As you can see, it's part of a wasp nest. The top image shows what surprised me: instead of hanging from the bottom of a branch somewhere, it's attached to the roots of the grass I was removing from the vegetable garden. That is, the paper nest had be constructed completely underground. I'm used to seeing wasp nests above ground, in trees or under the eaves of my garage, like this one, which I excised from our apple tree one autumn a few years ago and have been keeping in a sealed plastic box because it was just such a fabulous specimen:
Now, you may have known this all along, but it simply never occurred to me that wasps might go to all the trouble to excavate an underground chamber and then go ahead and make this elaborate paper structure as well. I suppose I just assumed that what with the paper and the stings, wasps wouldn't bother to dig like this. And yet they do, and I feel richer for having found that out first-hand, rather than from a book or a blog, as much as I like books and blogs.
I recall the same sort of experience a few years ago, lying on the grass and happening to notice a bee landing nearby carrying a piece of a leaf, before it disappeared into a tiny burrow in the ground. I was astonished. I had, of course, heard all about leafcutter ants, and their marvellous underground fungus farms, but somehow I had never heard of leafcutter bees. So I promptly went and looked them up, and it turns out they're very important pollinators for many crops. A few years later, I was replacing some rotten boards on our deck, and found tunnels lined with leaves, and packed with yellow powdery deposits I assume was pollen, stored for the bee's young. (Yes, singular possessive "bee's"; apparently leafcutter bees are a solitary species.) I wish I had taken a picture.
While I had the camera out for the wasp nest, I also took a couple of other shots of delightful discoveries I happened upon today, though neither quite so surprising to me as learning that wasps built paper nests underground. After all, I knew that robins ate worms, though I was puzzled at why this one seemed to be just idly sitting there on the wire for so long without either eating its prey or taking it home to feed its chicks.
I also knew that chives spread like weeds, but I was still pleased to find this one, almost as it if had been posing for a photo. Usually I find it disguised as tall grass, hiding from the lawnmower behind the raspberry bushes.
So much for today's self-indulgent photo essay.