Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bug Life at the Park

I was at the park with my grandchildren when we suddenly noticed an abundance of flying bugs, possibly a type of wasp. After closely examining the photos, I believe they may have been Ichneumon Wasps, though I cannot see any white on their antennae.

The wasps were not bothering us at all. They hovered over the sand, digging holes, crawling inside, crawling back out, then covering the holes. After we watched them for a bit, we decided they were either looking for food in the sand, or laying eggs. We could actually see them moving tiny pebbles, pebbles that looked like boulders compared to the size of the wasp!

I suspect this is a type of Digger Wasp, or Miner Wasp. The reason for the digging is rather unpleasant, in a way. They paralyze their prey, stuff the prey inside the holes, then lay their eggs in the holes and their larvae eats the paralyzed prey.

I have read a few interesting stories regarding the behavior of these wasps. Apparently, they are capable of memorizing every last detail surrounding their nest. They fly off, then quickly return to check on the nest. The book Wasps and Their Ways by Margaret Morley explains how one can place a leaf across the entrance to the nest, and the wasp will frantically fly about, confused by the altered appearance, though certain she is in the right place. When the leaf is removed, she will calmly check on the nest, then search for prey.

Another article describing Digger Wasps explains the theories of philosopher Daniel Dennett who compares the behavior of Digger Wasps to the concept of Free Will. According to this article, the digger wasp brings its prey to the nest, leaves the prey outside while it inspects the nest, then comes back out to retrieve the prey and stuff it inside the nest. If the prey is moved, the wasp will locate the prey and move it back in the nest, but repeat its behavior of inspecting the nest first before depositing the prey inside, even though it has already inspected the nest.

We did not observe the wasps depositing prey in the nests. We observed the wasps digging holes in the sand, climbing into the sand, returning head first and flying out of the holes, and sometimes covering the holes back up. They could be a different type of wasp altogether who is simply depositing eggs in the sandbox. There were many of them, though. So many that we stopped playing and returned home.

A week later, we returned to the park. There was a few wasps, but not nearly as many as the first trip, so we decided to play. Suddenly, we noticed a type of creature that appeared to be a type of centipede crawling through the sand, many of them, very small, and dark brownish-red. We could not identify these bugs, either, so we decided to leave in case they were biters.

As we left, we noticed that a pair of swallows has a nest in the bar that holds up the swing set. The birds were flying in and out with...bugs. Apparently, nature has taken over the playground.

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