Yellowjacket, Green Anole, Winter Wren, and Marbled Spider

Top Photo: A worker yellowjacket enters the tunnel to its subterranean hive.

Yellowjackets nest underground, though they may construct a hive in a hollowed out log, under the siding of your house, or in other seemingly vacant and unattended cavities. The ground, however, is the most frequent site chosen by a queen in spring.

Circle indicates location of hive entrance.

A single queen constructs the below-ground hive and tends to the initial eggs, larvae and pupae. Once workers emerge from pupation they take over all duties except egg laying. By the end of the summer when the nest is at its peak there may be thousands of wasps coming and going while they forage for pieces of insects or other meat discovered on their instinct-driven mission to feed the future workers (females), males and queens in the hive.

Yellowjacket climbing out of entrance tunnel.

There are several species of yellowjackets in our area. The yellowjackets shown here appear to be eastern yellowjackets (Vespula maculifrons).

If you come upon the entrance to a yellowjacket hive, leave it be. The word spreads quickly in a hive of Vespula and it will empty in seconds with all members of the tribe intent on doing harm to whoever is responsible for disturbing the hive, stingers at the ready.

Taking flight to forage for meat.

Several museum visitors have mentioned to me they’ve seen more green anoles in the past few weeks than at any other time. I too have seen more than just a few of the little green lizards throughout the campus. Why?

Besides the fact green anoles in general are increasing here at the museum (Ten years ago it’d be difficult to impossible to locate an anole on campus – climate change?), many of the green anoles I’ve been seeing are juveniles hatched this summer. There are simply more anoles alive at this time of year than at other times. And, they’re very actively feeding on the late season’s insects and so more likely to be seen. Besides stalking prey, you’ll also see anoles basking in the sun on chilly fall mornings, which tends to bring them out into the open.

Here’s just a few anoles captured hanging out at the museum’s Butterfly House Garden and elsewhere.

Juvenile green anole in Butterfly House Garden.
Juvenile hunting insects atop seed pods.
Two anoles (noses, feet and tails visible) absorb heat from sun decoration in garden.
A closer look at heat seeking anoles (You can see two noses, two sets of toes, two tails, and the belly and chest of one anole in the sun’s eyebrows.
Look closely at the door handle.
Another green anole.
And finally, two snouts, one up, one down.

If you’ve been through Explore the Wild lately you may have noticed the floating walkway on the north side of the wetlands. If you’re walking by, take a trip around the exhibit and keep an eye out for a cryptically colored and secretive little bird, a winter wren.

Floating planters in wetlands.

Carolina and house wrens nest here at the museum, house wrens departing for points south in the fall while Carolina wrens are year-round residents. Though winter wrens breed in the North Carolina mountains they’re absent on the Piedmont in summer. They don’t arrive here at the museum until, sometimes as early as September, but typically in October or later.

Brown object in center of photo is winter wren.

When the wrens arrive at the museum each year they keep to themselves, foraging low in the grasses and brush along the paths and edges of the wetlands and woods. They’re not easy to locate. The floating plant platforms utilized to grow grass in the wetlands next to the floating walkway has given them a convenient place to forage for insects and other small invertebrates and a relatively easy place for naturalists to spot them while they hunt.

Winter wren.
Note short tail of winter wren.

Tucked safely away in a rolled up leaf at one of the corners to her orb web, a marbled orbweaver has secured what looks like a wasp for future consumption.

Marbled orbweaver shelters in rolled leaf at corner of web.
She appears to possess a wasp?

Marbled orbweavers (Araneus marmoreus) are fairly common along the edges of forests and across pathways. They’re one of many species of orb weavers hikers may be familiar with as a result of being the first of the day to walk the path and get a face full of sticky, silken web.

Typical marbled orbweaver.

The abdomen in this species is usually orange or yellow with a marbled pattern, but may also be nearly all white, brown or black. I most often see the orange or yellow spiders though I may simply not notice or perhaps misidentify the other varieties.

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