Footage of another mellow Florida wasp

There’s no need to fear the Common Thread-waisted Wasp (Eremnophila aureonotata), since it rarely stings. I recently filmed a mating pair and the foraging female during a visit to San Felasco Hammock Preserve in Gainesville, Florida.

Common Thread-wasted wasp (Eremnophila aureonotata)

After mating, the female digs a burrow, and then searches for a caterpillar to place inside. She then paralyzes the caterpillar with a sting and flies it back to the nest. After wrestling it into the burrow, she lays an egg on it and then carefully covers the burrow’s entrance. After hatching, the cradled waspling consumes the caterpillar.

A pulsating sack held a surprise

I was photographing life around a decaying stump, capturing mushrooms, young fence lizards, and a baby toad about a half-inch long. But then I noticed a four-inch, orange sack. And it was pulsing. It was too large to be an egg. What was moving inside?

Taken at San Felasco Hammock Preserve, Gainesville, FL

As I filmed, something made a slit through the shifting wall. Black legs pulled at the veil. Some type of beetle?

If beetles were causing the motion, there must be more than one. The bottom of the sack was pulsing independently.

Here and there, clumsy black creatures started to show themselves. I leaned close with my camera, hoping to get a clear shot that would allow me to identify the insects later. But then my subjects suddenly vanished!

I waited nearby and, gradually, the base of the sack—a fruiting mushroom—began to move. I realized that some of the beetles had hidden beneath the surrounding ground litter, and were returning to the confines of their restaurant. I turned on my video-camera, and was immediately rewarded when a spread-winged beetle landed atop the fungus. These insects could fly!

I filmed for some time, and then repositioned myself for a better view. Now that the glare was off of the screen, I noticed that the red record-light wasn’t on. Doh!

Many fly species lay their eggs on mushrooms. As the beetles tore through the fungal tissue, larvae squirmed and dangled. Should they stay to be devoured or torn? Or  plunge to the ground? Those that gave up were quickly gobbled by a baby frog, which had discovered an easy meal.

Before long the mushroom was in tatters, but I could finally get a clear shot of one of the beetles. It was a dung beetle of the genus Copris, and it was carrying a load of translucent white mites beneath its chin. Apparently mites like fungus, too.

Finally, the beetles had their fill and wandered away. I packed up my gear and headed down the path, only to find another beetle belly-up in the sand. At first, I thought it might be playing dead, but miniscule, fly-like insects identified it as a carcass. I turned it over to see what kind of beetle it was. It was a Rainbow Scarab (Phanaeus igneus)—another type of dung beetle!

Always Moving Forward

There are so many things I’d like to do; that I’d like to accomplish. And I think it’s time to start doing them.

I don’t have to plan it all. I don’t think I can plan it all.

Married by a Justice of the Peace

It’s sort of like when my parents were first in business. They were in their late twenties. And my dad was blind.

Blinded at age 19

They wanted to build this hotel. Okay. Not a hotel. A motel. A mom-and-pop motel. And so they had this plan and they bought the land, and the land had a little house on it to live in.

This wasn’t the actual piece of land my parents bought, but it looks very similar.
Photo by BruceEmmerling of Pixabay

And then…

My mom was hospitalized for a year. She had gotten tuberculosis from a patient she was caring for at a hospital. She was a nurse.

Graduation from the Cadet Nurse Corps

And so my blind father was left on this chunk of land, with this little house, and all of their dreams stopped.

She did get better. She never came horribly ill. And she got out a year later and they began all over again.

They knew nothing about building a motel, but they knew they needed buildings.

Building codes weren’t as strict as they are now, and my dad just started building a wing of a motel. He got through the first one or one and a half wings and…

He fell off the roof.

He couldn’t build the rest and they had to hire someone to finish it.

If they had known they were going to have to hire someone to finish it, they might have believed they couldn’t do it. They didn’t have the money.

But they were already halfway done!

Sort of.

So they got all of the wings built – I think they built three on this little mom-and-pop motel – and then they couldn’t afford the paint. And painting it would take both time and money.

But they had these plain, cinder block rooms and thought they’d just start renting them out. That way, money would be coming in.

“People won’t care,” they thought. “We’ll just stick up a sign.”

They didn’t hire a sign painter, and they didn’t know about stencil lettering. Mom made a hand-painted sign, and they stuck it up in front of this little motel where none of the walls were painted. The place was bare, gray, cinder block with a scary-looking sign out front.

And you know what happened?

Nobody came to their motel.

 “Okay,” they admitted, “nobody’s going to stay here until we paint the buildings.”

And so they painted the buildings, but still had trouble getting people in until they hired someone to make an actual sign.

All of these were expenses they thought they could just cover as they went along. And they did, but not in the way they planned. All of these things stood in their way.

And if they had known any one of them might happen, they probably wouldn’t have gone through with the original plan in the first place.

The hotel looked inviting by the time they were done.
They had the pool installed later, when it became the norm for motels in the area.

But instead, they built this motel and it became the foundation for a future business when they relocated to Florida. They had that nest egg which, although a humble amount now, was a sizable amount then. And that’s what started their next business.

But to think that we can plan everything ahead of time is self-defeating.

I think it all starts with the idea – the concept. And then are we willing to move forward on that concept?

Because we won’t know how to proceed at every turn. And things will come up we never imagined would be a problem. But they are.

And so you keep moving forward with your plan and you find ways around your problems. The dream itself remains.

And I’m thinking about all of this and wonder if I can do it. I’m an over-planner, you see. I think years down the line and about everything that might or might not happen. And it scares me. But there’s really no need to fear. Obstacles aren’t an if. They’re a given.

So now I’ve entered my senior years, and I’m finally starting to get over some of my hesitation, and I’m just moving forward. If I have an idea, I’m going to do it. Because no one knows how to start. No one knows if an idea’s going to pan out. And sometimes an idea won’t pan out, but it will lead to the thing that will. But staying in place gets one nowhere.

Dad loved to talk to people and enjoyed a challenge

And my dad used to know that. Toward the end of their lives, Mom was sick of the business. She wanted to reign it in or give it up altogether. “Can’t we just be satisfied?” she’d ask. “Let’s just stick with what we have.”

“No,” said Dad. “You either grow, or you start to die. There’s not choice but to move forward. Stagnation is the start of decline.”

Dad lived a relatively short life, due to many factors, but it was a rich life. And he accomplished so much more than anyone thought a blind man could.

But that’s because he was always moving forward.


Hear the story told by the author…

How dangerous is a Pygmy Rattlesnake?

Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius)

Something wriggled next to my foot, as I stooped at a decaying stump and photographed a beetle. As it unfolded and slithered past my leg, I gazed in appreciation. Then, it’s pattern suddenly registered! I stepped back, realizing it was a Pygmy Rattlesnake, a venomous snake common throughout the southeastern United States.

It’s a small snake – one to two feet in length (30-60 cm) – and often goes unnoticed. Its patterning provides effective camouflage as it lies in a mix of soil and leaf litter and, when threatened, it lies motionless and flattens itself against the ground.

This snake is non-aggressive, and most bites happen when it’s accidentally stepped on and the snake strikes defensively. Fortunately, since the snake is usually surprised, it rarely has time to fill its fangs with venom, so most bites are dry and cause minimal damage.

Although a bite by a Pygmy Rattlesnake isn’t considered life-threatening to adults or larger pets, it should still be treated. The venom is strong enough to cause the loss of a finger or toe. Although no one has died of a Pygmy Rattlesnake bite, the venom is considered life-threatening to small children and small animals.

But, it’s best to be careful and avoid the bite in the first place. As is typical of healthcare in the United States, a single bite can bankrupt a family. A vial of antivenom costs between $10,000 to $20,000, and treatment may take several—even many—vials.

In 2018, one boy in Hernando County, Florida, received 18 vials.

A 6-year-old in Oklahoma received 38! Apparently this was due to the fact that the child wasn’t responding to the treatment (so why didn’t they stop at…  say ten?). Apparently, snake venoms evolve over time and become resistant to the antivenoms we might have on hand.

After learning more about snake bites – and now fearful that a hospital might steal all of my money and leave me homeless – I think I’ll try out Altra hiking boots. Pygmy rattlers have small fangs, and I think it would be difficult for them to penetrate an adult shoe.

But I don’t want to end this article dwelling on potential medical costs. Instead I’ll end with an interesting fact.

Female Pygmy Rattlesnakes mate in the fall and winter, and then store the received sperm until spring. As the eggs are held within her body, she hastens the development of the embryos by laying in the sun. Three to five months after fertilization, the eggs hatch inside her body. She then gives birth to up to fourteen live young.

For several days, or until the youngsters’ first shed, Mom stays within a couple feet of her offspring.

The newborn ambush-predators have an early hunting advantage. They have bright yellow tail tips, which they wriggle to attract insect predators.

Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius)

REFERENCES

Florida Museum. Florida Snake ID Guide:  Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake:  Sistrurus miliarius barbouri.

Outdoor Alabama. Pygmy Rattlesnake.

The Journal of Emergency Medicine. Nathan Kostick, MS, Kevin O’Loughlin, MD. June 23, 2021.

Michael Paluska. Family faces tens of thousands in medical bills after boy gets bitten by venomous snake. CBS FOX 59. April 4, 2018.

The Associated Press. Seattle Times. Oklahoma sees increase in pygmy rattlesnake bites. October 2, 2017.

Lucky daytime spotting of the Horned Fungus Beetle

Horned Fungus Beetle (Bolitotherus cornutus)

Alone on a swampy trail, I noticed a half-inch beetle feeding on a mushroom. It was gray and bumpy, resembling tree bark.

I was lucky to sight the Horned Fungus Beetle (Bolitotherus cornutus), since it’s active at night. This particular morning was overcast and the lighting was dim, which led this individual to indulge in an extended meal.

The insect pictured is a male, since only males have horns protruding from the thorax. These are used to wrestle other males from females during courtship. They’re also used to defend territories. The Horned Fungus Beetle may live on the same decaying tree, among brackets of shelf-mushrooms, for nearly a decade, matching the beetle’s lifespan.

During the summer, females lay less than a dozen eggs, one at a time. Each egg is deposited on a mushroom and covered with a dark secretion. When the egg hatches 16 days later, the larva stays inside the egg for several days more. It then feeds by tunneling into and through the fungus. Young overwinter within the fungus and emerge the following year.

Usually larvae avoid one another. However, if a larger youngster encounters a smaller one, the weaker animal may be devoured. Should a larva die within the mushroom, the fungus grows around and into the deceased’s body.

When disturbed, an adult Horned Fungus Beetle folds its legs and plays dead. However, if a mammal breathes on it, it secretes droplets of irritating chemicals that smell bad and burn the mouth.

The Horned Fungus Beetle is beneficial to several species of mites. Most of these mites eat fungal spores, but hitchhike a ride (or catch a flight) to get around.


REFERENCES

University of Florida, Dept of Entomology and Nematology. Featured Creatures: Forked fungus beetle.

The Bug Lady. University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee, College of Letters and Science Field Station. Forked Fungus Beetle (Family Tenebrionidate). June 17, 2014.

Campsomeris quadrimaculata – a giant wasp found in Florida

Campsomeris quadrimaculata

While walking, I came across this huge, beneficial wasp. It pollinates a wide variety of flowers and keeps beetle populations in check.

It has no moniker. However, I’m nicknaming it the Lighthouse Wasp, since it flashes yellow beacons as it feeds.

Below is a one-minute video with additional pictures and information.

Video Transcript:

I noticed this wasp along a Florida roadway. It’s Campsomeris quadrimaculata.

Although this female is over an inch and a half in length, she’s non-aggressive, stinging only if threatened. She feeds on a variety of flowers, and must eat before laying her eggs.

When she is ready, she flies low to the ground, searching for buried scarab beetle larvae. When she locates a larva, she digs into the soil, stings it, and deposits an egg on its body.

As her own youngster grows, it devours its host. When the meal is finished, it wraps itself in a cocoon and waits until spring or summer. It then sheds its blanket and emerges from the earth ready to mate.


REFERENCES

E.E. Grissell, Scoliid Wasps of Florida, Campsomeris, Scolia and Trielis Spp. (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Scoliidae)

Barbara I.P. Barratt, Aspects of reproductive biology and behaviour of scoliid wasps. Doc Science Internal Series 147.

Nature Reclaims La Chua Trail

In September of 2021, only the boardwalk remains of La Chua Trail.

Early morning visit to La Chua trail (Payne’s Prairie, Gainesville, FL). A few years ago, nature reclaimed the long arm of this trail with flooding that failed to recede. This year, only the boardwalk is left. The water was high on both sides, coming approximately 4 feet from the floorboards.


An American Anole stalks insects on the boardwalk’s steel mesh.

Although anoles enjoy hunting and sunning themselves on the boardwalk’s steel mesh, it keeps people from falling in and gators from stretching across the walkway. There are monsters below, hidden by an overgrowth of Water Hyacinth.


TenPaths.blog author, Carol Fullerton-Samsel

Reliance on a Fragile Creature

Sometimes as I walk, I find myself musing on things. On this day, I was thinking about technology and wondering how long it can last as it becomes increasingly complicated.


And it’s so amaz… [Someone is passing by.]

“Hi.” [Embarrassed laugh]

It’s so amazing what all of this technology can do. But the frightening part is, it could all be gone in the blink of an eye. And all of our records—all of these wonderful videos and photographs and knowledge that have been recorded—are all recorded on the very technology that could collapse.

And so, records for the future will be relatively scant. Right now, we’ve got so much information. Just information beyond belief—visually, intellectually. But if we’re ever knocked back to the Dark Ages (which I don’t think would be that hard to do with our reliance on all of this), all of the knowledge we gained will disappear in a flash. And it may literally be in a flash. A giant magnetic disturbance, either man-made or nature-made could happen at any time. And with all of the natural disasters, technology may just not seem that important after a while. What people are going to care about is surviving day to day.

So, I think we’re on a precarious path. I think all of this technology at this point is fragile. We need so many resources just to produce it—just to produce the technology needed to function. That’s the physical aspect. And then relatively few people know how all of this stuff works and, even then, they need the technology and tools to make it work. So again, very fragile.

We’ve created this great, wonderful creature, but it’s a little unsteady.


Photo by documol with Pixabay

Hatchling Season at Sweetwater Wetlands

The Transcript:

Welcome to Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Gainesville, Florida. This marshland park is dotted with overlooks. Let’s see what we find.

This young Common Gallinule is nearly grown.

Although gallinules may occasionally eat insects or snails, they’re primarily herbivores. This bird is managing the habitat by consuming Hydrilla verticillata, an Asian plant sold to home aquarists in the 1950s that has spread throughout the State.

Hydrilla grows and reproduces rapidly. It can survive in water only a few inches deep or in bodies of water 20 feet or more in depth, with little sunlight. At the water’s surface, it forms a dense mat that outcompetes native species, impedes boat traffic, and lowers oxygen levels within the water.

These chicks are a bit younger. Their bright orange bills and brownish feathers identify them as gallinules. The American Coot, a similar species, has black feathering and a white or gray bill. The older bird looks too young to be their mother. However, daughters from previous seasons sometimes attend nests and the young.

There are two trail loops at Sweetwater. The red bridge guides us toward the longer loop, which is 1.6 miles around. Increase the length of your walk by taking the one-third mile cut-through and making a figure eight. The red bridge is a great place to spot alligators in the spring. Let’s look around and see what we spot.

Although the Little Blue Heron is known for eating fish, it also eats insects, amphibians, and small reptiles, including snakes.

And speaking of snakes, we find some Watersnakes. These animals are often mistaken for venomous Water Moccasins. However, their body is thinner, the pupils are round, and the head is smaller and blends in with the body.

The trail loop here is raised and circles through the wetlands.

We’ve had heavy rains this summer, and today is overcast. Although the trails are raised, sections are swampy nonetheless.

Rivulets course the grassland, searching for one of many ponds.

Cattails stretch skyward. These plants absorb toxins in the water and keep the wetlands clean.

Each brown head produces over two hundred thousand seeds. A variety of songbirds use the soft white fibers to line their nests.

A walk through a Florida marsh isn’t complete without alligators.

Here and there along the water’s edge, orange cords warn visitors to keep their distance. Beyond the cord is an alligator nest.

And this nest has a few hatchlings. The camera can see into the darkness beyond.

At the base of the nest is mom, standing guard over her children.

There are many hatchlings on this nest. The gender of hatchlings is determined by temperature. Higher temperatures result in more males; lower temperatures females. It’s been a very hot summer. These youngsters appear alert and active.

The smaller trail loop is a mile around, with an optional half-mile boardwalk. This is a great place to spot wading birds, such as Tricolored Herons and White Ibis. Tricolored Herons can be distinguished from Little Blue Herons by their yellow bills and the white stripe down their throats.

A Great Egret peeks through the reeds.

Great Blue Herons are a common sighting. Because of their regal stature and entitled dispositions, I think of them as King of the Wading Birds.

The summer’s rains have brought flowers, such as this Goldenrod.

And where there are flowers, there are butterflies. This Viceroy butterfly visits a Bidens alba, or Spanish Needle.

This flower must be particularly tasty.

When the breeze picks up, the butterfly holds fast with Velcro legs, probing for one last sip.

Beyond the boardwalk is a path toward an overlook. Today, it’s a bit overgrown. This spot is a good place to see alligators 9 foot or longer. But today the vegetation is too dense to see them.

Sandhill Cranes are often seen at Sweetwater Wetlands, and they aren’t particularly shy. A small group of birds groom themselves on the trail and barely take notice as I film. I stand well away nonetheless, since they can use their long bills as weapons.

The marsh is teeming with wildlife, although much is hidden by the high grasses. Great Egrets are always edgy and are made uncomfortable by watchful eyes.

As I film, I’m started by a loud rustle of feathers behind me. [A Sandhill Crane has landed next to me, just beyond arm’s reach. I put some distance between us, then record its calls.]

Every day of hiking has its magical moments. But it’s getting late and it’s time to head back toward the parking lot. I’ll be back another day.

Video recording with a Canon Powershot and recovering lost images

Yesterday, I used my Canon PowerShot SX700 HS to record videos. I doubt that this model is still available. I actually bought it seven years ago, and it’s still working great. Because it is such a work-horse, I highly recommend Canon PowerShot cameras and would buy one again.

Although mine is an older model, it’s likely that the newer ones offer similar settings, so I hope you find something useful in this article.

Yesterday, I also tested out free data recovery apps, after I accidentally reformatted my SD card after shooting. At the end of the article, I’ll share my experience with recovering lost files.

Video recording with the PowerShot

Video settings

To adjust the video settings, I turned the dial to Video Mode (the movie camera icon) and hit FUNC SET on the back of the camera.

The settings I used were: 

  • My Colors – off
  • White Balance – auto
  • Movie Mode – standard
  • Recording pixels – (M2) 3M 2048×1536
  • Movie Quality — 1920×1080 60 fps

At first, I tried to set the Recording Pixels to the highest settings (L 16M 4608×3456). However, I found the camera couldn’t handle this setting, even though it was available. When set to such a high quality, the camera devoured batteries. Each battery provided only 10-15 minutes of recording time.

I also tried the Super Slow Motion setting, but the resulting image was blurry. It didn’t seem very useful.

You don’t have to record in Movie Mode.

For taking still photos – and now for video recording – my favorite setting is LIVE. When photographing in LIVE, what you see is what you get. If the lighting is beautiful, that’s what will be captured. If it’s overcast, the image will also reflect that.

That being said, I usually adjust the exposure by pressing the FUNC SET button, which brings up a menu with Dark/Light, Neutral/Vivid, and Cool/Warm settings. All are set to medium, but I usually take the Dark/Light setting down one notch. Unless the light is quite dim, the medium setting produces an image that is too bright and, as a result, some of the image information is lost.

Reducing the Dark/Light setting results in slightly darker images, but at least the image information is captured. I then adjust the exposure using photo-editing software.

Move your body

It’s best to move the camera using your body; not your hands. In other words, lock the camera against your body with both hands, giving it three points of contact.

I found I had a steady, eye-level picture when I snugged my Camera against my throat and then locked my hands against the sides of the camera. To change angles, I turned or bent my body. Filming in this way resulted in video clips that moved smoothly.

Ask yourself questions

While recording, I did better when I asked myself these questions :

  • What is special about this scene? In other words, what is drawing your attention or amazing you?
  • How can you add motion? Note that the motion can be slight. Not everything needs to be over the top.
  • In which direction should I move?
  • Is it worth recording? Remember , all of this footage will have to be reviewed at home. Save editing time by selecting subjects carefully. Also, shooting selectively conserves battery life, and battery life is precious.

Let’s say that again…

Battery life is precious

With the settings I used today, three batteries gave me three hours of intermittent shooting.

It’s impossible to shoot non-stop, since video recording is hard work for the camera. As it records, the camera and battery literally heat up. When the camera becomes too hot, it signals Low Battery and, if it isn’t rested and cooled soon, it will make the decision for you and shut down. The hotter the camera gets, the longer it takes to recuperate. [Later I found that this problem is largely resolved by replacing the batteries. I’d used the same rechargeable batteries for years. New, off-brand batteries gave me three times the previous recording time. The camera didn’t heat up as much and it simply turned off when the battery was consumed. So I’m tossing the old batteries and replacing them with new ones.]

Recovering lost files on an SD card

While I experimented with video recording, I played with various settings and, oops! At the end of the day, I accidentally reformatted the disk. Instantly, all files were lost!

At home, I downloaded several “free” recovery apps to my PC – and soon discovered none were free and all were expensive (generally in the $80 range). The apps I tried included Recoverit by Wondershare, EaseUS, Stellar, and Disk Drill.

All of these apps analyzed the contents of the SD card for free.

It took a long time for the apps to analyze my older SD card, which I’ve used for several years. When the identified files were finally listed, I was prompted to pay for an expensive subscription prior to recovery.

From the listing of files, it was immediately apparent that the video clips were still missing and unrecoverable. The only recoverable images were jpeg stills.

Disk Drill was the only app that allowed me to recover anything for free – a small number of jpegs.  However, not all of these were usable. Some were collage images combining all pictures recorded on that disk-spot over the lifetime of the card. So to recover files effectively, you have to work with relatively new SD cards.

My thoughts about a data recovery subscription? If, for some reason, you are constantly losing files, it might be worth it. Or, if you are a professional photographer doing weddings and such, a recovery app might be a good insurance policy (Remember to use a newer card for each job, though.). But if data loss is a rare event, it’s less expensive and time-consuming to just suck up the loss and move on.

I hope some of this information has been helpful for those who, like me, are new to videography. If you have any tips, please feel free to share them in the comments below.