee
7. Green anole (being purple cuz they change colors
9. Bird grasshopper (their poops are HUGE and look like caterpillars, I was confused for a while!)
10. Carolina sphinx moth and Scissors grinder cicada
So I went through all the photos of Andricus, and found a few that looked similar (clustered growth around the central leaf vein). After comparing, them I concluded that you had to have Andricus dimorphus [link].
I knew this was in the genus Polistes because those are the “umbrella” paper wasps. They will make paper nests, and typically these are umbrella-shaped, hanging off a stem, without the enclosed paper covering yellow jacket nests have.
Above: Polistes exclamans (Common Paper Wasp, left) and Polistes apachus (Apache Paper Wasp, right)
In your case, they found a better spot to make their nest, so they did away with the standard nest shape.
Sometimes it can be hard to get to species identifications without a microscope (or very good photos) because a lot of the features used to tell species apart can be details like wing venation or the number of hairs on a specific body part. Luckily, there aren’t too many species in New England, and the coloring in your photos ruled out all but two of them. Of these two possible species, P. bellicosus has red on the legs, which isn’t present in your photos.
P. fuscatus is otherwise notoriously difficult to identify, because the coloration can be so variable between individuals even in the same nest. Both of the ID sources I linked to at the beginning will show examples of this. Why are they all so different if they’re closely related? Because they recognize each other’s faces[link]. To my knowledge, they are the only insect capable of facial recognition. I would love to hear if I’m wrong, though!
Thanks for writing in, and sorry for making you wait almost all summer to hear what they are. I hope they had a good season!
Speaking of native bees, guess what I found in my flower bed?
This is the nest of a sweat bee! This species is a small metallic bee that makes nests in the ground, and they need bare soil to build them. So if you have ground-nesting bees in your area, leave some bare soil for them!
I’m not sure which part you can see in the nest (probably her butt!), but I added two photos of other bees like her I have seen. They are often mistaken for flies, and they are important pollinators where they live.
That will not help save the bees at all. They need the excess honey removed from their hives. That’s the beekeepers entire livelihood.
Seriously refusing to eat honey is one of those well-meaning but ultimately terrible ideas. The bees make way too much honey and need it out in order to thrive (not being funny but that was literally a side effect in Bee Movie). Plus that’s the only way for the beekeepers to make the money they need to keep the bees healthy. Do not stop eating honey because somebody on Tumblr told you too.
excess honey, if not removed, can ferment and poison the bees. even if it doesn’t, it attracts animals and other insects which can hurt the bees or even damage the hive. why vegans think letting bees stew in their own drippings is ‘cruelty-free’ is beyond me. >:[
the fact that we find honey yummy and nutritious is part of why we keep bees, true, but the truth is we mostly keep them to pollinate our crops. the vegetable crops you seem to imagine would still magically sustain us if we stopped cultivating bees.
and when you get right down to it… domestic bees aren’t confined in any way. if they wanted to fly away, they could, and would. they come back to the wood frame hives humans build because those are nice places to nest.
so pretending domestic bees have it worse than wild bees is just the most childish kind of anthropomorphizing.
If anything, man-made hives are MORE suitable for bees to live in because we have mathematically determined their optimal living space and conditions, and can control them better in our hives. We also can treat them for diseases and pests much easier than we could if they were living in, say, a tree.
Tl;dr for all of this: eating honey saves the bees from themselves, and keeping them in man-made hives is good for them.
Plus, buying honey supports bee owners, which helps them maintain the hives, and if they get more money they can buy more hives, which means more bees!
I tell people this. About the honey and what to do to save bees. I also have two large bottles of honey in my cabinet currently. Trying to get some flowers for them to thrive on. Support your bees guys
… uh guys… the whole “Save the Bees!” thing is not about honeybees. It’s about the decline of native bees almost to the point of extinction. Native bees do not make honey. Honeybees are domesticated. Taking measures to protect honeybees is as irrelevant to helping the environment as protecting Farmer John’s chickens.
To help save native bees, yes, plant NATIVE flowers (what naturally grows where you live? That’s what your bees eat!), set up “bee hotels,” which can be something as simple as a partially buried jar or flower pot for carpenter bees, and don’t use pesticides. Having a source of water (like a bird bath or “puddles” you frequently refresh) is also good for a variety of wildlife.
Want to know more about bees that are not honeybees?
Every place has different types of bees. Every place has different types of plants/flowers. Those hyped-up “save the bees” seed packets that are distributed across North America are garbage because none of those flowers are native in every habitat. Don’t look up “how to make a bee hotel” and make something that only bees from the great plains areas would use if you live on the west coast.
This is every bee that has been observed and uploaded to the citizen science network of iNaturalist. You can filter by location (anywhere in the world! This is not restricted to the US!), and you can view photos of every species people have added. Here’s the page for all bees, sorted by taxonomy, not filtered to any specific location [link]. Have you seen a bee and want to know more about it, but you don’t know what kind of bee it is? Take a picture, upload it to iNat, and people like me will help you identify it–and it will also become part of the database other people will use to learn about nature!
Some native Texan bees I’ve met!
A sweat bee! [link to iNat]. These flowers are tiny, no larger than a dime.
A longhorn bee! [link to iNat] I don’t know where they nest, but I often find them sleeping on the tips of flowers at night (so cute!)
Meet your local bees! Befriend them! Feed them! Make them homes! Love them!
This is one of the native bees I met in Arizona! This handsome man is a male Melissodes sp., AKA a type of long-horned bee. I saved him when he was drowning in a puddle.
I love him
This is a great post all in all but I’d just like to note that colony collapse syndrome is definitely a thing, so domestic honeybees are absolutely in danger as well
Europen Honey Bees are an invasive species in the US and compete with native bees.
Native bee populations are specifically evolved to pollinate certain native plants. Most are unlikely to have a significant effect on the pollination of the non-native crops that people need to grow to survive. It’s true that honeybees will compete with native bees as well, and can be classified as an invasive species, but so long as native bees are supported and native flora is maintained, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to coexist. And while there’s a whole different argument to be had about the negative effects of growing nonnative crops at all, if they fail, as they likely would without the honeybees that a large percentage of farmers keep to pollinate their and other local crops, the effects on humanity will be catastrophic
Lest people think I am anti-honeybee (no? I love honeybees?? They are precious??), the above is correct. Like it or not, the way we grow our food (much of which is not native to where it’s farmed) absolutely requires pollinators like honeybees. We would have a hugely massive food crisis on our hands without honeybees.
But, because so much $$$ is tied into the continued production of food, governments and food production companies will do whatever they can to mitigate the effects of colony collapse and other honeybee health issues. What can you do to help honeybees? Buy and eat food. Easy, right?
What is being done to protect native bees? Well,
1) Scientists and researchers are feverishly trying to get them listed as protected species and absolutely failing (see @thelepidopteragirl’s post about colleagues of hers: [link]).
2) Scientists and researchers are trying to get pesticides known to have devastating effects on bees and other pollinators banned and absolutely failing ([link]).
3) Scientists and science communicators (like me now, apparently) are trying to spread this information about native bees and their importance so more people can do little things like plant native flowers (lookup North American species for your zip code here: [link]), change how often they mow their lawns ([link]), and vote out the assholes who are profiting by destroying our environment ([link]). Success on this one: TBD, and by people like us.
As a gift to the honeybee lovers out there, please accept this photo of one making out with a stinkhorn mushroom:
^An excellent post on the complexities of the “Save the Bees” movement
These are my native bees, Tetragonula carnonaria, native to my area in Australia. They’re pretty easy to keep and make great friends, they don’t sting and their honey is delicious
Resurrecting The Bee Post to say @typethedragon your little stingless bee friends are perfect and I love them
Somehow, a cuckoo wasp found her way into my house and got stuck. I did the “catch her with a cup!” trick, but she didn’t get mad or try to escape… because the cup still had some juice residue in it 😂 You can see her lapping it up.
I don’t know too much about these wasps besides they got the name “cuckoo” based on their parasitic nesting behavior (like cuckoo birds who will lay eggs in other birds’ nests and take off), and that they are way too pretty 😍
She flew away happily when I took her outside. I think she appreciated the snack!