Indianapolis Museum of Art beckons visitors to enter and explore. This institution is jam-packed with thousands of pieces of art of all kinds, and is a state treasure for the Hoosiers, and a national treasure for the rest of us.
I was invited here to give a talk on the subject of Nature as Art, and did that last Saturday. I greatly appreciate the invite from Chad Franer, who manages the museum's 152 acres of grounds, and the support of Tariq Robinson, who manages public programming for the museum. It was a great chance to dust off images of everything from Tufted Puffins to Fringed Gentians to American Lady butterflies to Wheelbugs, and offer up a pictorial traipse through the beauty of the natural world of the Americas. We had a good crowd, and they seemed to enjoy it.
We had set this gig up so that a walk on the grounds would follow, and I didn't know what to expect regarding the landscape. I was utterly blown away. The museum also functions as a park, and it was obvious that many Indianapolisites come to wander the grounds and bask in nature. Chad has artfully woven scores of native plants into the museum's grounds, which already was thick with lots of big native trees. The upshot is that we found oodles of interesting flora and fauna. They had limited the post-talk walk to 50 people, and we divvied the group up into two and rotated them between the museum staff and myself. We could have easily spent several hours working the grounds and I don't think anyone would have gotten bored. Essentially, the museum's grounds are an extension of the buildings' interiors: living art.
Our foray produced lots of notable flora and fauna, including one of our most charismatic insects. Chad had mentioned that a colony of a huge wasp known as a Cicada-killer was on the grounds, and I of course wanted to see the animals and share them with our group, and we did just that.
Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area, which is well known for the numbers of Sandhill Cranes that stop here in late fall and early winter. This area is a wonderful example of a Midwestern sand prairie and also sports some very interesting wetlands, and I wanted to photograph rare plants. Lo and behold, J-P is also loaded with Cicada-killers! This sandy grass parking area was full of them; sometimes 15 or 20 of the giant wasps were in view simultaneously. This was fabulous, as I had long wanted to insert myself into a colony at its peak of activity and try for images.
There is absolutely nothing, I mean nothing, to fear from these insects, especially the males. They are six-legged creampuffs; hymenopteran marshmallows. The males do appear daunting, and their large size and aggressive behavior could easily lead a person to fear them. But they pack no punch - males have no stinger. And a slight gesture in their direction usually sends them packing. Females do have a stinger, but they seemed even more passive and I suspect you would literally have to grab one and enfold it in your hand before it would sting.
Every now and then we would see a female wasp roar aloft and high into the canopy of the surrounding trees. Plenty of Lyric and Linne's cicadas were singing their unmusical droning melodies all about and they were the targets. Occasionally we'd hear the sharp loud distress buzz of a cicada; probably one under attack by a wasp.