Golden Paper Wasps

Paper wasps (genus Polistes) are the most common wasps of the Sonoran desert. They are about one inch long and often brightly colored (see photo gallery). According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, common paper wasps include the yellow (aka golden) paper wasp, the Navajo paper wasp, which is deep chocolate brown with the end of the abdomen yellowish; and the Arizona paper wasp, which is slightly smaller and more spindle-shaped than the other two and is brownish-red with thin yellow cross bands on the abdomen.

A golden paper wasp (Polistes aurifer) has been inspecting my house recently, but so far, I have not seen any nests. This wasp drinks from my pool. It can land on and walk on the water because it does not break surface tension. These wasps are not usually aggressive except when defending a nest. The nest is built using tree bark and wood fibers mixed with saliva.

ASDM: The paper wasp is a social insect whose life cycle begins as a solitary mated queen. The queen overwinters deep in rock cracks, behind peeling tar paper, or inside enclosures. In spring the queen builds a paper nest suspended from a thin stalk in a protected rock crevice, among thick vegetation such as dead fan palm leaves, or under the overhang of a man-made structure. She constructs a small cluster of paper hexagonal cells and lays an egg in each. The queen then feeds the larvae that hatch from these eggs a diet of caterpillar ‘meat balls.’ When the first young worker wasps emerge from their pupal cells, they assume the tasks of hunting caterpillars, collecting material for making papier-mâché for nest expansion, and collecting water for cooling. The queen then ceases all work except egg laying. By late spring, the colonies have grown to contain 20 to 50 wasps; by late summer as many as 200 wasps may be present. At this time new queens and males are reared. After mating, the new queens imbibe nectar to fatten for the winter. By late fall, the queen mother and workers die, the nest is abandoned, and the next generation of queens goes into hibernation.

Most wasps are specialized hunters that track down their prey using smell and sight combined with knowledge of the habitat, activity periods, and behavior of the prey. A solitary wasp usually subdues its prey with a sting that either kills the prey or paralyzes it briefly or permanently. (Tarantulas stung by tarantula hawks can live completely paralyzed for months.) Social wasps, including paper wasps, never sting their prey. Instead, they use their powerful cutting mandibles to chew the prey into pieces to feed directly to their larvae. The venom of social wasps is used only for defense. (Read more from ASDM)

Most wasps are carnivores that feed on other insects and arthropods. A few species have become herbivores, like bees, and feed on nectar and pollen.

Although wasps are not pleasant to have around, they are beneficial because they are pollinators.

See also: Tarantula Hawks Deliver The Big Sting  

Ocelots – an occasional Arizona visitor

Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) are medium-sized, spotted neotropical cats whose principal range is Central and South America. They also occur in Mexico, South Texas, and occasionally in southern Arizona.

Juvenile bobcats and mountain lions may be mistaken for ocelots because they, too, are spotted. Another spotted cat is the Margay, but it is much smaller, about the size of a house cat.

Full-grown ocelots have a head and body length of 22 to 38 inches, a tail length of 8 to 10 inches. They can weigh between 18 and 35 pounds. The smaller ocelots tend to occur in the northern part of their range. Ocelots are quite varied depending on location and there are 10 recognized subspecies.

Ocelots have a distinctive bright white spot within black on the back of their ears. Their short smooth body fur is creamy colored on the sides and back and whitish underneath. Both areas sport black spots.

According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, “Ocelots prefer dense thornscrub, live oak scrub, or riparian areas with an overstory cover.”

Ocelots hunt mainly at night, but may be seen during cloudy or rainy days. Ocelots are solitary animals that maintain territories which are scent-marked by urine spraying and forming dung piles. Males have territories up to 18 square miles. Females have territories of up to 6 square miles. Male territories can overlap several female territories. Social interaction is minimal.

Ocelots feed on a variety of small mammals and birds, as well as some reptiles, amphibians, and fish. They also take young pigs, kids, and lambs, and domestic poultry. Ocelot dens may be a cave in a rocky bluff, a hollow tree, or the densest part of a thorny thicket. Two young are born in late summer or fall. Like other young of the cat family, they are covered with a scanty growth of hair, and the eyes are closed at birth. Gestation has been estimated to last 70-80 days and captive kittens opened their eyes 15-18 days after birth. (Source)

Arizona Game & Fish Department biologists investigate and keep track of ocelot sightings in Arizona. See reports and photos: Feb 5, 2012 in Huachuca Mountains, and another report of the same incident here. Sighting in Cochise County, Dec 2, 2011.

An ocelot was photographed between April 8 and May 21, 2014 near the site of the proposed Rosemont mine in the Santa Rita Mountains according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. That sighting came two days before the U.S. Forest Service delayed its final decision on the $1.2 billion mine project, in part because of the ocelot. – Arizona Daily Star

Ocelots have been extensively hunted for their fur, kept as pets, and worshiped by ancient Central and South American cultures.

Mineral Resources of some Arizona National Monuments

In view of President Trump’s program to reassess some National Monuments, the Arizona Geological Survey has released flyers regarding the mineral potential of four Arizona monuments: Ironwood Forest, Grand Canyon-Parashant, Sonoran Desert, and Vermilion Cliffs. You may read these short flyers here:

Ironwood Forest, about 35 miles northwest of Tucson, has an active copper mine and, according to local geologists, much more potential resources both east and west of the active mine. You can read about the history of the Silver Bell mine in a new paper by geologist David Briggs here: Briggs notes: “Over the past 130 years, the Silver Bell mining district yielded approximately 2.27 billion pounds of copper, 6.6 million pounds of molybdenum, 3.7 million pounds of lead, 40.8 million pounds of zinc, 2,100 ounces of gold and 5.95 million ounces of silver.”

The Grand Canyon-Parashant area has produced copper, uranium, lead, zinc, gold, and Silver from breccia pipe deposits within what is now the monument. Breccia pipes are vertical pipe-like structures comprising broken rock (breccia). They are collapse features that originate in the cavernous Redwall Limestone and subsequently propagate upward through upper Paleozoic and lower Mesozoic rock formation. A recent review by the Arizona Geological Survey indicates that there could be thousands of yet unexplored breccia pipes within the monument. (See my article: Breccia pipes of northwestern Arizona and their economic significance)

The Sonoran Desert monument west of Phoenix has historically produced , gold, silver, copper, and manganese from small mines. The Aguila manganese mineral district in the Big Horn Mountains produced 42 million pounds of manganese.

The Vermilion Cliffs area in northwestern Arizona has had some small production of uranium, but the AZGS concludes “ there is little geologic evidence for economic minerals deposits in the monument.”

Two of the monuments, Ironwood Forest and Grand Canyon-Parashant, have had significant mineral production and more inferred resources. Local geologists suspect there are more copper resources east and west of the active mining area of the Silver Bell mine, but that ground is effectively off-limits because it lies within Ironwood Forest National Monument. The monument was imposed over valid pre-existing mining claims. This should be taken into account in assessing their status. The imposition of National Monument designation greatly inhibits or even prevents development of valuable mineral resources.

History of the Silver Bell Mining District

The Arizona Geological Survey has just released another paper about Arizona mining: The History of the Silver Bell Mining District (AZGS Contributed Report CR-17-A). The paper is authored by geologist and mining historian David Briggs who has written about many of Arizona’s mining districts. The paper is available for free download (link).

The Silver Bell mine and the town of Silverbell are located about 36 miles northwest of Tucson, Arizona. It has produced copper and other metals since 1873 and silver since 1865. Prior to that, the Tohono O’odham Indians and/or their predecessors mined turquoise, hematite and clay, which were used for pottery, paint and decorative purposes.

The Silver Bell mine has had a colorful and sometimes contentious history. Briggs writes that “Over the past 150 years, the Silver Bell mining district evolved from a collection of small, intermittent, poorly financed and managed underground mining operations that struggled to make a profit from high-grade ores; to a small but profitable producer, deploying innovative mining practices and advancements in technology to successfully develop the district’s large, low-grade copper resource.”

Besides a detailed history of owners and operations, the report contains many historic photographs of the mining operations and the town.

Briggs: “Over past 130 years, the Silver Bell mining district yielded approximately 2.27 billion pounds of copper, 6.6 million pounds of molybdenum, 3.7 million pounds of lead, 40.8 million pounds of zinc, 2,100 ounces of gold, and 5.95 million ounces of silver.”

The mine now produces copper by leaching and electro-winning. Remaining reserves are reported to be 214.4 million tons, averaging 0.283% copper. Local geologists suspect there are more copper resources east and west of the active mining area, but that ground is effectively off-limits because it lies within Ironwood Forest National Monument. The monument was imposed over valid pre-existing mining claims. IFNM is one being reconsidered by the Trump administration.

Other papers by David Briggs:

History of the Ajo Mining District, Pima County, Arizona

History of the Warren (Bisbee) Mining District

History of the San Manuel-Kalamazoo Mine, Pinal County, Arizona

Recovery of Copper by Solution Mining Techniques

Superior, Arizona – An Old Mining Camp with Many Lives

History of the Copper Mountain (Morenci) Mining District

History of Helvetia-Rosemont Mining District, Pima County, Arizona

People for the West June 2017 newsletter now online

Stop Unconstitutional Federal Spending

The total federal deficit is almost $20 trillion. Although the President submits or suggests budgets, it is the duty of Congress to appropriate the money. In my opinion, a large part of federal spending is unconstitutional.

The Constitution of the United States grants certain powers to Congress and Executive Branch. Over the years, Congress has greatly exceeded its Constitutional authority. Federal agencies have created thousands of regulations and spent trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on things for which they had no authority to do so. These regulations have the force of law, but only Congress can make law. There is a movement to change the constitution with a balanced budget amendment. Such an amendment would be unnecessary if only Congress and the President would enforce the Constitution.

Read full newsletter here:

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) range from southern Arizona, south Texas and Louisiana, through parts of Mexico and Central American to Brazil. Their range is expanding northward.

These large ducks (body length about 22 inches, wingspan 37 inches) are reddish brown, have a black belly, white wing patches, and a pink to orange bill. They are long-legged, long-necked, and are sociable and noisy. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes them as “boisterous.”

My own experience with these ducks is confined to the mixed-species aviary at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Often, a gang of these noisy ducks will follow me around, pecking at my legs and attempt to untie my shoelaces.

Whistling ducks can be found in marshes, ponds, and lakes where they feed on aquatic animals such as snails. Their main diet, however, consists of seeds and grains. Whistling ducks frequent grasslands and agricultural areas where they feed on many agricultural crops including sorghum, millet, corn, rice, and wheat. They also eat insects and spiders.

Whistling ducks are casual about nesting. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: they usually nest in tree hollows where a limb has broken or the trunk has rotted away. They typically don’t build a nest; they lay their eggs directly on whatever debris has collected there. Cavity openings range from 5–12 inches across. When nesting on the ground, they make a scrape or a shallow bowl of grasses, with thick vegetation overhead, such as willow, mesquite, or cactus. They typically lay 9 to18 eggs which are incubated for 25 to 30 days. Hatchlings are nearly independent upon hatching.

About the noise. Whistling ducks do not make the “quacking” noise of other ducks. Rather they have a range of sounds. Listen here.

According to ASDM, United States populations are increasing, probably because of nest boxes. This species was rare in Arizona before 1949 but has since become a rather common nesting bird.

Trouble with squirrels in Los Angeles – a feminist, posthumanist view

I suspect than most readers missed a new study of squirrels in Los Angeles that was recently published in Gender, Place & Culture, A Journal of Feminist Geography. I was alerted to this paper by an article in American Thinker: “’Liberal studies’ professor writes that squirrels are victims of ‘racist’ media bias.” (Link) I was able to download and read the whole paper, but I now find that it is behind a paywall. You can, however, read the abstract (link).

The paper contains a smidgen of science, but it is basically a politically-correct rant about gender equality. The paper is filled with the vernacular of leftist academia and is actually quite amusing because of the academia-speak.

Paper title: When ‘Angelino’ squirrels don’t eat nuts: a feminist posthumanist politics of consumption across southern California

Author: Teresa Lloro-Bidart, liberal Studies department, california State Polytechnic university, Pomona, Pomona, Ca, USA

The Abstract:

Eastern fox squirrels (Sciurus niger), reddish-brown tree squirrels native to the eastern and southeastern United States, were introduced to and now thrive in suburban/urban California. As a result, many residents in the greater Los Angeles region are grappling with living amongst tree squirrels, particularly because the state’s native western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus) is less tolerant of human beings and, as a result, has historically been absent from most sections of the greater Los Angeles area. ‘Easties,’ as they are colloquially referred to in the popular press, are willing to feed on trash and have an ‘appetite for everything.’ Given that the shift in tree squirrel demographics is a relatively recent phenomenon, this case presents a unique opportunity to question and re-theorize the ontological given of ‘otherness’ that manifests, in part, through a politics whereby animal food choices ‘[come] to stand in for both compliance and resistance to the dominant forces in [human] culture’. I, therefore, juxtapose feminist posthumanist theories and feminist food studies scholarship to demonstrate how eastern fox squirrels are subjected to gendered, racialized, and speciesist thinking in the popular news media as a result of their feeding/eating practices, their unique and unfixed spatial arrangements in the greater Los Angeles region, and the western, modernist human frame through which humans interpret these actions. I conclude by drawing out the implications of this research for the fields of animal geography and feminist geography.

Prior to reading this paper, I had not heard of “feminist geography.” Wikipedia defines it thusly:

“The geography of women focuses upon description of the effects on gender inequality. Its theoretical influences focus on welfare geography and liberal feminism. Geographically, feminist geographers emphasize on constraints of distance and spatial separation. As Seager et al. argues, gender is only the narrow-minded approach when understanding the oppression of women throughout the decades of colonial history. In such, understanding the geography of women would mean taking a critical approach in questioning the dimensions of age, class, ethnicity, orientation and other socio-economic factors.”

Wikipedia goes on the say:

Socialist feminist geography seeks to explain inequality and the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy. It uses Marxism and Socialist feminism to explain the interdependence of geography, gender relations and economic development under capitalism. Socialist feminist geography revolved around the questions of how to reduce gender inequality based on patriarchy and capitalism. It has theoretical influences on Marxism, socialist feminism.” (link)

One more example of the point of view and jargon in the paper (edited):

Feminist posthumanist performativity and intersectionality

Feminist scholars first systematically began to consider ‘the animal question’ in the late 1970s with the development of ecofeminism. Although this early work was criticized as essentialist for its treatment of the category of ‘woman’ as a white, western, heterosexual subject and because some theorists worried it celebrated the association of women with caring tasks (e.g. caring for animals or the environment) to the detriment of establishing women as political actors, ecofeminism nevertheless made important contributions to feminist theory, particularly regarding human-animal relationships. Ecofeminists were the frst to theorize animal oppression through intersectional lenses, arguing that the same social systems and structures that oppress women also oppress animals.

Such is the State of the Union today. “May you live in interesting times.”

Note: I support the idea of feminism and gender equally. I do not support jargon-laden papers such as this one, no matter what the field of study is.

An examination of the relationship between temperature and carbon dioxide

Natural variation trumps CO2

Many climate scientists claim that our carbon dioxide emissions are the principal driver of global warming. I have asked several University of Arizona professors, who make such a claim, to provide supporting physical evidence. So far, none have been able to justify the claim with physical evidence.

In this article, we will examine the Earth’s temperature and the carbon dioxide (CO2) content of the atmosphere at several time scales to see if there is any relationship. I stipulate that the greenhouse effect does exist. I maintain, however, that the ability of CO2 emissions to cause global warming is tiny and overwhelmed by natural forces. The main effect of our “greenhouse” is to slow cooling.

There is an axiom in science which says: “correlation does not prove causation.” Correlation, however, is very suggestive of a relationship. Conversely, lack of correlation proves that there is no cause-and-effect relationship.

Phanerozoic time – the past 500 million years:


Estimates of global temperature and atmospheric CO2 content based on geological and isotope evidence show little correlation between the two. Earth experienced a major ice age in the Ordovician Period when atmospheric CO2 was 4,000ppm, 10 times higher than now. Temperatures during the Cretaceous Period were rising and steamy, but atmospheric CO2 was declining.

Notice also, that for most of the time, Earth’s temperature was much warmer than now and life flourished. There were some major extinction periods, all associated with ice ages.


Berner, R.A. and Kothavala, Z, 2001, GEOCARB III: A Revised Model of Atmospheric CO2 over Phanerozoic Time, American Journal of Science, Vol. 301, February, 2001, P. 182–204

Scotese, C.R.,

Our current ice age – the past 420,000 years:

During the latter part of our current ice age, glacial-interglacial cycles occurred with a periodicity of about 100,000 years which correlates with the changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun as it changes from nearly circular to elliptical with an eccentricity of about 9%. Here we see an apparent correlation between temperature and CO2. The data are from ice cores collected at the Vostok station in Antarctica. The scientists working on the Vostok core noticed that temperature changes PRECEDED changes in CO2 concentration by about 800 years. Again, we see that CO2 doesn’t have much influence on temperature, but temperature has great influence on CO2concentration because temperature controls CO2 solubility in the ocean.


Petit, J.R., et al., 1999. Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica. Nature 399: 429-436.

Mudelsee, M, 2001. The phase relations among atmospheric CO2 content, temperature and global ice volume over the past 420 ka, Quaternary Science Reviews 20:583-589.

Siegenthaler, U. Et al., 2005. Stable carbon cycle-climate relationship during the late Pleistocene. Science 310: 1313-1317.

The Holocene – the past 10,000 years:

The Holocene represents the current interglacial period. For most of the past 10,000 years, temperature was higher than now. CO2 was fairly steady below 300ppm (vs over 400ppm now). There were cycles of warm and cool periods at a periodicity of 1200 to 1500 years. This periodicity correlates with the interplay of the several solar cycles. The sun itself goes through cycles of solar intensity and magnetic flux. When the cycles are in a strong phase, the amount of cosmic rays entering the atmosphere is reduced, there are fewer clouds to block the sun, so it is warmer. When solar cycles wane, as is beginning to happen now, more cosmic rays enter the atmosphere and produce more clouds which block the sun, so it becomes cooler. The number of sunspots (hence magnetic flux) varies on an average cycle of 11 years. There are also 87-year (Gliessberg) and 210-year (DeVriess-Suess) cycles in the amplitude of the 11-year sunspot cycle which combine to form an approximately 1,500-year cycle of warming and cooling.

The 20th Century:


The first part of the 20th Century experienced warming in the 1920s and 1930s comparable to current temperatures. According to NASA, atmospheric CO2 rose from 295ppm in 1900 to 311ppm in 1940. Major emissions from burning fossil fuels, however, commenced after WWII in the mid 1940s. The period 1940-1970 saw a CO2 rise of 311ppm to 325ppm. That period also showed global cooling to such an extent that climate scientists were predicting a return to glacial conditions. From about 1980 to 2000, CO2 rose from 339ppm to 370ppm and we had warming during that period until the super El Nino of 1997/1998. Some of this data has been “corrected” by NOAA.

Source: NOAA Climate at a glance

The 21st Century so far 

Microwave data from satellites converted to temperature.

Between the El Nino of 1997 and that of 2016, there have been temperature fluctuations but no net warming. Atmospheric CO2 rose from 363ppm to 407ppm today. It seems that there is no correlation between global temperature and CO2.

As I said at the beginning, while the CO2-induced greenhouse effect has some hypothetical warming potential, that warming is tiny and overwhelmed by the forces of natural variation. So far, I have seen no physical evidence to contradict my contention.

Source :

See also: Evidence that CO2 emissions do not intensify the greenhouse effect

More March Madness – AZ Star blames human-caused climate change for March heat

On Sunday, April 30, the Arizona Daily Star published a front-page story by Tony Davis which proclaimed “Greenhouse gases called a factor in March heat.” (Link to online version)

The story begins: “Human-caused climate change was at least partly to blame and probably mostly to blame for Tucson’s record-setting March heat, says a researcher with expertise in this field.”

This story is another example of speculation based on computer modeling and cherry-picked data rather than physical evidence. The Star consulted Dr. Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute who analyzed possible factors for explaining Tucson’s March temperatures. “He concluded that long-term temperature trends point almost certainly to human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions as a factor. The unresolved question, he said, is how big of a factor they are.” The article provides no physical evidence to support that conclusion.

Ignoring the high temperatures during the 1900s to 1930s, van Oldenborgh examined the record beginning in 1950 and found “a clear upward trend in the March high temperatures started in the middle 1970s.” (See my article: March 2017 – Hottest Ever in Tucson? for earlier temperature data. That article shows Tucson’s temperatures steadily rising, probably due to the urban heat-island effect, while temperatures in rural Tombstone remained level.)

From the Star: “Looking across Southern and Central Arizona high temperatures for March, van Oldenborgh found they seem to be warming across the region but that Tucson’s temperatures are rising faster than in nearby cities Casa Grande and Willcox.”

“The urban heat-island effect often accounts for differing temperatures between larger and smaller cities. But van Oldenborgh said he tried to account for such differences by focusing his analysis on daytime high temperatures, not nighttime lows that are most commonly affected by the heat island effect.” So he didn’t study the heat island effect.

Oldenborgh looked at computer models. One model set “showed that March high temperatures have risen at a point near Tucson at about 2.5 times the rate the global average temperature has risen since about 1950. The model shows that is the local effect of global warming.” (A new term: local global warming?) The other model set “showed that Tucson has received on average less long-term warming than shown by the first model.”

The article contained much “expert” speculation, but from the material presented, I see no physical evidence justifying the conclusion nor the headlines that could attribute the high March temperatures to carbon dioxide emissions. If it was not just a quirk of natural variation, then maybe Tucson has its own evil cloud of carbon dioxide hovering above the city. Of course, there was lots of hot air expelled by local politicians in March.

In my opinion, this type of story is, to put it politely, junk science, designed to stir up alarm about a subject that has become purely political. It is not really news, but propaganda.

Here is the temperature record from the USHCN weather station at the University of Arizona. The top red line shows March high temperatures. The other lines show a slow rise consistent with the urban heat island effect. Had van Oldenborgh used this more complete record, his “clear upward trend” would have disappeared.

See also:

Evidence that CO2 emissions do not intensify the greenhouse effect

Also look at this story from 2012: MILD WINTER MAKES MARCH MADNESS