City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

February 20, 2017

February 20th

Filed under: Bald-Faced Hornets, Blacked-Headed Chickadee, picnic site 4, Wasp — canopus56 @ 1:57 pm

Hornet Nest

Opened Hornet Nest

External Link to Image

Source: Author. The nest is rotated 180 degrees and in nature points down.

10:30 a.m. It is a very windy day, and a holiday. The wind blows leaves on and by the side of the road in two patterns. First, is a widening v-shaped spray. Second, the brown leaves dance together in a circle and are driven by a hidden dust devil. The canyon is again full of strollers, runners and bicyclists. The Black-billed magpies have come around the ridgeline from Ensign Peak (Feb. 15th), and taken up residence near picnic site 2 and down canyon from the Black-capped chickadees.

Near picnic site 4, I peel back the bark of a horizontal fallen snag. Underneath the bark are no insects, but there are long strands of a fungus sticking between the trunk and the bark. Hidden well up under the bark is a Paper wasp nest. The wasps carefully choose this place. Only a small opening in the bark leads down a tunnel to their hidden fan shaped nest. This is the natural version of their human adapted nests at the Red Bridge and in the natural gas pipeline valve station tubes (Dec. 10th). At those sites, the Paper wasp nests are inside metal fence hangers and bridge tubing. At picnic site 9, the hornet’s nest that I discovered on September 27th, long abandoned, has finally fallen from its tree. Inspecting the nest, it is apparent how the Bald-Faced hornets, who are a more social form of wasps, have engineered an evolutionary improvement in home building over their cousins, the Paper wasps. The Bald-Faced hornet nest also contains fanned shaped crèches that hang down from an attachment point. But in the hornet nest, they have constructed apartment style tiers. From the middle of the first, largest tier, a stack protrudes and on the bottom of that stalk, a second tier hangs. The third smallest tier hangs below. The diameter of the respective tiers contain 17, 12, and 9 cells, and this suggests that this compact eight inch high colony contained about 380 individuals. It is around this that the hornets build a thin multi-layer shell about two to three times the central colony. The shell contains air gaps that provide ventilation and natural cooling. The nest’s core colony is a marvel of insect engineering and the broken outer paper shell an artistic swirl of gray toned bands. That such beautiful complex construction can arise from simple, almost robotic insects is inspiring.

On my way down-canyon, I check the five hornet nests that I inventoried on December 10th. Winter weather has blown all from the trees. In a few months, will they will rebuild at the same locations?

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 20th, 1856, he finds otter tracks.

On February 20th, 1909, City Engineer Louis C. Kelsey reported on infrastructure accomplishments across several years of his tenure (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Herald). He recommended the replacement of the wooden flume below the City Creek Brick Tanks reservoir be replaced with a concrete flume and that water mains be extended into the business district.

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