I’m not the only one who’s been busy observing the nesting box I built and placed on the patio. This female green anole (a.k.a. Carolina anole; Anolis carolinensis) is just one of the critters who took an interest in the goings on by the various bee and wasp species using the box. Interestingly enough, I’ve seen these lizards try to tackle bees and wasps before, including the giant eastern cicada-killer wasps (Sphecius speciosus). Though I’ve never seen them successfully grab any bee or wasp species, it tickles me to watch, especially when it involves the cicada killers as those wasps are far too large for an anole to overpower, let alone consume. But that doesn’t stop them from trying.
As for the nesting box, it’s proven to be one of the best ideas I’ve had. It’s providing a breadth and depth of observational knowledge that I could never have attained otherwise.
For example, I never knew cuckoo wasps are able to drill holes in dried mud nests in order to lay their egg inside. They start by chewing at the nest first, perhaps to soften up the dry mud, then they wedge the spines on their gaster against the soft spot and proceed to vibrate at an almost imperceptible speed. Eventually they’re able to get their prehensile ovipositor into the nest through this tiny, nearly invisible hole.
Also, leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.) are bullies. When one finished her first nesting tube, she decided to move to the tube next to it. That tube was already in use by a mason wasp (Euodynerus hidalgo hidalgo). This resulted in a 24-hour fight—No kidding! Eventually the leafcutter bee pulled the mason wasp out of the nest and beat her up in midair. The wasp moved on and the bee set about dislodging and ejecting the existing nest material from the tube. I now have little piles of sand and a lot of paralyzed caterpillars spread around the patio (which has attracted hordes of acrobat ants [Crematogaster laeviuscula] to clean up the critters). Meanwhile, the mason wasp has moved to a new tube where she’s already begun a new nest (technically it will be her third because she finished her first one a few days ago and her second one now has a leafcutter squatter).
Much to my surprise, the nesting critters sleep in the tube they’re working on. I didn’t realize this until one morning around sunrise I knelt down and leaned in close to see what was what inside the tubes. One of the mason wasps charged to the tube entrance. I had no idea! In the days since, I’ve seen that the leafcutter bees and both mason wasp species do this (the mason bee tubes are too small to see if anything’s moving inside them). And though they’ll charge to the front of the tube in a show of defiance, it’s more bluster than anything else; as solitary stingers, they’re not particularly aggressive unless you manhandle them.
Finally, size really does matter. The leafcutter bees are large; in fact, they’re too large for all but the largest nesting tubes. The mason wasps and mason bees (Osmia sp.), on the other hand, are small and/or slender enough to use any of the tubes. The first time I saw a mason wasp (Euodynerus megaera) land on one of the smallest holes, I quietly thought she’d soon learn she would need an upgrade. But I was the one who would soon learn. She promptly folded back her wings and slipped inside as though walking through double doors. Impressive! Euodynerus hidalgo hidalgo is also small enough to use those holes, and certainly the mason bees are small enough to do so.
When it comes to species seen, here’s what I can tell you:
- Mason wasps (Euodynerus hidalgo hidalgo)
- Mason wasps (Euodynerus megaera)
- Leafcutter bees (Megachile sp.)
- Mason bees (Osmia sp.)
- Cuckoo wasps (Chrysis coerulans), targeting dirt dauber nests and not the nest box
- One, if not two, other cuckoo wasp species targeting the wasps and bees in the box
- At least two species of chalcidoid wasp, though they’re too small and move around too quickly for a good look—at least thus far
- And the usual suspects: black and yellow mud daubers (a.k.a. mud wasp; Sceliphron caementarium) and common potter wasp (a.k.a. dirt dauber; Eumenes fraternus), not to mention the paper wasps I keep having to kick off the patio
Oh, and when it comes to the green anole’s fabulous colors, that show is courtesy of the “Oh no!” hue that filled the sky last Tuesday just before our tornado outbreak. Yes, the sky took on that ominous color that just shouts danger is on its way. In the end, that evening we had at least ten confirmed tornadoes in and around the DFW metroplex. Rest assured we spent some of that time huddled in the bathroom during the overlapping tornado warnings that stretched on for two hours and were accompanied by three blasts of the warning sirens. Still, just before it got ugly, the combination of threatening sky and deep shadows really made for some beautiful colors on otherwise ubiquitous objects, lizards included.