Wasps? Hornets?

I like to eat my lunch in the garden and watch the flying insects. For the most part they are not interested in me, and only occasionally will a yellow jacket check out my lunch and drive me inside. There is one tiny, skinny bee-like insect that likes to hover close to my face, a bit unnerving but it does me no harm. 

Lately I’ve become an insect voyeur, spending time observing bees, wasps, dragonflies, butterflies up close if I can. The honey bees and bumblebees tend to be so drunken with their nectar cocktails that they will even fall asleep (especially on the sunflowers) and get carried in the house if I don’t shoo them off. I take a lot of close up pics of the others, who move too quickly for me to sketch them from life. 

But then there’s the labeling conundrum. For instance, these two didn’t quite match the pictures I found online. But the word “handsome” popped to mind. Then “hornet”, and I liked the alliteration and wrote them down on the illustration before I realized that these two were more likely wasps, because of relatively small size. I’ve always had a problem with the distinction. All hornets are wasps, but not all wasps are hornets. Hornets tend to be bigger than an inch and “meaner” than other wasps because they release a neurotoxin in their sting. Ouch! But they can all sting repeatedly, unlike honey bees who have one shot at it. And wasps are carnivores. Unlike those pollen fuzzy bees and bumblers, they eat bugs, and that’s a good thing for us vegetable gardeners who don’t appreciate the bugs sucking the juices out of our vegetables and leaving behind big holes in the leaves.

But of course you know all this. But just in case you’re a little fuzzy on distinctions like myself and are prone to lump bugs and insects into the same category. . . Insects always have three body parts and six legs. They also usually have four wings and two antennae. Whereas true bugs have specialized parts of their mouths to suck juices, mostly from plants. In other words insects will get you from their back end and bugs from the front end. Haha! or neither, which is what we hope. End of science lesson for today.

You entomologists out there . . .please correct me where I am wrong!


Flowers and their insect partners

watercolor on CP Fluid w/c paper

The garden is keeping me busy these days. I have no particular skill at flower arranging but the sheer diversity and quantity of blooms in this season is prompting me to try filling and refreshing our vases frequently. Since I have not planted any of the flowers, but rather “inherited” this garden and the not insignificant responsibility of maintaining it, there is much to learn. Of course sketching them improves my understanding of the different growth phases as well as how long they last when I bring them indoors.

But I’m also coming face to face with the insect partners, the beneficials as well as predators, the good and the bad bugs. In my sketchbook (only) they are all welcome.

watercolor and white gel pen in beige toned sketchbook

. . .like the Asian Lady Beetle larva I found on a barberry leaf (in the flower arrangement at the top here). It was so small I almost missed it. I zoomed in with my phone to see the intricate arrangement of parts with eye-like front and “arms” like canoe paddles. I was enchanted, and observed that it was in the same position a day later. My research revealed that it was in fact a larva form of the Asian Lady Beetle. A day later it had still not moved and even shrank slightly, but had almost become the adult lady who would fly away! (see lower right picture). Low and behold it then appeared that I had read the body parts backwards? You see what I mean? Cool stuff.

Another day I met this tiny spider, so exquisite with its dashing red streak!

A lot of people have the skin crawly experience in the presence of bugs/insects. I certainly don’t appreciate getting stung or bitten or threateningly buzzed any more than anyone else. But I think if we all sat down and took a good look, we would find such admiration for the colors and shapes and movements and transformational qualities, that we could get cured of the heebee jeebees when we get “visited”.

The European Ground Beetle looks just like a big shiny black bug you would not want to have in bed with you. But in the flower bed they are quite welcome, eating the bad bugs that eat our vegetables. I caught this one on the grass trying to burrow in and moved him where I could take a close up picture and discover the iridescent pink edges to the shell. Mother Nature is so extravagant in her tastes! Imagine dressing this beetle in a formal tuxedo, when he spends most of his time in the ground! 

Recently I learned a new word. Umwelt, is the sensory bubble in which any given animal (including us) exists. Ed Yong, author of An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, invites us to imagine the sensory world of other animals in what he calls “an act of radical empathy”. I practice this a lot with birds and have begun trying it out on bees in particular. The pollinators seem so happy drunk all the time and there’s something so heart grounding in that buzzing sound, a kind of Om’ing. 

I’m also trying to practice umwelting with the deer and having more trouble with the radical empathy there. After denuding a dozen rose bushes just as they were about to bloom, the deer family moved onto eating the buds off of hundreds of our lillies in a couple days. My empathy wilted dramatically.

You might enjoy Rob Walker’s blog, The Art of Noticing, as I am. That’s where I learned about umwelt and many other creativity turn ons.