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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of four. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bruin's leftovers

Workers tend their brood in the aftermath of bear predation.

The suspect bear who hauled off the drowned deer has a taste for yellowjackets.

Its diggings have become regular features of Hendrick's flume, and this nest was ravaged two nights ago.

The bear didn't clean its plate, and in fact the queen still reigns, so I snapped a few photos.

The workers were too distracted to have at me.

I went back today to see if the bear cleaned its plate and to collect a yellowjacket for identification.

The remains of the paper nest in the earth cavity.
Bruin hadn't returned, the queen had retreated into the wreakage, and the yellowjackets were tending their brood.

They buzzed me when I tried to get one of them into a vial, and when another one bombed into my hair the codger humped down the trail with remarkable agility.

There are at least 18 species of yellowjackets in the US according to a USDA manual, and my photos match up well with the diagrams of the California yellowjacket (Vespula sulphurea) [NB: 9/23/2012 -- based on Katie's comment (see below) I have examined more photos and  think that the gatric pattern most closely matches that of Vespula vulgaris]

This species nests underground, and is a good citizen that feeds on insects and disdains picnics.

Next year's generation hinges on the survival of the overwintering queen, since she alone survives the winter. When she is ready, she'll disappear in a rotten stump or under loose bark. The workers will become comatose and die with the shortening days.

A few weeks ago the redhead reported that yellowjackets took great umbrage with Fred, who had the temerity to drop his stick next to their nest.

They buzzed him and dived into his fur, but he didn't seem to fathom what was happening.

His reaction was to shake them out of his fur, and if they succeeded in stinging him he showed no ill effects. They certainly didn't dampen his appetite.

Setting a camera trap at any social insect nest will require patience, but will eventually yield some interesting pictures or footage of predation-in-action.

I'm leaving that project to the younger camera trappers out there.


Akre, R.D., et al. 1981. The Yellowjackets of America North of Mexico. USDA Agriculture Handbook No. 552, 102 pp.


randomtruth said...

Nice. Found a similar one a couple of weeks ago in the SC Mtns that was all finished off. Can't be bears, of course, so I'm thinking it was likely a skunk. Hopefully I'll find a nest that's right for cam trapping one of these days - as you say, getting shots of the action would be excellent.

JK said...

I have decent, but not life threatening bee allergy. Swell up to the point I wish I was dead, got stung on the eyelid once and it swelled shut for 3 days. In other words this project isn't for me either.

Camera Trap Codger said...

I expect to see Randomtruth in a bee suit when he takes this one on.

7oaks said...

IsaIarsGround nesting wasps/yellow jackets are the worst up here in the Glacier country. If you are back country horse riding and your horse hits one they swarm the horse and you. Unless you have a very docile horse you are in for a terrifying bucking exhibition as well as some painful stings before you know it.


Christopher Moore said...

Fantastic! Because the chiton is not broken down that easily by bears, I notice SO many wasps in bear scat this time of year! I mostly collect it and dig through it for seeds, but I certainly notice the remnants of the animals I see!

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Don't know if this is important to you or not, Mr. Codger... I doubt you have sulphurea. The eye ring is not complete, there are no mesocutal lines, and the patterning on the abdomen is too thick black (http://bugguide.net/node/view/614332/bgimage). I'm guessing you might have alascensis (see vulgaris for similar pattern) or possibly acadica.

I'm looking forward to seeing Ken's future cam trap of a nest.

Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks Katie, I really ned to get a specimen, but I've been checking them daily and they are going strong. Maybe when the weather cools down.