Y is for Yellow Jacket

No, even we squirrels don’t like to see the yellow and black warning stripes of a yellow jacket!

But this wasp is a good choice for Y day because we’ve never featured it. Yellow Jacket, or even yellowjacket, is the common name in North America for a group of social wasps in the genera Vespula. Social means they do live together in a colony, in this case, underground. They fill their hole with comb made of wood fiber, similar to a paper wasp. Also like paper wasps, the yellow jackets only live for one year and die out when the freezing temperatures hit.

How do you humans tell this is a yellow jacket? They have distinctive black and yellow or black and white patterns. They also fly side-to-side just before landing, but we bet you haven’t stuck around long enough to see that, right? Because, yes, all of the females can sting, and it hurts.

A sting doesn’t mean an animal is bad. Yellow jackets prey on other insects, insects that can be harmful, so they are considered the good guys in some situations, just like ladybugs that eat aphids.

X is for the Xerces Society

We squirrels link to a number of nature webpages that we find in our research, but Hickory and I don’t remember ever featuring a particular group. But as we said, some letters in the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge are harder than others…like X.

But X can be valuable when it’s The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

With the decrease in bees and other insects our Earth, that might be all you need to know about this environmental group.


The Xerces Society has three focuses: pollinator conservation, endangered species conservation, and reducing pesticide use and impacts. We squirrels support all three, as you know if you are a regular reader.

Check out The Xerces Society website to learn more about their conservation of invertebrates. Specifically, you humans who are #StayHome in North America might want to scroll through their resources for pollinator conservation–plant lists for different regions! Free! They even have a link to find milkweed seeds.

Other things to explore would be signing their pollinator protection pledge, make a donation, join a community science project. They have good free stuff that teaches more humans about the value of doing little things to help insects and the planet–like this infographic we used last fall.

Don’t forget to check out their books for helping insects. These are buried like valuable acorns in their ‘publications library’ and you have to search among lots of good stuff for ‘books’…but we like their books so much that we did that digging for you with our own paws: Xerces Books.

Have fun today, friends, as you eXplore from home!

N is for Native Bees

Cute, huh? The brown-banded bumblebee.

A Mason bee.

Carpenter bees

Sunflower bee, from the Diadasia family

Native bees are threatened. They are integral to the survival of us squirrels, and, we suppose, to you humans, too. Bees are famous right now in your news, so we assume you humans know about their plight. If not, review our 2019 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. We featured trees and shrubs that are food sources for bees.

If you can, during your social distancing, stand near a flowering tree this spring and watch the pollinators flying to and from it. Popular species to check are hawthorn, locust, redbud, and tulip poplar.

This important critical warning for gardeners accompanied all of our A to Z posts last year. It’s even more important this year.

Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

L is for Lighting Bug

The lightning bugs–or fireflies–haven’t started their lit courtship dances, but you may be able to find these beetles hanging about. In our area of northern Virginia, look for the red-pink head and yellow outlining the wing coverings of a beetle.

Then peek underneath…

and check out the abdominal segments that produce the glow. They aren’t ‘lit’–it’s actually bioluminescence–all the time, only when the lightning bug opens oxygen channels to mix some O2 to create a chemical reaction with an enzyme called luciferase.

Who knew nature was so complex?

J is for Jewelwing

If you find yourselves skirting along a stream in the woodlands, keep an eye out for the Ebony Jewelwing.

It’s a delicate little thing, a member of the damselfly’s ‘broad-wing’ group. The male has a metallic-bluegreen body and black wings, as seen above. So where to the ‘jewel wings’ come in?

You need to find a female. Her wings are a duller brown, but they each had a white spot at the tips!

Or maybe you’ll find both!

It is spring!


One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

This guy has a perfect target on his ‘bee-hind’. But do you know what this insect is? Or the flower, if you prefer!

Give us a guess in the comments!


This was a tricky one for us to identify.

Black and white wasps aren’t too common, but we had to have some help from a friend’s photo–thanks, Martha–to verify we were seeing all we needed to see.

Yes, this wasp has a very skinny middle. and all of the white markings add up to it being a Fraternal Potter Wasp. This is a type of mason wasp that, as you probably guessed, used mud to make its nesting sites. In this case, a little ‘pot’. We squirrels haven’t seen one of these, so if you have, we’d be ever so grateful to see a photo to share!

Another tricky part of the identification is that potter wasps can be black or brown and have white, yellow or orange markings.

Potter wasps are apparently predators, and collect beetle larvae, caterpillars or spiders that they paralyze and seal in the mud brood chamber with their eggs so the young wasps may feed on them. SO can someone explain to us why these wasps were fervently feeding on these flowers?

This late summer plant is well-named: It’s late-flowering boneset

Eupatorium serotinum, a giant of a plant at 7 feet high and 7 feet wide!

It is massive and covered with dozens of different types of insects, wasps, bees and butterflies. We’ll show you more soon!