City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

September 28, 2016

September 27th

Filed under: Bald-Faced Hornets, Insects, Picnic site 9, Uncategorized, wasps — canopus56 @ 1:21 am

Some Hornets Tell a Bald-Faced Lie

2:00 p.m. Identifying insects is tough for an amateur. I always struggle with it. There are so many types of species and so many varieties of each insect, and for bees and wasps, each species may also look different depending on their role as queen, solider, or worker. No one book or online database can cover them all, and this makes classifying an insect seen in the canyon a difficult and time-consuming task. As an example, there is a wasp nest at mile 1.2, picnic site 9 (see September 16th) and, it is populated by a jet-black wasp with a yellow-tipped abdomen (see August 20th). Hornets are wasps that live in large social communities, that is in nests. The nest at picnic site 9 appears to have been built by Bald-faced Hornets (Vespula maculata). After standing in front of the nest with my monocular fixed on the nest entrance for a few minutes, I am able to see the characteristic white face markings of its inhabitants that classify this as a nest of Bald-faced hornets.

I still am unsure if these are the same wasps that I saw on August 20th. Those had yellow tips, but were jet-black and did not have the characteristic white markings found on the face of the Bald-faced Hornet. Were those earlier wasps just an immature phase of or a special worker class of the Bald-faced Hornet, or were they a completely different wasp specie? There are jet-black wasps such as cricket hunter wasps, and the meadow at mile 1.3 is full of crickets. But cricket hunting wasps generally are solitary, build underground nests, and do not have yellow tips. For now, I just continue to describe those earlier jet-black wasps with yellow tips as “unidentified”.


September 24, 2016

September 24th


4:00 p.m. In the afternoon, the storm moves on, the clouds become broken, the air warms, and where the broken clouds create windows, beams of sunlight illuminates individual trees into beacons of color. Which part of the canyon and which tree is featured changes constantly. After an hour, the broken clouds end, the sky clears, and the canyon is bathed in the soft sunlight of Fall. The The ground dwelling crickets seem unaffected by the storm, but only the hardiest individuals of each type of flying insect is out, and this makes it a day of ones. I see exactly one of the entire cast of flying insect characters that are common to the canyon: one gnat, one dragonfly, one red-rumped central bumble bee, one white cabbage butterfly, and one jet black wasp with yellow-tipped tail. Five hundred feet above, a lone raptor that is to far to away to identify soars. As a finish my jog, the lowest part of the canyon is much warmer, and more gnats have returned. It will take a few days of warm weather for the flying insects to fully recover.

Because of the fall colors and because the canyon will be closed to public automobile traffic for six months in another week, city residents have turned out for automobile touring. I stop counting after the fiftieth car has passed. This annual automobile closure restricts the canyon only to pedestrians, bicyclists, and an occasional hunter, and during its winter sleep, the closure allows the canyon to recover.

September 21, 2016

September 17th

Dark Pollen

6:00 p.m.  The sunflowers have almost completely given out at the Pleasant Valley meadow at mile 1.3. Only a few remain in bloom around a natural gas pipeline cutoff switch in the meadow.  With cooler temperatures, before dusk there is only a single bumblebee still foraging these roadside flowers. What little pollen remains is dark orange, and the bumblebee carries two large side pollen pods that are also dark orange. The major pollinators of these last few sunflowers are the small quarter inch wasps first seen on August 9th.

September 16th

Filed under: Colors, Dragonfly, Insects, Maple tree, Meadow Mile 1.3, Moth, Places, Sunflower, wasps, Weather — canopus56 @ 1:26 am

Shriveled Sunflower

5:30 p.m. It has been two days with overnight temperatures in the forties. At meadow at mile 1.3, the roadside sunflowers have shriveled and fallen over. Only a small patch that contains a few blooms remain. But the crickets and the dragonflies have withstood the low overnight temperatures. During the first two miles, there about 200 dragonflies, but only two or three butterflies and moths. At mile 1.2, I notice for the first time, an eight inch diameter wasp nest that is still active, and it is the home of the jet black wasps seen on September 9th. The nest is only 25 feet from the road, and assuming it was built in back in June, I have been unknowingly running past it for about three months.

The low temperatures and moisture have triggered a few late-turning, small maples. I count only 8 maples in the first 2 miles that have turned a fiery red-orange, and these welcome accents of color brighten this year’s otherwise muted annual leaf display.

September 20, 2016

August 26th

Filed under: Colors, Giant Ichneumon, Insects, wasps — canopus56 @ 11:26 pm

Fantastic (Insect) Planet

6 p.m. While jogging up the road near mile 1.0, a fantastic, unbelievable insect flies by. It is about one-and-one half inches long with a bright yellow abdomen short brown wings. It is trailing a long orange brown ovipositor four times the length of its body. Research in insect guides indicates that it may be a type of Giant Ichneumon: a wasp that uses its elongated ovipositor to drill and to lay eggs in trees.

August 20th

Filed under: Cricket, Insects, Praying Mantis, Reptiles, Snake, wasps — canopus56 @ 11:15 pm

Carnivorous Wasps

6 p.m. It is Saturday, the canyon has grown cooler in the evening, and as a consequence there are more car picnickers this evening. The cars take toll on wildlife. Today you too small, there is a crushed praying mantis and two or three crushed snakes. The praying mantis and one of the snakes are covered in wasps. When I jog past these corpses on the way out the canyon, the edges on both are covered half-seashell cutouts. Later I check my insect guides. Wasps are omnivorous. The wings of a praying mantis will be used in the construction of their nests. The adults cannot digest the protein of the snake, but they feed it to their pupae. Last week, a wasp was struggling with a flying beetle on the roadway. They’re so small that was difficult to see what was occurring. The wasp flys off. The beetle has been dead for some time. The wasp was feeding by sucking out the contents of the beetle’s abdomen. There was no fight. The wasp was having difficulty in finding a leg hold on the broad wings of the beetle, and as a result the pair was constantly rolling around. Pollen and mantis into wasps homes. Snakes in to baby wasps. Wasps into birds. Birds in trees. The cycle continues.

August 16th

Filed under: Insects, Picnic Site 12, Plants, wasps — canopus56 @ 11:03 pm

My Pet Wasps

6 p.m. There are two functioning faucets in the lower canyon: one at picnic site 10 and a second at picnic site 12 at mile 1.7. This evening and throughout the summer when I stop at these faucets for a drink, wasps fly in, land on the puddled waste water, and also drink. I take to occasionally stopping at the faucets to briefly run the water, and a refill my pet wasps’ water bowel.

August 9th

Filed under: Insects, Plants, Sunflower, wasps — canopus56 @ 10:48 pm


4 p.m. At the line of sunflowers along the road at milepost 1.25, there is a new pollinator. It is a perfectly formed honey bee that is only three millimeters, or less than an eighth of an inch in length. Next to the half inch bumble bee also grazing on the same blossom, it is 1/30th or 1/40th of it’s a larger cousin’s volume.

August 16th. I later discover that the “three millimeter honey bee” is a wasp.

August 8th


4 p.m. Principal insect pollinators in the canyon are butterflies and bees. Near the red bridge between picnic sites 6 and 7, two common roadside flowering weeds are next to the road: a purple tansyaster (probably Dieteria canescens, the hoary tansyaster)and a bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare). The aster is covered in a flock of 12 small cabbage white butterflies. Both the cabbage butterflies and the plants are invasive species. The other major butterfly pollinators of the canyon are the black and white Admiral butterfly and earlier in the season, the yellow tiger swallowtail. The thistle is covered with a red rumped bumble bees, probably the central bumble bee (Bombus centralis) The bumble bees do not have the usual yellow and black striped abdomen of the more familiar honey bee. These bumble bee abdomens are white and reddish-orange banded. Dragonflies also rest on the thistle and act as pollinators. Rarely, wasps can also be seen pollinating flowers. In past years, I have seen the large ground burrowing bumble bee emerging from their nests in the side of the road. This year there are none. I am not a trained botanist or biologist; these are the best amateur identification that I can make.

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