An Endless Stream of Summer Surprises!

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

How would you feel if you woke up one morning and someone had thrown a blob of mud on your bedroom window? That must have been Dee (Doug) Thomas’s initial response the first day ‘the object’ appeared on her spotless window. Yes, on the OUTSIDE of the window, a queen paper wasp or hornet had begun constructing a summer residence. Each day the nest grew (see photo) and many little hornets/wasps began to thrive, emerging from their hexagonal combs to labor and populate their world. Classifying for certain the particular species of wasp or hornet which has decided to build on the outside of a window is difficult, as there are 22 kinds in the United States! For now, we’ll call Dee’s visitors bald- faced hornets.

The story begins in late summer just before a killing frost. The hornet designated as “queen” has already been impregnated and goes off to a wood pile or log on the forest floor while the workers and males from the hive die. The following spring, the queen begins a wee paper nest in which she deposits fertile eggs which will eventually become workers. They in turn will masticate old wood with their mandibles, turning it into paper. Hives are covered with wasp produced paper, with a series of tiers (layers) inside. The laborers are social creatures, they may construct a hive in a tree, under the eave of an old building, or in the rare case of the Thomas’s, on a window. THAT was the unusual part of this tale; the window. How large will the nest become? If constructed in a tree, they grow to the size of a football. If built inside a building, huge nests may be formed. Time will tell.

Bald-faced hornet workers are beneficial as well as very dangerous. Yes, they capture many kinds of wee insects to feed to the young wasps or hornets; also, they are beneficial pollinators. Very protective and aggressive when alarmed, allowing them to build near nests where children play or adults work can be disastrous. Their venom is powerful, and when stung, it feels like being kicked by a pony. Also, they are able to ‘zap’ you multiple times! Discretion is urged if one decides to rid oneself of the offending insects.

An unusual specimen came into the collection this week in the form of a large, four inches by five-inch fish skull, the lower and upper lips covered in tiny TEETH!! Contributor Cindy Musta and family had found the remains on the sands of an area lake shore, and we eventually discerned as to what the creature from the black lagoon had been. Seems the cadaver remains once belonged to a dogfish or bowfin, a less well-known member of the Pisces family. Why throw such a large fish back in the water? First off, their eating habits are such that they are beneficial, cleaning up lakes. Because of their environment, lying deep in the mud, it is assumed that they have a strong muddy flavor. Olive green and brown, a scaly fish, they are not considered a food fish like walleye and northerns. Yet, we are told, when deboned and cut into chunks, slathered in a tasty batter, they are excellent! (No, we shall not try them, in fact, have never caught this lake fish.) Why the name, “dogfish.” When thrown onto the bank and up into the grass, they BARK!!! Hark! Hark! Also, they can go for hours out-of-water without perishing. Does anyone have a ‘dogfish’ tale (or tail) they wish to share? (665.2658) Thanks, much, Cindy and family.

For ten months of the year, friend Vern Bienfang keeps a number of species of cacti in his home. Come summer, they are liberated to the outdoors to enjoy the sunlight and heat. Of a sudden, the week of July 12th, a number of beautiful olive-green spikes appeared upon two of Vern’s plants. Then on July 17th, they burst into glorious white flowers! By July 18th, they were even more beautiful, but some began to droop and die. Fortunately, new shoots have appeared. Imagine, their time in the world to shine is but a few days. Lessons learned? Bloom where you’re planted, life is like the green grasses of the meadow, fading away too quickly. Thanks for sharing, Vern.