Utah Paper Wasps

Adult Poliste Paper Wasp
Copyright © 2009 Jim Cane

We credit the Chinese with inventing paper 2000 years ago, but some social wasps have been making their paper nests for eons. Species of paper wasps are found throughout Utah.

The burly bald-faced hornet workers are patterned in black and white. They place their grey, basketball sized paper nests in tree branches.

Bold yellow and black striped Yellowjackets are the persistent unwelcome guests at summer picnics. They too wrap their round nests in an envelope of paper, but typically place it in a shallow underground chamber. Within the paper envelope, both hornets and yellowjackets have a muti-tiered stack of paper honeycombs, like an inverted pagoda.

Open-faced nest of Polistes
paper wasp with grub-like larvae
Copyright © 2009 Jim Cane

Our most familiar paper wasps belong to the genus Polistes. These are the reddish-brown spindly looking wasps. They make their simple paper nests under your home’s roof eaves and deck railings. A Polistes nest consists of a single inverted paper honeycomb suspended from a stiff, short stalk. There is no paper envelope, so you can readily see the hexagonal paper cells. Around your yard, look for the workers scraping fibers from weathered wood surfaces. Workers mix the chewed fibers with saliva and water, carry the ball of wood pulp home, and add it to the thin sheets of their paper nest. The nest is their nursery, where you can see the queen’s tiny sausage shaped eggs and the fat white grubs. The grubs are fed by their sisters, the workers, who scour the surrounding habitat for insect prey or damaged fruit.

The enclosed nest of the
bald-faced hornet
Copyright © 2009 Jim Cane

Utah has been invaded by the European species Polistes dominula. These interlopers are displacing our native Polistes. Where these European Polistes wasps are a stinging nuisance, you can easily dispatch them at their nests with a sprayed solution of dishwashing detergent and water. Thus stripped of its clever defenders, take the opportunity to admire their homes of paper.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Photo: Courtesy and © Copyright 2009 Jim Cane

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:





Of Shooting Stars

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The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars
Cover Courtesy & Copyright © 2009 The Penguin Group

Holly: Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Christopher Cokinos is the author of a new book, The Fallen Sky, published by the Penguin Group Press. It’s the story of meteorites and the impressions that meteorites make on the Earth and in the people who seek them out. Here’s Chris talking about falling stars:

Chris: On any clear night, under a dark enough sky, we can see shooting stars. We wish upon them even if we may not know what they are. It’s as if we’re eager to pin our chances on something strange and sudden.

A shooting star is not a star; it’s a meteor—the bright passage of a small grain or rock burning up through the air as it descends from space. If it’s big enough, it may drop a rock on the Earth itself—then it becomes a meteorite. In space, these objects are called meteoroids.

Every mid-August, our skies are graced by a shower of shooting stars—the Perseids. This is when Earth intersects the spindrift tail of the disintegrated Comet Swift-Tuttle, and we see these dusty grains streaking through the sky, too small to ever reach us.

They’re called the Perseids because the meteors appear to originate from the constellation Perseus, but these shooting stars can appear in any part of the sky.

Meteors travel very fast, from between 7 miles per second to 44 miles per second, and even one the size of a raisin can produce a huge fireball.

But if you see one that big during the Perseids, it’s not a Perseid—it’s a random meteor, originating from the asteroid belt or even the Moon or Mars.

This year, the moon will interfere with viewing the shower, but you can still see quite a few Perseids from the late evening of August 11 through the morning of August 12.

The best way to watch is to recline on the ground or on a chaise so you have a wide view of the sky, preferably away from city lights. Have snacks, water and appropriate clothing and maybe some bug spray. Don’t use binoculars or a telescope as they restrict your field of view.

To learn how to make simple but scientifically useful observations, go to the American Meteor Society website at www.amsmeteors.org.

Of course, though it may not be scientifically useful, when you see a shooting star—feel free to make a wish.

Holly: Thanks, Chris. For listeners in the Logan area, check out the Star Party at the American West Heritage Center on August 14th. For more details see awhc.org

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.


Image: Book Cover Courtesy & Copyright © 2009 The Penguin Group

Text: Chris Cokinos

Sources & Additional Reading:

Cokinos, Christopher. 2009. The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars. Penguin Group, Inc.

“Weaving natural history, memoir, and the stories of maverick scientists, daring adventurers, and stargazing dreamers, this epic work takes us from Antarctica to outer space to tell the tale of how the study of meteorites became a scientific passion.”

https://www.amazon.com/Fallen-Sky-Intimate-History-Shooting/dp/1585428329 (Accessed August 11, 2009)


The Eyes Have It

The Eyes Have It: Deer Eyeshine Courtesy of National Park Service, US Department of the Interior
Deer Eyeshine Courtesy of National Park Service
US Department of the Interior

Hi, this is Holly Strand for Stokes Nature Center located in beautiful Logan Canyon.

A few years ago, I was working for World Wildlife Fund in eastern Montana. One night, we were doing a nocturnal survey of the black footed ferret, the most endangered mammal species in North America. We were counting reintroduced ferrets by riding around in a truck with a large spotlight mounted on top. When the spotlight hit a ferret, we could see the emerald green glow of its eyes as the animal looked back at the light. We’d stop the truck, walk toward the green points, and confirm the presence of a curious ferret for our census count. If the glowing eye color was something other than green we kept on driving. It was during this nocturnal safari that I learned about animal eye-shine and how it can be used by hunters as well as naturalists in finding target species.

Eyeshine occurs when light enters the eye, passes through the rods and cones strikes a special membrane behind the retina, and is reflected back through the eye to the light source. This special mirror-like membrane, called the tapetum (ta-PEA-tum), is not present in the human eye. The light-capturing system allows light to pass through the eye twice, and it is one way a nocturnal animal increases its ability to see in dim light. It’s the tapetums cause the eerie glow that we see in a housecat’s eyes caught in a light or when our car headlights surprise a deer, or badger.

The color of eyeshine varies from species to species. Most owls have red eyeshine. Coyotes as well as mountain lion shine greenish-gold. Elk and deer – varies from silver white to a light silvery green or light silvery yellow. Desert cottontails’ are red. Tiny pricks of light may signify the presence of wolf spiders or moths. Even certain fish have eyeshine.

To see eyeshine in the wild, just take a walk on a relatively dark night, and hold a flashlight on top of your head so that you are looking down the beam. Direct the beam at bushes or low vegetation. Chances are, you’ll see the pink-tinted eyeshine of spiders. Near water, look for the greenish glow of frogs’ eyes. Keep the beam directed at the eyeshine and move closer until you can spot its owner. Bigger animals like deer or raccoons will be farther away so you may want to use binoculars in combination with a light, lining up the field of view with the light beam, and then moving the two in unison. Searching for eyeshine is the perfect summer night activity, so grab your flashlight and go out and experience some real Utah night life.

This is Holly Strand for Wild About Utah.


Photo: Courtesy of National Park Service, US Department of the Interior Wind Cave Resource Ramblings 2007 – 11

Text: Stokes Nature Center: …

Sources & Additional Reading

2001, Corben, Chris and Gary Fellers. A Technique for Detecting Eyeshine of
Amphibians and Reptiles. Herpetological Review, 32(2): 89-91.

Eyeshine. Electronic Naturalist. Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. http://www.enaturalist.org/unit/171/qr (accessed June 2008)

Texas Parks and Wildlife. Eyeshine in Young Naturalist Series. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/nonpwdpubs/young_naturalist/animals/eyeshine/ (accessed June 2008)

Thanks to Eric Gese, USDA National Wildlife Research Center, Department of Forest, Range, and Wildlife Sciences, for his expertise.


Squash Bees

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Three Squash Bees
Peponapis pruinosa
Copyright © 2009 Jim Cane

At long last we are enjoying full summer, and with it, the bounty of our gardens. Last August on this program, you learned about our native squash bees. Unlike honeybees and bumblebees, Squash bees are not social. Each female excavates a simple vertical tunnel in the dirt the diameter of a pencil. Lateral tunnels terminate in tiny chambers where she caches pollen and nectar to feed her progeny. She lays one egg per chamber. These nests are well concealed.

But you can readily see the feverish activity of males and females at squash, pumpkin and gourd flowers soon after sunrise, often before honeybee activity. Squash bees are the size of honey bees, but earlier, faster and more deliberate in their flight. Males have a yellow spot on the face. Unlike honeybees, female squash bees carry squash pollen dry in a brush of hairs on their hind legs.

Both sexes of squash bee are valuable pollinators, indeed they are the unheralded pollinators of most of the nations squash and pumpkins. But there is more to their story in Utah. Their native hosts, the wild gourds, only grow in the hot low deserts. Native Americans domesticated and cultivated squashes and gourds, but the practice did not spread north of the red rock country. Across most of Utah and the northern US in general, we have squash bees because we grow squash. In Utah, European settlers first grew squashes only 150 years ago. Each annual generation of squash bees spread further north, hopscotching from homestead to homestead, reaching as far north today as Boise Idaho. As you pick your zucchinis, butternuts and pumpkins, realize that your squash’s flowers also fed the descendants of our squash bee pioneers.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Photo: Courtesy and © Copyright 2009 Jim Cane

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Our Native Squash Bees, Wild About Utah, 12 August 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/squash-bees/

Squash Pollinators of the Americas Survey (SPAS), James Cane, USDA Pollinating Insect Research Unit, Utah State University

2009: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=16595

2005: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=12041

Perfect Pumpkin Pollinators: The Squash Bees!, James Cane, Frank A. Eischen, Blair J. Sampson, USDA-ARS, http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/nov08/bees1108.htm Also published in Agricultural Research magazine Nov/Dec 2008 http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/nov08/

Across the Americas, Squash and Gourd Bees Are Superb Pollinators, Marcia Wood, Dec 30, 2008, http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2008/081230.htm

Celebrating Wildflowers, Pollinator of the Month, Squash Bees, Jim Cane, USDA ARS, Bee Biology & Systematics Lab, Logan, Utah http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/squash_bees.shtml

Crop domestication facilitated rapid geographical expansion of a specialist pollinator, the squash bee Peponapis pruinosa, Margarita M. López-Uribe, James H. Cane, Robert L. Minckley, Bryan N. Danforth
Proc. R. Soc. B 2016 283 20160443; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0443. Published 22 June 2016http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/283/1833/20160443.abstract