My family and I are enjoying the last days of summer, and we have been visiting my wife’s parents in Massachusetts. Thursday we drove out to Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston. North-central Mass is where I grew up, and it’s always interesting to visit. Tower Hill has only been around for a few years, but it’s already a really impressive garden. The place features a Linnaean garden, where plants are grouped by taxonomic family. This is a great idea for learning some plant taxonomy, although it makes for weirdly assymetrical gardens as some areas get all the showy plants. I was disappointed that the soapberrys (Sapindaceae) didn’t have a section.
One of my favorite parts though, was that huge summer sweet bushes were being pollinated by tons of bees and other insects. Including a giant black wasp that got everyone’s attention. I happened to have a collection vial, and so had to catch one. (Yes, without a net.) This was the Great Black Wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus). The picture below is from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee field station, and it doesn’t convey that this thing is about 2 inches long and fast!
Wasps are one of those creatures that you love to hate. This species eats nectar as an adult, so it’s a useful pollinator. But while the adults are dining on nectar, they have less wholesome plans. Like most wasps, it has a venomous sting that it uses to paralyze other insects. They use their huge mandibles and great body strength to carry their victim into a underground burrow. There the wasp lays its eggs, which hatch into larvae that proceed to eat the paralyzed insect alive. Don’t anthropomorphize. It will give you nightmares.