Category Archives: biocontrol

When Garden Drivel Meets World Research

In 2009 when I began writing about my garden encounters I felt good that I was getting the word out about the importance of native plants in the scheme of things. At that time I had no idea just how important they are since I was clueless about how each creature performs a vital role in the rungs on the food chain and often are dependent on a single plant as a host. It was a hobby I embraced as I found I liked learning about creatures’ interaction with plants and I also love to spin a yarn as anyone who knows me could attest.

With each new encounter I became more aware of the circle of life and that even aphids can be important in the scheme of things. Killing one creature that we may not hold in awe ultimately will result in less food for someone higher up. I threw away my soapy water bottle in which I dropped leaf-eating beetles. I stopped picking off the bagworm “cocoons” that I was told were so bad for my plants. I started the practice of “live and let live”. A chewed plant is not something to frown about …it is something to rejoice. It just might help grow a baby bird in the making.

I have a few blogs that I write. Back in January 2016 I received a comment on one of my “Central Florida Critter of the Day” posts from an arachnologist in Switzerland.

Dr. Martin Nyffeler, Senior Lecturer in Zoology at the University of Basel was requesting the use of my photo and encounter of a Regal Jumping Spider who had a treefrog in his clutches. Dr. Nyffeler has studied and published many research papers on spiders. Things I find fascinating…like spiders eating various critters including fish and bats. He was in the process of putting together a research paper on spiders eating vertebrates and my treefroggy encounter qualified.

I was thrilled that someone internationally known for spider research was interested in my little rendezvous with nature. I knew that my encounter was not a normal, run-of-the-mill occurrence, but I didn’t realize that it might just be rare.

Regal Jumping Spider (Phidippus regius) with invasive cuban treefrog

So, my encounter was included in Dr. Nyffeler’s research paper “A vertebrate-eating jumping spider (Araneae: Salticidae) from Florida, USA”. This week it was published in the Journal of Arachnology, 45(2):238-241 put out by American Arachnological Society. It was one of 8 Florida encounters included in his paper so I’m feeling pretty darn special. *My* spider is picture “D”. I’m also feeling pretty darn good that my mindless drivel may actually have a useful purpose.

In my retirement hobby I feel like I’ve made some extraordinary strides. From writing the newsletter for the local Native Plant Society Chapter to blogging about weekly encounters in my garden, to an interview for the statewide Guide for Real Florida Gardeners (2013 issue) published by Florida Association of Native Nurseries, to a 2013 spread in the nationally published Humane Society Magazine All Animals, and in 2017 The Humane Gardener book by Nancy Lawson. Now I’ve gone International. What’s next…a movie? I can see it now “Lizards on a Car”. HA!

Hot Diggity Wasps

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on October 13, 2013 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

I was taking my routine morning walk and headed back toward the pond.  As I approached the one spot where I have a good view of the turtles and fish, I heard a loud buzzing.  Something large, VERY large circled away from me, but quickly came back and landed on the ground.

Dragging her prey behind her
Dragging her prey behind her

How fun that it was to watch a Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) bringing a katydid to provision her nest in order to lay her eggs. The prey may have been a grasshopper, but, at any rate,  it was some sort of Orthoptera, an insect order that also includes crickets in addition to the other two.  Let’s just say jumping things.
diggerwaspHopperA-e1381674039473

This prey will serve as the food for the larvae that hatches and will grow into future Sphex wasps. Momma Wasp stings the prey to paralyze it with toxins.  She then flies, as this one did or if her prey is too big or heavy drags it to the nest.  This prey was much larger than the wasp itself but it still managed to fly it in.  Makes you wonder if katydids are hollow.

Very neat entryway
Very neat entryway

Prior to the capturing process, a nest is painstaking dug in a sunny location with Momma carefully digging out grains of sand or dirt, carrying it to the entrance between her arms and then flipping it underneath her body and between her legs.  Sounds like the digging method my Irish setter uses.  I’m betting it is a long process since I read that they create several tunnels off this main deep entrance.

She just left her prize unattended. Brave wasp with all the other visitors in my habitats
She just left her prize unattended. Brave wasp with all the other visitors in my habitats

These wasps have a fascinating provisioning behavior.  I was surprised to see her crawl into the nest leaving her jumping friend lying at the entrance.  Of course since it was paralyzed it didn’t have the ability to escape on its own.  Good for me as I was able to get a photograph or two, but I thought it odd that she would leave it exposed where another critter (looking up to the sky…no, not me) might come along and scoop it up as a ready-made meal.  Apparently this does happen, with birds being the likely suspects.

Research reveals that if the prey is moved further away (mean researchers they are) when Momma comes out, she will drag the prey back close to the entrance and once again pop in to check the nest prior to bringing the prey inside.  She will do this numerous times (REALLY mean researchers they were) despite the fact that it is the same exact prey that she initially caught.

The only thing I can think of is that she is so wary that something might infiltrate her house, even in the short time it takes to bring the prey back a few inches that she feels the need to double check that all is in order. Rather paranoid if you ask me, but hey, I’m not in the wasp business, so what do I know.  Heck, many humans have neurotic behavior (think checking two or three times to see if the windows are locked).  If Momma wasp wants to be super-careful with her nursery seems like she should be nominated for a mother of the year award rather than cast in the light of needing therapy.

Great Golden Digger Wasps are Pollinators too!
Great Golden Digger Wasps are Pollinators too!

Adults take nectar and aren’t at all aggressive.  All these years, the fear of wasps is turning out to be wasted anxiety.

Since the only prey of the Great Golden Digger Wasp are what one might consider pest species, and since it pollinates, it is definitely high on the beneficial list.

Spider Wasps provision nests with…you guessed it….spiders!
Spider Wasps provision nests with…you guessed it….spiders!

Another prey-dragging wasp is in the Pompilidae  Family: the Spider Wasp. A while back I observed what I believe to be a Blue-Black Spider Wasp (Anoplius spp.), Wolf Spider in tow.  A very BIG spider; much larger than the wasp itself.  All these wasp-types must work out.
She seems unconcerned with the large size. Must work out to build muscles
She seems unconcerned with the large size. Must work out to build muscles

This tenacious flying insect walking along the ground with its prize also fascinated me.  Now that I think about it, I’ve seen more spider wasps crawling around the ground looking like they are on a mission, than I have seen flying around the flowers.  Yet another wasp that has a set behavior in life.

The spider is likely a Wolf Spider
The spider is likely a Wolf Spider

Wasps are important players in the garden with their pest control and pollination duties, so don’t grab the bug spray out of fear.  Let them be to do their jobs and sit back to enjoy the show.

The baby wasps will be well fed with this big fella
The baby wasps will be well fed with this big fella