Category Archives: Photography

Gallery of bee hotel visitors

Here are some of the pics I’ve taken at bee hotels over the past several years. Sharing in case other beekeepers might recognize residents in their own hotels. There were bees, as one would expect, but also wasps, flies, and beetles.

Horn-faced mason bee (Osmia cornifrons). Very common at my hotels. Introduced from Asia in the 1970s. Details at BugGuide.

Horn-faced mason bee (Osmia cornifrons)

Taurus mason bee (Osmia taurus) are also common and also introduced. Details at BugGuide.

Taurus mason bee (Osmia taurus)

Giant resin bee (Megachile sculpturalis). Yes, also introduced, though more recently (~1994). Details at BugGuide.

Giant resin bee (Megachile sculpturalis)

Mock-orange scissor bee (Chelostoma philadelphi). So named because it prefers to collect pollen from trees in the genus Philadelphus (mock oranges). This is the only native member of the genus in the United States. Details at BugGuide.

Mock-orange scissor bee (Chelostoma philadelphi)

Ancistrocerus antilope has shown up a few times at my hotels, but apparently prefers to nest in sumac and elder stems. It also is reported to use old mud-dauber nests. They are fun to watch because they provision nests with caterpillars. Details at BugGuide.

Ancistrocerus antilope

This is Euodynerus “Species F” at the moment. I.e., it’s one of several undescribed species in the genus (details here). It’s biology is apparently unknown, so I’m hoping to get more of them in the future.

Euodynerus "Species F"

Parancistrocerus histrio is another wasp that feeds caterpillars to its brood. Details at BugGuide.

Parancistrocerus histrio

Auplopus mellipes provisions its nests with spiders. For a wonderful overview of their biology, please see post on Eric Eaton’s blog. (While there, I noticed he has a new book on wasps.)

Auplopus mellipes

Euodynerus schwarzi provisions nests with caterpillars. For identification tips, see blurb by Matthias Buck et al.; more pics are at BugGuide.

Euodynerus schwarzi

Euodynerus megaera is extremely similar to the above species but has black tibiae. At least females do (males are much harder to distinguish). It’s also a collector of caterpillars. More details by Buck et al.

Euodynerus megaera

Brown-legged grass-carrying wasp (Isodontia auripes) provision their nests with tree crickets. As their name suggests, they also carry grass, which they use to pack and seal the brood chamber. Details on BugGuide.

Brown-legged grass-carrying wasp (Isodontia auripes)

Here’s a photo of the grass-carrying wasp’s nesting plug that I took at Longwood Gardens. They have a beautiful bee hotel with hundreds of cells but as far as I could tell, only a few wasps had moved in.

Grass-carrying wasp (Isodontia sp.)

Trypoxylon collinum provision their nests with spiders. Unlike many wasps and bees, the males in this genus actually help out around the nest. For details, please see this Instagram post. BugGuide has a page for the species but it contains little information.

Trypoxylon collinum

Below is a cuckoo wasp (Chrysis sp.) are absolutely adorable. That said, they are also parasites of the above bees and wasps. And they are very difficult to identify, so even getting them down to genus is rare. Here’s BugGuide’s page on the family.

cuckoo wasp (Chrysis sp.)

The club-horned cuckoo wasp (Sapyga louisi) is another frequent parasitic wasp at my hotels. This one is patiently waiting to gain entrance to the nest of a mock-orange scissor bee. Details on BugGuide.

club-horned cuckoo wasp (Sapyga louisi)

Leucospis affinis is another parasitic wasp that is almost always lurking around my bee hotel. It’s oddly variable in size. More details by Ari Grele at Insects of Cornell, at BugEric, and BugGuide.

Leucospis affinis

Monodontomerus sp. (in Chalcidoidea) are extremely common parasites of mason bees. Please see this post at Nurturing Nature for great video and description of their life cycle. Additional details at BugGuide.

Monodontomerus

Digonogastra sp. These braconid wasps are parasites, but I’m not positive the ones I’ve seen at my bee hotels are targeting any of the residents. But they’ve shown up on at least two occasions so I think it’s a possibility.

Digonogastra sp.

Amobia sp. are flesh flies that develop on the provisions inside (for example) Trypoxylon nests. I’m not sure whether the larvae also eat the wasp larvae, but I’d suspect so. Details at BugGuide.

Amobia

Houdini flies (Cacoxenus indagator) are newly introduced to the United States and are likely to ravage mason bee nests and the crops that depend on them for pollination. If you have bee hotel, this fly is reason #1 why you should use removable paper tubes that allow sorting of infested and uninfested brood cells. Without paper tubes your bee hotel will likely be a Houdini fly hotel. Crown Bees has information on how to clean your tubes.

Houdini fly (Cacoxenus indagator)

Skin beetles (Dermestidae) are scavengers but can become serious pests of uncleaned mason bee hotels. Yet another reason to use only paper tubes fitted inside drilled holes, combined with a thorough cleaning of entire hotel (e.g., soak in bleach, scrub). Details on skin beetles at BugGuide.

Skin beetle (Dermestidae)

The above is probably less than 1% of the species that might be found at a bee hotel that had a range of nesting-hole diameters, so I’ll keep taking photographs for years. Noticeably absent are leaf-cutter bees, so that’s my photo resolution for 2021.

In related news, I’m looking forward to reading Heather Holm’s book, Wasps: Their Biology, Diversity, and Role As Beneficial Insects and Pollinators of Native Plants.

For all my photos at bee hotels, please click on button below.

Photo tour of my DIY chicken coop

Photographic tour of my chicken coop in case useful to others. It has a sunflower theme because I used an old mural for the exterior.

Sunflower-themed chicken coop built from scrap lumber

The primary feature is a large, south-facing window on the front that provides solar gain during the winter, but hinged to provide ventilation, too. Opening is covered with heavy wire (to exclude raccoons) and screening (to exclude mosquitoes).

Chicken coop window for ventilation

Additional ventilation is provided by a hinged panel at the top. This will be open even during the winter unless temperatures get shockingly low. Opening is covered with hardware cloth and mosquito screening.

Chicken coop ventilation panel

Pop door for chickens is equipped with a platform so that they can better navigate their entries and exits. A ramp isn’t needed because the door is so close to the ground.

Chicken coop pop door

Pop door is currently opened and closed via a pulley system that uses ball-bearing and block and tackle pulleys. The string is snaked through a window in my kitchen so I can let them out in the morning without leaving my house. I’ll likely add an automatic door at some point.

Chicken coop pop door with pulley system

Nesting boxes are accessible on the outside of the coop so that I don’t need to disturb the flock to do an egg check. Lid can be hooked to chain above if there are a lot of eggs to collect. The hinged side is protected from rain with a rubber gasket made out of an old bicycle tire. Lid and nesting boxes are all insulated so that frozen eggs are less of a concern.

Nesting box on exterior of chicken coop

Here’s the view inside the coop. The chickens get to the nesting boxes and perch via a ramp with cleats spaced every 3″. Then there’s a short hop (or optional ramp trip) to the perch. Underneath the perch is a droppings pit that gets filled with granulated clinoptilolite (“PDZ”) to absorb ammonia. Floor of coop is covered in pine shavings. Wood is left unpainted mainly because I’m lazy, but also because if I went with the traditional white it would always look dirty. I did, however, treat the perch with linseed oil, then sprayed it with permethrin (to kill mites).

Layout of walk-in chicken coop

This photograph shows the small ramp that comes up from the nesting box landing. It’s likely unnecessary but the chickens do use it, so it will stay. It’s screwed down but can be easily repositioned if needed.

Ramps inside DIY chicken coop

Close-up of the nesting boxes. Positioned below the level of the perch so that they don’t hang out in nesting boxes.

Nesting boxes inside chicken coop

Underneath the ramp is a wood box filled with moss, sand, and dried mint. The chickens will likely never use this but it was fun to provide. It’s large enough for four chickens at once, I think.

Dust bath inside chicken coop

Lighting inside the coop is provided by smartphone-controlled LEDs (Philips hue shape light). Lights come on automatically (but slowly, over 30 minutes) in the morning for several hours, then again in the evening to provide 15-hour days. I’ve set mine to red to minimize aggression among hens and to increase egg production (per research). Red lighting is also less polluting for humans due to our reduced reliance on that part of the spectrum.

The LEDs are a tad bright so I’ve nested the strip inside a piece of white molding attached to the wall at 45°. The resulting illumination is bounced off the ceiling.

LED strip light inside chicken coop

To spy on my chickens I’ve installed a Wyze (v2) video camera equipped with a 64Gb microSD card. Here’s a still showing birds on perch. I have a second cam trained on the dust bath in the unlikely event they use it.

Wyze camera inside chicken coop

To monitor the temperature and humidity in the coop I’ve added a SensorPush, configured to send me phone alerts if temperature gets too low or too high. I can also set humidity alarms. I purchased the SensorPush G1 Gateway, too, so that I could access the data even when I’m away from home (normal version is Bluetooth-only). Overkill, surely, but fun.

SensorPush temperature/humidity probe on north wall of chicken coop

I was worried about condensation (from moist air hitting a cold ceiling) so I added reflective bubble insulation. The walls are filled with fiberglass insulation so I don’t think the winter will be a problem, especially in Philadelphia and especially given global warming. Plus the chicken breeds I currently have (Golden Laced Wyandotte, Blue Easter Egger) are large and cold-tolerant. With my current setup I could likely raise Silkies.

Reflective bubble insulation on ceiling of chicken coop

The insulation seems to work. During the December 15-17 nor’easter (pic below), outside temperature fell to 24 °F; inside dipped to only 31.8 °F. It’s not just the insulation, of course — the chickens generate heat (10 W each, I think), plus the thermal gain during the day is retained in the pure mass of the structure (wood, nails, screws, etc.). If I felt the cold would be a problem I’d also attach plastic film to the window.

For all the lights and gadgets, power is delivered via an extension cord fitted with a GFCI splitter. I decided on getting one of these after a near-death experience with a faulty router.

GFCI power supply for chicken coop

The coop is situated inside my former berry garden that featured chicken wire to protect fruit from birds and squirrels. To convert it for chickens I added a layer of 2×3″ fencing to all surfaces, plus buried hardware cloth along the perimeter. I also added approximately 15″ of hardware cloth on the lower part of the structure to prevent raccoons from reaching in and grabbing a chicken, which apparently they like to do. Something could, conceivably, tunnel into the coop from several feet away, avoiding the buried screening, so I still patrol it daily in case a hole has been started. Small birds (wrens) still come in to steal food, though, and if I’d had to build a run from scratch I would have opted for 100% hardware cloth.

Chicken run covered with wire

For dust baths and sunning I made an A-frame out of two windows, then threw in a bunch of peat moss and sand.

Dust bath for chickens protected by two windows joined with hinges

Construction photographs

Tips for building a chicken coop

  1. Tour local chicken coops for inspiration before you do anything else. You can’t do this online … pinning hundreds of ideas to your Pinterest boards simply poisons the brain and you really need to see actual coops and talk to actual chicken people who, surprise, know things.
  2. Join or create a local Facebook or Nextdoor group that traffics in free things. I got window, door, and almost all the lumber free. People have things sitting around and you really just need to ask. There’s absolutely no reason why chickens will care if things don’t match or are broken in some way.
  3. Start collecting materials months in advance so you can plan your coop before you start building. E.g., don’t finalize your framing plans until you know the dimensions of your windows and doors.
  4. If you can find a cheap or free shed, do it. Moving a shed and converting it to a chicken coop is infinitely easier and cheaper than building your own. I enjoyed building mine from scratch but it took a long time given I didn’t know what I was doing.
  5. Equip the inside with removable ramps and perches so that you can fix your building mistakes. Similarly, opt for screws instead of nails. Then you can watch the chickens on a security camera for a week or so and then reconfigure items. I.e., perhaps your ramp needs more cleats — easier to just pull it out and take it to the shop for that mod.
  6. Finish your coop before ordering chickens. It’s going to take longer to build than you think.

California ground squirrel begging for food

Here are some photographs of an extremely talented California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) at Yosemite National Park. As the first photo shows, it’s totally fine. But then it launched into a “I’m dying and need food” routine that was first-rate, even including a part where it twitched, then feigned death. I’m posting in part in case others have seen similar behavior. Given how many people file through Yosemite, it’s also very likely that hundreds have captured videos of this exact squirrel. I’d love to see what else is in its repertoire. I think it was somewhere along the Nevada Fall trail.