Weekly Update – Wildlife in Story County

Week of August 16-August 23, 2021

What’s Buzzing?

Species Spotlight: Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus citrinus)

Among the peaceful and gentle group that are the bumble bees, several species have evolved to live a much more dubious lifestyle.  These are the cuckoo bumble bees, and by far the most common is the Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee.  The Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee gets its name from the way it obtains a nest.  A female bee will find an existing nest of either common eastern bumble bees or half-black bumble bees, and start an attack.  The cuckoo will kill the nest’s queen, eggs and larvae.  She will then force the existing workers to care for her and her eggs, often through either chemical signals or through violence.  The nest will then effectively be a cuckoo bee colony served by another species.  However, like all other bumble bees, the colony will only last until winter, and a new Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee will need to hibernate in order to start the cycle over again next year. 

The Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee also lives up to its dubious nature by being a master of disguise, and can come in a wide variety of hair patterns.  Here in Central Iowa some of the more common features include a diamond shaped black spot on the thorax and yellow hairs on first and second abdominal segments (along with a few black spots on the edge of the second segment), or an all-black abdomen except for a yellow third abdominal segment.  Another standout feature of the Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee is a lack of pollen carrying baskets or hairs.  Since they’re not caring for their own nests, they don’t need any special organs for transporting food.

Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee

Pictured: A Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee perched on a leaf.  Photo taken by Christina Butler.

Other Pollinators Seen This Week


Hesperidae: Silver Spotted Skipper

Lycaenidae: Eastern Tailed Blue

Nymphalidae: Meadow Fritillary, Monarch, Red Admiral

Papilionidae: Black Swallowtail

Pieridae: Cabbage White

Bumble Bees: Black and Gold Bumble Bee, Brown Belted Bumble Bee, Common Eastern Bumble Bee, Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee, Rusty Patched Bumble Bee.

What’s Blooming?

Species Spotlight: Ghost Pipes (Monotropa uniflora)

As the fall approaches, and the spookiness of Halloween grows closer, you can start to see nature reflect the eerie mood.  Starting in late summer and early fall, the pale, fragile Ghost Pipes start to bloom.  Ghost Pipes are a woodland species of parasitic plant, meaning that they don’t produce their own food through photosynthesis.  Instead, they feed on the nutrients from surrounding fungi.  The lack of food-producing chlorophyll is what gives them their signature ghostly appearance.  This plant is a perennial in the heath family or Ericaceae.  Ghost Pipes are found throughout the state, most commonly in woodlands with an abundance of decaying organic matter.   Ghost Pipes are pollinated almost exclusively by bumble bees.  The roots of the plant are often dug up and eaten by bears.

Traditionally, Ghost Pipes were used medicinally by indigenous people throughout the Midwest.  Some uses of the plant included a treatment for epilepsy, a pain reliever for toothaches, and as a treatment for colds.  Today, Ghost Pipes are less widely used medicinally, but is often appreciated by those taking hikes in the woods during this time of the year.

Ghost Pipes

Pictured: Ghost Pipes starting to bloom from the forest floor.

Other Plants Blooming This Week

Native Plants:

American Pokeweed, Anise Hyssop, Beggarticks, Blue Vervain, Brown Eyed Susan, Canada Goldenrod, Common Evening Primrose, Compass Plant, Cream Gentian, Cup Plant, Daisy Fleabane, Fall Phlox, False Sunflower, Field Thistle, Ghost Pipes, Great Blue Lobelia, Grey Headed Coneflower, Heath Aster, Hoary Vervain, Jerusalem Artichoke, Late Boneset, New England Aster, Old Field Aster, Partridge Pea, Purple Coneflower, Rosinweed, Sawtooth Sunflower, Stiff Goldenrod, Tall Bellflower, Tall Goldenrod, White Snakeroot, Wild Goldenglow, Woodland Sunflower, Yellow Hyssop, Yellow Oxalis.

Non-Native Plants:

Asiatic Dayflower, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Butter and Eggs, Creeping Thistle, Crown Vetch, Garlic Chives, Queen Anne’s Lace, Red Clover, Russian Sage, Smartweed, Velvetleaf

What’s Flying?

Species Spotlight: Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus); Vulnerable in Iowa

The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest and most recognizable woodpecker in Iowa.  This species is easily distinguished from the other native woodpeckers by its large, pointed red crest at the top of its head.  Both male and female Pileated Woodpeckers have a red crest, so are instead told apart by a red stripe of feathers on the cheek, which only males have.  Pileated Woodpeckers make repeating loud squawking calls.  They can also be heard feeding, as they use their long pointed bills to strike trees and wood.  As the largest native woodpecker in Iowa, the Pileated Woodpecker has a large wingspan, stretching to a maximum width of 30 inches.

The diet of the Pileated Woodpecker primarily consists of wood-boring insects.  These include carpenter ants, beetle larvae, and termites.  They will also opportunistically eat fruits and nuts.  As their name suggests, the Pileated Woodpecker gets its food through pecking at wood.  Their beaks are long and sharply pointed, acting as a nail or chisel to gain access to insects digging through the wood.  Pileated Woodpeckers are cavity nesters, and will build their homes by excavating large holes in dead trees. The preferred habitat of these birds are mature, high quality broadleaf forests.  These birds are year-round residents of Iowa, and do not migrate.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pictured: A male Pileated Woodpecker perched on standing dead wood.  Note the red stripe of feathers on his cheek.

Other Birds Seen This Week (Courtesy of EBird.org)


Acadian Flycatcher, American Crow, American Goldfinch, American Redstart, American Robin, Bald Eagle, Baltimore Oriole, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow, Barred Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Black Capped Chickadee, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, Blue Jay, Blue Winged Teal, Broad Winged Hawk, Brown Headed Cowbird, Brown Thrasher, Canada Goose, Carolina Wren, Cedar Waxwing, Chimney Swift, Chipping Sparrow, Cliff Swallow, Common Grackle, Common Nighthawk, Common Yellowthroat, Cooper’s Hawk, Double Crested Cormorant, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Wood Pewee, Field Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Great Blue Heron, Great Crested Flycatcher, Great Horned Owl, Green Heron, Green Winged Teal, Hairy Woodpecker, House Wren, Indigo Bunting, Killdeer, Mallard, Marsh Wren, Mourning Dove, Northern Bobwhite, Northern Cardinal, Northern Flicker, Northern Parula, Northern Rough Winged Swallow, Osprey, Ovenbird, Pied Billed Grebe, Pileated Woodpecker, Purple Martin, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Red Eyed Vireo, Red Headed Woodpecker, Red Shouldered Hawk, Red Tailed Hawk, Red Winged Blackbird, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Scarlet Tanager, Song Sparrow, Spotted Sandpiper, Tree Swallow, Turkey Vulture, Vesper Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, White Breasted Nuthatch, Willow Flycatcher, Wood Duck, Wood Thrush, Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Yellow Throated Vireo, Yellow Warbler.

Non-Breeding: American White Pelican, Bay Breated Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black Throated Green Warbler, Blue Headed Vireo, Canada Warbler, Caspian Tern, Chestnut Sided Warbler, Greater White Fronted Goose, Greater Yellowlegs, Golden Winged Warbler, Least Flycatcher, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Magnolia Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Olive Sided Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, Red Breasted Nuthatch, Ring Billed Gull, Semipalmated Plover, Solitary Sandpiper, Summer Tanager, Swainson’s Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow Bellied Flycatcher.

Non-Native: Eurasian Collared Dove, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, European Starling, House Finch, House Sparrow, Ring Necked Pheasant, Rock Pigeon.

Have You Seen Any Interesting Wildlife?

If so, please upload any pictures of what you’ve seen on iNaturalist.org.

You can also send your sightings to the Watersheds and Wildlife Coordinator at dstein@prrcd.org