What’s Orange, Black, Fuzzy, and Runs Really Fast?



Buck and I were about to take a walk in the woods late this morning, when Buck spotted this strange-looking critter running across the driveway. It looks like a surreal, huge, fuzzy ant. We tried to get him stopped long enough for me to take a picture, but nothing doing. I only got this one because he probably thinks he’s hidden. It’s called a Red Velvet Ant, or sometimes the Cow Killer Ant. In fact, it’s a type of wingless wasp. Read about it here. Note: They are not aggressive, but if you step on one bare-footed, you’re liable to get a painful sting.  I don’t think they actually kill cows, though.

Alternative Housing

These huge ant hils are interesting. This one is in the middle of a winter food plot, which is why the grass (wheat, oats & rye) is so green. I've read that the large dome-like shape acts like a solar collector in winter to provide warmth for the residents.

Mid-August: Time for the Big, Ugly Singing Cicadas

They're everywhere. In the trees, on the front porch, in Maggie's mouth. What?! Yep, sad to say, the otherwise gentle Maggie loves to eat cicadas.

Every night before we turn out the lights, Buck opens the sliding glass door in our bedroom and takes Maggie out for a last walk of the day. A couple of nights ago, they had completed their ritual and were just about to cross the threshold back into the house, when Maggie jumped on a cicada, who (quite naturally) made urgent , continuous tiny screaming sounds as it disappeared into Maggie's mouth. Judging from the popping and crunching sounds that came next, cicadas must be crispy critters.

I am noticing now that every morning when I let Maggie out, the first thing she does is run around on the concrete patio to examine any spot that looks like a bug. I think she is looking for more cicadas. That Maggie. Sometimes she is such a dog.



The woods felt like a steam bath late yesterday afternoon when I went walking. The ground was still damp from the long, heavy downpour on Sunday, when we lost power for five hours. (A good thing, sometimes, when the power goes out on a Sunday afternoon. One stops, jumps the tracks, finds a chair with a little light and reads, or stretches out in the bed in the middle of the day.)

I saw the fly on vivid green needles and thought: reviled as flies are, how beautiful his segmented body; how gossamer his wings.

I thought, too, about my younger brother, Steve, and how lying in a hospital bed for days, for weeks, is a particular trial of the human spirit. I am learning to communicate over the phone, to be present with him, when there is nothing to ask, little to say.

Steve has a PICC line to deliver TPN (total parenteral nutrition), antibiotics and to take blood samples. He is in isolation right now because of an acquired VRE infection. Sometimes when I talk with him, he speaks in an almost-whisper, and apologizes. He is trying to lie totally still because when the belly pain is at its worst, that is the only thing that seems to make it bearable. When possible, right after pain meds are delivered, he struggles out of bed, puts on the barrier protection gown (like a haz-mat suit), and pushes his i-v cart down the hall for a little exercise. He took a shower yesterday, with help. This is a big undertaking, time-consuming and awkward, but critical for body, mind, and spirit.

We talked about hope yesterday: hope that he will be strong enough to endure the June 14 fistula repair surgery; hope that it will be successful; hope that he will be walking on a beautiful beach by mid-summer; hope that he will be able to meet his college son, Taylor,  at the airport when he returns from his semester in Moscow.

By the time I got back home from my walk yesterday, I was hot and sweaty. I stuck a toe in the swimming pool. It was so "refreshing" with all the cold rainwater that had filled it to the brim the day before, that I yanked my toe back out and settled for a cool indoor shower instead.

Food Chain

 IMG_2907 This dirt (or mud) dauber has stung the spider and  begun dragging it away. In the lower photo, Buck moved the spider into a clear spot on the ground. I took the picture, then we left the wasp to the work of moving the spider into its pantry. Yum.

Red Velvet Ant

As you all well know by now, there's no telling what Buck and I may see in the woods around here. Just when I am sure I have seen it all, Buck finds some new weird bug or critter. We walked this afternoon. All of a sudden, Buck said, "Look! There's one of those big red squeaking ants! I'll get him hemmed up and you take his picture."





If my research is correct, "he" is "she," and not an ant at all, but a type of wasp. Click here to read a question and answer from the All Experts entomology forum. It's informative and funny as all get out, especially when the questioner describes how "the darn ant started to cry."

She stayed still for a few seconds, possibly believing she was hidden under those two blades of grass, and then went boogedy, boogedy, boogedy down the fireline road, so fast she made me think of a hovercraft.



Cicadas and “A Dry Year”

Cicada escapes carbonite after 17 years."animation"

This remarkable video is courtesy of "Iowa Todd." He has compressed about an hour of film into 20 seconds of animation. Check out Todd's Flickr photostream here. I'm sure there is a biological reason for the leg drumming on his abdomen as he emerges, but it looks like celebration to me. (Think Roger Daltrey and The Who's "I'm Free" and hum along.)

Seventeen-year cicadas provide the soundtrack to Richard Gilbert's essay, "A Dry Year," in the current issue of Chautauqua (Issue 6, the story and storytelling issue).

The hot, dry weather is almost a character itself in Richard's descriptions of that year in Ohio when he was bound and determined to have a pond built at his family's newly purchased sheep farm. His reflective, direct writing speaks truth to me. In its self-revelation, I learn more about my own self.

I've been seeing empty cicada shells everywhere the last few days — even stuck on the side of an outdoor garbage can down by the gate. The photo below is one I took of a cicada shell on a pine tree in 2004.



Blue-Eyed Beetle and Two Moths


Beetle on pool house screen


I counted an even dozen of these handsome beetles clustered on the west end of the pool house screen. Buck and I swam lazy backstrokes, watching as a mockingbird treated the screen like a fast food drive-through.

And then there were eleven. The bird returned twice for refills.

And then there were nine.

It was macabrely fascinating to note that the bugs never flinched or changed their positions, even when it was clear to onlookers that the mocker would return. 

Buck told me years ago that fear is paralysis at the brainstem level. 

Today I more fully understand his words.






This diminutive creature looks like a mystical hybrid: wings, soft fur, hairy legs, protuberances that look like a second set of gossamer wings.

Otherworldly incarnations of life hide in plain view, fantastical life forms with much to teach us, to delight us.





From inside the pool house, this Imperial moth looked muddy brown, but interesting enough for me to go back in the house for my camera. When I slipped around the outside of the building and got a good look at the moth, my mouth went dry and my hand developed a fine tremor. A breeze ruffled the moth's wing's. I feared he was about to fly.


I hope that mockingbird filled up on crunchy beetles.


Mystery Leafhopper

 Bug 8-30-08

I found this fellow outside, quite dead, but not yet carried away by ants. He is the color of a papershell pecan.

Bug 8-30-08


Looks like some sort of leafhopper. Can you help me identify this critter?