Sunday, March 8, 2009

Signs of Spring in Tucson

It is hard to believe that here in Tucson, Arizona spring has already gotten off to a fast start. Still, the signs are all around me, even if I look only at the insect life beginning to stir. Here are some of the creatures I photographed on March 5 and 6, on strangely overcast days while walking through the residential neighborhood between my apartment and office. Thanks to my friend Cheryl Malone for letting me borrow her Canon PowerShot SD1000 (Elph).

Harvester ants, genus Pogonomyrmex are literally doing spring cleaning, taking soil particles out of the nest and depositing them on the periphery. Soon there will be the familiar mounds sprouting like little volcanoes in lawns and vacant lots. We are nothing if not integrated here, and the black "Pogos" co-exist near colonies of the local red species.

Meanwhile, a parade of fungus-growing ants in the genus Acromyrmex were taking tiny bits of leaves back to the colony. Deep inside their subterranean nest they will turn the vegetation to mulch and grow a type of fungus that will serve as the main food for the ants. This fungus grows nowhere else, and the ants must maintain just the right humidity for it to prosper.

Spring is nesting season in general, and even these paper wasps, Polistes aurifer, have begun to set up housekeeping. Sh-h-h-h, don't tell anyone! This embryonic nest is on the ceiling of the alcove where the mailboxes are at my workplace. I'm hoping that no one but I will notice, so that I can follow their activities as the nest grows throughout the spring and summer months.

Once the sun goes down, the night shift takes over. Visitors to my apartment porch light on March 5 included this owlet moth, likely in the genus Euxoa.

Green lacewings in the family Chrysopidae are among the earliest insects to appear at lights at night here in mid-town Tucson. Some are indeed a lovely green color, while others tend to be darker and duller. Their delicate beauty is an added bonus: as larvae they are voracious predators of aphids and other pest insects.

I'm looking forward to seeing more insects awaken here; and I send my best wishes for spring's swift arrival in your part of the northern hemisphere. May my Australian and New Zealand friends enjoy a delightful fall!

2 comments:

  1. Hey Eric, great to see you here in the blogging world. I'm glad to hear that spring is starting to arrive in Tucson. We're even seeing a few early signs up here in the North.

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  2. Great post! When I was living in Tucson I was aware of some of these things, but I never had the level of perception to see how the activities of specific ants were signs of spring. Thanks for the continuing education.

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