Carrot Wasp

A slender carrot wasp nectars on agiopoda.

A slender female carrot wasp nectars in the early evening sun.

One recent evening, a thread-thin burst of movement caught my eye in our garden.  It was a wasp —  slender, agile and fast as it nectared in the early evening sun; and unlike most wasps, it held its abdomen at an unusual vertical angle.  It was too thin and small to fit into the familiar wasp categories.  After searching several resources, I identified it: a carrot wasp in the family Gasteruptiidae spp.  (There are 15 different species in North America.)  Adults feed on the nectar and pollen of plants in the carrot family, especially wild carrots and parsnips.

Carrot wasps have enlarged back legs and red-orange bands on the abdoment.

Carrot wasps have enlarged areas on the back legs and the female has a long ovipositor.

Carrot wasps are a type of parasitic wasp.  Rather than building a colony, or their own individual cells, they seek out the nests of other solitary bees and wasps, such as digger bees and mud daubers.  A female carrot wasp punctures a cell of the other bee or wasp’s nest, inserts her long ovipositor into the cell and lays her egg.  Depending on the type of carrot wasp, when its egg hatches, the larva will eat the host bee/wasp’s larva, eat the larva’s food, or do both!

Besides the abdomen being held vertically, other identifying characteristics include a visible, prominent neck, a black body with reddish-orange bands on the abdomen, and enlarged areas on the back legs.  These wasps are most common during June, July and August.

Our “Biodiverse” Lawn

Our “lawn” would be outlawed in most of the Twin Cities’ tonier suburbs.  But living in the city allows for a little more variety.  Twenty years ago we sodded our yard after building an addition.  The grass was perfect — pure, uniform blades of healthy green.  We kept it that way for a couple of years, then quit using chemicals when our son was old enough to play in the yard.

First a few common violets dotted the grass with their subtle, delicate blooms.  Then dandelions showed their bright heads —miniature globes of sunshine that blossomed into balls of fluff.  Our son loved to blow the fluff, watch the seeds dance on the breeze and settle into the grass (to grow the following spring).

Canada violets and common blue violets grow in our backyard.

White clover (Trifolium repens), Canada violets (Viola canadensis) and common blue violets (Viola sororia) grow in our backyard lawn.

Canada violets (Viola canadensis) and dandelions (Taraxacum officinale).

Canada violets (Viola canadensis) and dandelions (Taraxacum officinale).

Over the years, seeds from garden Siberian squill and striped squill spilled out into the lawn during heavy rains.  They popped up in all parts of the backyard along with three other species of violets.  These spring blooms are lovely and welcome, but the plantain, chickweed and crabgrass that appear later in the summer?  Not so much.

Siberian squill bloom in the grass in April, but quickly disappear for the rest of the growing season.

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) bloom in the grass in April, but quickly disappear for the rest of the growing season.

One afternoon our neighbor, Steve, an environmental engineer, stopped to chat while I was digging out dandelions.  I bemoaned the state of our lawn.  Steve looked at it for a minute, then said that he thinks of it as a biodiverse lawn.  The variety of blooms, though they are “weeds” in the eyes of most people, provide a great source of nectar to native bees and other pollinators.  The insects and worms provide food for birds, chipmunks and many small critters.  In comparison, Steve said, our former uniform lawn was a “dead zone” with little life beyond the non-native grass.

I still miss our perfect lawn when I look at the lush, tidy, green grass on our block, and every summer I’m tempted to use chemicals to restore ours.  But, I ignore that urge and instead, we mow the “grass” down to a short patch of green turf that is alive with birds, insects and other creatures — and that also looks  acceptable to our neighbors!

Frost Flowers — and a Few Wild Ones

Crystalline flowers flow across the storm windows in our north-facing bathroom.  In this subzero weather, the moisture from our steamy morning showers seeps through the old, loose-fitting decorative windows and condenses as frost on the cold glass panes that cover the screens.  The patterns that take shape depend on the amount of dirt, scratches and residue on the glass, and the humidity level and temperature of the air.  These patterns are often called frost flowers, roses or ferns.



According to Halldor Svavarsson at the Icelandic Web of Science the most commonly formed pattern of crystallization is hexagonal because it requires the least amount of energy.  If the moisture settles and freezes quickly, the roses will be small and close together.  If not, the roses may be fewer in number, larger in size and may spread out on the glass.




Frost roses and ferns are delicate and lovely, but I prefer nature’s wildflowers.  Here are a few from last summer:

Monarda fistulosa also known as bergamot and beebalm.

Fragrant, spicy wild bergamot or bee balm (Monarda fistulosa).

Vernonia fasciculata also know as smooth ironweed and prairie ironweed.

Prairie or smooth ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata).

New England aster also known as Michaelmas Daisy (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).

New England aster or Michaelmas Daisy (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).

Fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) a native perennial that is unrelated to the non-native, invasive purple loosestrife.

Native fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) is unrelated to the non-native, invasive purple loosestrife.

© Beth and Nature, Garden, Life, 2013-2014.  All photographs and text are created by Beth unless specifically noted otherwise.  Excerpts and links may be used as long as full and clear credit is given to Beth and Nature, Garden, Life with specific direction to the original content.  Please do not use or duplicate material from Nature, Garden, Life without written permission from Beth.

Late-Season Ladybugs and a Lacewing

After a couple of unseasonably chilly days that put a skin of ice on a neighborhood pond, the temperature rebounded into the mid-50s on Thursday and Friday.  Many non-native multicolored Asian ladybug beetles came out of hiding and scurried about on sun-warmed concrete sidewalks and stone walls.

An Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) soaks up the afternoon sun.

A multicolored Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) soaks up the afternoon sun.

I’m not an expert at distinguishing between native and Asian ladybugs, but those I photographed seem to have characteristics of Asian ladybugs:  an “M” or “W” mark (depending on the viewing angle) on the thorax between the head and abdomen, variations in color among individual beetles, variations in the number of spots on wing covers among individuals, and remaining active into late autumn.

Individual Asian ladybugs show greater variation in color and number of spots number of spots amo

Individual multicolored Asian ladybugs show greater variation in number of spots and color than native species.

Asian ladybugs can be a competitive threat to native species and are sometimes pests indoors during the winter.  One November evening several years ago, we drove to our cabin for the weekend.  The ladybugs had gone into hibernation and when we heated the cabin, the warmth awakened a group of about 60 Asian ladybugs that had found a way inside.  They preferred the lights to us and were lined up like beads on a necklace around the tops of lamp shades, and on a lengthy pull-chain for a ceiling fan and light.  We never saw them again, so they must have found their way outside in the spring.

Like native ladybug species, Asian ladybugs eat large numbers of garden and agricultural pests, such as aphids.

Like native ladybug species, Asian ladybugs eat large numbers of garden and agricultural pests such as aphids.

I also found a green lacewing (Chrysopidae) on a window screen.  Lacewings destroy large numbers of garden and agricultural pests such as aphids and other small insects.  (I apologize for the poor photograph taken through the screen; unfortunately, the lacewing flew away as I went outside to photograph it.)

A green lacewing perched on a window screen soaks up suns itself.

A green lacewing (Chrysopidae) perched on a window screen suns itself.

The lacewing was a lovely and delicate gift on a late-autumn day; a symbol of spring to remember during the long winter.

First Hard Frost of Autumn

Early yesterday morning, as Orion sailed high overhead and strings of bright stars washed the sky in spite of an almost-full moon, the first killing frost zapped gardens in the urban core of St. Paul-Minneapolis.  About two weeks later than the average date of October 7th, the first hard frost turned basil and impatiens to mush, bedraggled morning glories and hyacinth beans, and shriveled the last blossoms of Japanese anemones and toad lilies.  But one hardy bloom survived: a newly opened cluster of climbing ‘Henry Kelsey’ roses.  The rose faces south and grows next to our brick garage, which helps to shelter it from north winds.  The National Weather Service predicts nighttime lows in the upper 20s the next two nights, so the roses won’t last much longer.  However, their fresh, simple beauty was a gift on a gloomy, unseasonably chilly day.  To read more about Minnesota weather, seasons and related topics, visit Updraft Blog: Weather and its Underlying Science at

Rosa 'Henry Kelsey' (Canadian Explorer Series) survived the season's first hard frost.

Yellow leaves of an ash tree accent Rosa ‘Henry Kelsey’ (Canadian Explorer Series) blooms that survived the season’s first hard frost.

Red Admiral Butterfly

A splash of bright red flashed by as I counted monarch butterflies in our garden late Wednesday afternoon.  Perched in a sunny spot on the apple tree trunk, a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) fanned its wings, flew around the backyard a couple of times and landed on a lower limb of the tree.

The red-barred upper wings of a red admiral that perched on my leg.

The red-barred upper wings of a red admiral that perched on my leg.

Named for the red-bar markings on their black upper wings, red admirals also sport white marks in the upper corners of the forewings.  The underside of the wings, which is often visible when the butterfly perches, is a mottled brown, tan and black, with a pink band and white spotting on the forewing.

The mottled underwings are marked with a pink bar and white spotting in the forewing.

The mottled underwings are marked with a pink bar and white spotting in the forewings.

Red admirals range from near the Arctic Circle to as far south as Guatemala.  (They also live in Europe, Asia and North Africa, and have been introduced in other parts of the world.)  They prefer moist areas such as fields, meadows, open woodlands, gardens and yards.  Red admiral caterpillars prefer to eat nettle leaves; adults eat overripe fruit, tree sap, and the nectar of many types of flowers, such as aster, blazing star, spotted Joe-Pye weed and red clover. In Minnesota, there are one-to-two broods each year.  The butterflies of the second brood are smaller and less colorful than the first brood.  Most migrate to the southern states in autumn, but a few successfully hibernate in the north during mild winters.  Many years, this butterfly remains active into October and I’ve seen them as early as mid-April in the spring.

For more information about the red admiral and other butterflies, visit: