Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First impressions

It was the Golden Hour.  You know, that hour of twilight when, especially in October in Central Texas, the air takes on a gentle quality of friendliness that is unsurpassed.  It was inspirational.
I was watching bees nectaring on the Coral Vine (Antigonon leptopus) and considering how relaxed it felt, as a gardener, to have made it through summer, all the way to October.  Our state motto, for gardeners at least, could be "October: Give It Another Go!".

Among the bees I noted a large wasp.  It was hard to miss.  About an inch and a half long.  All black. It evinced no interest in me or the bees, but was rather busily feeding on the blooms of the Coral Vine. I'll admit it right now.  That wasp was big enough that I was a bit intimidated. Anything that big, I thought, would have a big sting, right?  I watched it nervously for a while and when it showed no signs of leaving, went back inside.

It became a daily routine, my going out on the front porch to enjoy the weather and watch the bees only to have the otherwise mellow ambience yanked over to High Alert! level when the black wasp showed up.  I checked several times each day.  The large black figure darting in and out of the blooms was there pretty much all the time.  That wasp had essentially moved in and set up shop.

Finally, doing what I should have done on Day One?  I investigated.  The nemesis of my mellow afternoons on the front porch was a Sphex pensylvanicus, a species of digger wasp.  The common name for this beast? Great Black Wasp.  Unimaginative, but accurate.
It turns out that yup, this is one of "those" wasps, the ones that have a somewhat grisly "catch and no-release" policy when it comes to feeding their young.  However. The type of insect these particular wasps target to support their wasplets are the very ones I hunt myself in an attempt to keep them from devouring everything in sight (grasshoppers and katydids).  Beyond that, these wasps are important pollinators for the various milkweed plants that support monarchs in migration.  It turns out these wasps are a great partner for a gardener working to attract pollinators.

So.  Big they most certainly are, menacing because of their size, perhaps, but definitely beneficial overall for a Central Texan Garden (and gardener).  Great Black Wasps?  I welcome you to these spaces! It is true - in the past I might have foolishly ducked inside when you showed up on my front porch.  Allow me to apologize. That was simply a case of a mistaken first impression.


Tina said...

Wow--I've not seen that one anywhere. Great photos. Isn't it amazing how many critters love the coral vine. Mine almost moves, there are so many bees, but alas, no cool wasp. There is though, at least one anole, who hunts. I saw him (here?) eyeing a white butterfly--he emerged from the thick greenery and watched that clueless butterfly--who thankfully flitted away, never having realized the danger. It was an interesting show. Thanks for the info on the wasp--I'll keep an eye out--he'd be hard to miss!

TexasDeb said...

Tina: Thank you! I'm relieved both our coral vines finally covered themselves with blooms as expected. Better late than never!

I usually see anoles hunting around the coral vine here, too. I can't imagine an anole taking on this particular wasp however. That is one struggle I'd be happy NOT to see.

Charlie Hills said...

Wasps are best viewed at a safe distance: like, through the internet.

Hi Deb! :)

TexasDeb said...

Charlie! Good to have you drop in!

I mostly agree...

If this wasp had shown particularly aggressive tendencies towards humans in close proximity to our front door, this post would read quite differently.

Debra said...

You really captured the golden hour in these photos. I would happily use the first as my desktop photo and the pictures of the black wasp on the pink flowers are simply beautiful. October is kind of a golden hour around here.

TexasDeb said...

Debra: Thank you. I'm glad you liked the photos.

I hadn't thought of that but you are quite right. October is our "golden hour" of a month around these parts.

TexasDeb said...

Debra: I looked for an email contact for you and cannot find one. Would you send me an email?



Cat said...

Interesting how our perceptions have changed over the years, thankfully. There are many insects that I welcome and encourage to hang out in my garden that 20 years ago would have not been welcome at all. The internet has helped too as I can readily identify whether friend or foe! The coral vine is happy here too although its flowers face the greenbelt out back so I haven't observed what's out there as much as I might normally. Sounds as though I should though! And the light! Oh my gosh! It's so gorgeous right now! If only October could last a bit longer...Cheers, friend

Kris Peterson said...

A bug that eats grasshoppers is a very good thing (as Martha might say) - even if it does look like the Darth Vader of wasps!

TexasDeb said...

Cat: October does seem to be whisking by and I'm sad about that, but I wonder: if this weather was more commonplace here - would we still enjoy it as much? I'm afraid I'd begin to take "beautiful" a little more for granted and that would be a shame.

Lucky greenbelt travelers to have your coral vine blooming "just" for them! Your garden is generous, as I suspect you are!

TexasDeb said...

Kris: Ha! I thought exactly the same thing! I confess I would not have been completely surprised to have seen a teeny tiny light saber hanging at the wasp's teeny tiny waist!

I have seen some Pretty Big Deal sized grasshoppers around here this year. I am hoping if the one wasp can't handle them all it will invite along some friends. I'd be OK for that particular circle of life to close just a little bit more.

Anonymous said...

Happy October...it's shooting by paster than the summer did for me, but that's due to work. I can assure that when you are in a place like here that has 9+ comfortable months most any time of day, you never get tired of it! But you have green oaks and chiggers:-)

The large wasps like yours' seem so harmless than the typical smaller ones, and ours (tarantula hawks, cicada killers) help control various other things we don't want too many of. But I never thought that they also pollinate.

TexasDeb said...

DryHeat: Thanks - Happy October to you too. Glad to hear work is busy. That's desirable of course.

I honestly hadn't thought about wasps as pollinators either before this and yet I see them nectaring on native blooms all the time. Some days the connections "make", some days, not so much!