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Some insects produce works of art with nests
 
Most people don’t think of insects as artists. However, as these six-legged creatures go about their daily lives, some end up creating things. A few humans consider these renderings art, or at least something of decorative value. 

One of the most common insect-created items that finds a place in our decorations is the bald-faced hornet nest. These grey-and-white mottled nests are created during the summer months. The nest is where the hornets raise the next generation. Each nest is established in the early summer by a queen hornet that has spent the winter hibernating in some protected place, such as leaves on the floor of a woodlot. 

Bald-faced hornet nests are constructed of a paper-like material made of chewed wood mixed with insect saliva. The number of hornets increases during the season, and the nest is enlarged to accommodate the growing multitude. By summer’s end, such a nest sometimes exceeds a basketball in size and might be home to nearly 700 adult hornets. Each of those hornets can sting and is prepared to do so, if something bothers the nest. That is why stirring up a hornet’s nest is never, ever a good idea. 

Wormwood is another insect-related item that could be considered art. As the name suggests, this is a wood product. Wood with this name has served as a food source for insect larvae and the feeding scars remain. Many of the insects that cause wormwood are beetles. 

Some wormwood creators are called bark beetles. This name reflects that they feed just under the bark in the cambium layer of the tree. The infamous elm bark beetle, which transmits the Dutch elm disease, is an example. 

The emerald ash borer is another beetle that feeds under the bark of the tree. This small, bright-green insect is classified in the family Bupresidae. Another type of beetle with similar feeding habits, which also creates wormwood, is the long-horned beetle. These beetles have long antennae - appendages sometimes called horns - and are members of the family Cerambycidae. 

But watch out; everything called wormwood is not insect-related. For instance, tree logs that lie submerged in water for a period of time can be damaged by a mollusk called the teredo worm, and the result is termed wormwood. 

There is also a plant known as wormwood, but the name has nothing to do with insects. This plant, Artemisia, is the source of an anise-flavored spirit known as absinthe. 

Some people have enlisted insects to help create works of art. One approach is called maggot art. Here’s how it works. Fly maggots are dipped in nontoxic paint and then allowed to crawl on paper. As you can imagine, these maggots leave a colored trail as they go. Several maggots dipped in different colors and released on the same paper results in - well, maggot art! 

Steven R. Kutcher has created a gallery of bug art. Kutcher creates his work, or rather has insects create the work, by dipping their six little feet in paint and then letting them go for a stroll on a canvas. Kutcher has enlisted the aid of several species of insects in this endeavor, including darkling beetles, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, honey bees and butterflies. As an insect wrangler for Hollywood movie producers, Kutcher got the idea for such art when Steven Spielberg requested that he create fly tracks for a movie scene. 

West Lafayette, Ind., resident and clay sculptor Linda LeMar often creates sculptures inspired by what she sees in nature. In one such sculpture, LeMar has incorporated nests of organ-pipe mud dauber wasps. These mud daubers use wet soil to create nests that resemble the pipes of a church organ, hence the common name of the insect. 

Each pipe contains a number of individual cells, which the mud daubers provision with spiders as a food source for the developing baby wasps. The wasps spin a cocoon in the fall, and the following spring chew through the cell wall to emerge and start a nest of their own. That is why old nests have round holes in the side of many cells. 

LeMar collected abandoned nests of some mud daubers and tested them to see if they would hold up during the kiln firing process used to create clay sculptures. The nests survived, and LeMar incorporated some into a sculpture, as the hair and arms of a human figure. How is that for an insect and an artist teaming up to produce a work of art? 

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Tom Turpin may write to him in care of this publication.
5/2/2013