Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Pastel mud tubes on limestone wall

with 13 comments

Click for greater size and clarity.

“Little lamb, who made thee?” asked William Blake in 1789. In 2012 I’d like to ask what made these narrow tubes on the wall of a limestone overhang in Austin’s Great Hills Park. I saw no builders or residents when I took this picture on July 23, but I’m assuming some species of mud dauber wasp had created this pastel cliff dwelling, now abandoned, like the much larger one at Mesa Verde that I wasn’t reminded of at the time, but that I have been since I put together this post.

UPDATE: In 2014 I finally got to visit Mesa Verde.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 14, 2012 at 6:01 AM

13 Responses

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  1. They look different than the mud-dauber nests around here, but as you say, it could be a different species. I just read that the tubes are made up of individual chambers, and the holes suggest a multitude of new mud-daubers making their way into the world from those chambers.

    In any event, they’re also much prettier than the nests around here. I like your Mesa Verde reference – the colors do look Southwestern.


    August 14, 2012 at 7:14 AM

    • I hadn’t realized that there are separate chambers inside. Your comment prompted me to read up a little more on mud dauber wasps. One source said that it’s the females that create the tubes, while the males guard the tubes from predatory and parasitic insects.

      I wonder if the greater prettiness that you find in this set of tubes compared to the ones near the coast is due to the prevalence of limestone here in the Hill Country.

      Why I hadn’t made the connection to Mesa Verde until I was putting together this post, I don’t know, but it certainly seems apt now. I wish I could get to Mesa Verde as easily as I can get to Great Hills Park.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2012 at 7:30 AM

  2. Steven, it looks more like “Tigre, tiger burning bright…” part of the same poem sequence by Blake… with the stripes. You always bring us something so unusual to ponder and wonder about. Many thanks for this post… Just wonderful.

    Merrill Gonzales

    August 14, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Merrill. You’ve got a good imagination to make the visual and literary connections the way you did.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2012 at 1:35 PM

  3. Fascinating and beautiful. I enjoyed the comparison to Mesa Verde – another admirable feat of architecture.

    Cindy Kilpatrick

    August 14, 2012 at 8:21 PM

    • Thanks, Cindy. I hope to see Mesa Verde in person one of these days, even if it’s a thousand times as far away from me as the rock wall shown above.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2012 at 8:50 PM

  4. That is really an interesting looking conglomeration. My first thought was of a tiger painting!

    Michael Glover

    August 14, 2012 at 9:17 PM

  5. Hmmm, they look a lot like the termite mounds we saw in Australia, layers and layers of tubes and trails made from mud. On the other hand, it looks like an ocarina (clay flute) gone wild! I will be interested in hearing if you get confirmation of the “builders”


    August 15, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    • Pictures I’ve found on the Internet of certain types of mud dauber wasps’ nests make me think that’s probably what this is. In any case, I like your description of “an ocarina gone wild!”

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 15, 2012 at 7:56 PM

  6. Hi Steve, this is a very attractive and interesting example of critter construction. They look like these organ pipe mud dauber tubes except for the holes. I am assuming the holes are made by the hatched young? Fascinating! http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/organ-pipe_mud_dauber.htm


    December 21, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    • It is fascinating, and like you I assume the holes are made by the hatched young escaping from the tubes. This location isn’t the easiest to get to—it entails walking a good distance up a creek bed when the water isn’t too deep—but I check it out a couple of times a year and can report that as of a month ago the abandoned tubes were still there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2014 at 9:18 AM

  7. […] more than a hundred feet to the right of the formations shown here are the mud dauber wasp tubes some of you may remember from five years ago. Two years after that, I showed something that […]

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