California Rayless Fleabane

This gallery contains 8 photos.

The common name “fleabane” was originally applied to a European species of Erigeron. Bunches of the plant hung in the house would drive out fleas. Several North American species, belonging to both the genus Erigeron and other genera, are colloquially … Continue reading

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This gallery contains 3 photos.

I am a cold weather person and love the snow. However, when temperatures are frigid and a North Wind is blowing, I do occasionally think of warmer climes. So today I will mention a beautiful, colorful plant  that contrasts with … Continue reading

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Wavyleaf Microseris

This gallery contains 8 photos.

In my previous post a golden paper wasp (“Golden Paper Wasp” on 12/02/16) was feeding on wavyleaf microseris nectar. Time to correct the fact that I never discussed wavyleaf microseris in my blog. A native perennial belonging to the aster … Continue reading

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Golden Paper Wasp

Golden Paper Wasp

Golden Paper Wasp

The golden paper wasp (Polistes aurifer) is found in Western United States from Texas to Montana west to the Pacific Coast. It also inhabits Southern British Columbia and parts of Mexico.

Golden paper wasps are variable in color. Some are mainly black on the thorax with a golden abdomen. Others are reddish and golden with a little bit of black. The legs of golden paper wasps are yellow and the antennae are yellow or reddish.

All golden paper wasps, except inseminated queens, die as winter approaches. The queen overwinters in a sheltered spot such as under bark, in logs or even in house attics. Early in the spring as the days begin to warm the queen emerges and starts a new nest. The golden paper wasp nest resembles a hanging disc composed of a single layer of hexagonal cells. Nests are usually located under eaves or other protected areas and are constructed of “paper”  – wood fibers mixed with saliva.

The queen golden paper wasp lays a single egg in each cell. The larvae that emerge from the first group of eggs are fed by the queen. The larvae develop and eventually spin silk over the cell opening and pupate eventually becoming adult wasps. The first worker wasps of the season take over brooding the eggs and building the nests. In late August or September the colony reaches its maximum size.

Adult golden paper wasps feed on nectar. Larvae are fed caterpillars.

Although golden paper wasp nests are hanging discs, A E Liebert noted in “Insectes Sociaux” (2004) that she found golden paper wasp nests underground in cracks in the soil.

This golden paper wasp (feeding on microseris nectar) was photographed last spring above the Ash Creek Lower Campground (Lassen County CA). Golden paper wasps are pollinators as evidenced by all the pollen on this specimen’s body.

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Tannins in Acorns

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It is interesting how one thing can lead to another. While reading about acorns in conjunction with my previous post (“Selective Food Storage” 11-28-16), I learned additional  new facts about acorns. Tannins are plant polyphenols that bind and precipitate proteins … Continue reading

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Selective Food Storage

Western Grey Squirrel

Western Grey Squirrel

Acorns from oaks belonging to the red oak group (Erythrobalanus) are rich in fats and tannins and germinate in the spring. The white oak group (Leucobalanus) has acorns that are less fatty, have less tannins and germinate quickly after maturing and falling. Once germinated, the acorns loose up to 50% of their nutritional value. Here in Northeastern California where we live, the California black oak (Quercus kelloggii) is an example of the red oak group while the white oak group is represented by the Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana).

I was fascinated to read that squirrels use selective strategies between eating acorns and burying them for feeding in winter. Research by Leila Z Hadj-Chikh et. al. and Michael A Steele et. al. reported in the journal, “Animal Behavior” (1995 and 2006 respectively), studied the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). However, other tree squirrels also appear to use these strategies.

Gray squirrels can tell the difference between red and white oak acorns. In the fall, the squirrels will eat white oak acorns before they germinate while selectively burying red oak acorns. If the gray squirrels do bury white oak acorns (limited supply of reds?) they bite off the embryo before burying the acorn to prevent germination and maintain optimal nutritional value.

Gray squirrels do not hibernate. During early spring when red oak acorns begin to germinate, gray squirrels will dig up  their previously buried red acorns, bite off the embryo and then rebury them.

I find it amazing that these rodents can tell the difference between acorn groups and handle each group in a manner that provides maximum food value.

The pictured western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus) was photographed in North Mountain Park, Ashland OR. Like his eastern cousin, it probably also selectively buries acorns for the winter.


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Apricot Mallow

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Apricot mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) prefers an alkaline habitat. This perennial native is found in dry rocky or sandy soils in the Mojave, Great Basin and Sonoran Deserts (CA, AZ, NV, UT). A shrub, sometimes called a wildflower, apricot mallow has … Continue reading

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