Saturday, August 12, 2006

Mice in Your Car? A solution: the car corral

Living in a wildland or rural areas means that sometimes we have to park a car for a week or so. This never was a problem with the old cars, but new cars? You bet. Sometimes overnight, mice climb into the cars and are trouble. They can chew your wires, make nests (these catch on fire when you drive off) or die (Oh, the smell..!). We have had a number of inquiries about how to keep mice out of your car. For a longer article of this, click here. Basically, mice cannot climb a very smooth surface like aluminum flashing. Building a small, movable wall around your vehicle may be a solution for you.
New Research Project: Velvet Ants
Ever see a red blotch moving across the ground? Get closer and it may reveal itself as a “velvet ant”. Indeed; it is not an ant all, but a wasp; (Dasymutilla occidentalis; Hymenoptera: Mutillidae). And the females have a huge stinger. Some folks call them “cow killers” based on how this stinger works. The red coloration and their slow, oblivious walk (females lack wings) are a pretty good hint that this thing will hurt you if you mess with it. A new graduate student project here at Hastings (Nicole VanderSal) is underway. Nicole is filling what is apparently a huge void in the knowledge of the ecology and behavior of these “velvet ants”. We are not even sure how many kinds are at Hastings. There appear to be two sizes of females; one large (15mm) (two photos on left) and the other smaller (7-10 mm) (with shorter hairs). There is a correspondingly small male with wings, but without a stinger (photo on hand). We have not captured a larger male yet. Nicole knows the velvet ants can parasitize other wasps when the adult female “velvet ant” lays eggs in the ground nests of larger “hornets”. But Nicole is far more interested in the potential interactions between the jumping spiders at Hastings and the velvet ants. She is putting them in arenas to see if they duke it out, or just avoid each other. More on this as the research develops.