Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Wonderful World of Wasps

I remember as a child learning that wasps were bad. Every nest needed to be erradicated, sprayed with heavy-duty pesticides, then removed. They MIGHT sting. Just the possibility makes them bad. Well, I may not convince all of you, but I would like to share with you a bit about what amazing creatures they really are. So today I am going to cover three species I find fascinating.

Black and Yellow Mud Dauber, Sceliphron caementarium is a beautiful and agile creature. This one I found near our pond gathering mud for its nest. The second part of its name caementarium means "builder". This is the wasp that builds the cylindrical mud structures on the side of your garage or house. The female wasp will find spiders and parasitize them. She carries them back to her mud nest and stuffs them inside. She then lays an egg on the spider and seals it in. When the young wasp larva emerges, it has a fresh meal. Not a great way to die for Mr. Spider!

I challenge any human to build such pefectly cylindrical shapes with their hands. It would be a difficult feat. But could you even imagine doing it with your mouth? These wasps fly to the soft mud, scoop up a mouthful, fly back to their nest and form perfectly shapes tubes with their mouth. Amazing! Another fact, these wasps rarely sting.

On the same day I captured the image of the mud dauber, I found this beautiful creature about 20 feet away. It was snacking on a Marsh Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. This is a Great Golden Digger Wasp, Sphex ichneumoneus. It was in constant motion.

The females will dig burrows that are almost vertical. They will then construct cells radiating out from a central tunnel. Each tunnel is filled with crickets, camel crickets, and katydids. An egg is laid on the prey in each tunnel. When the larva hatches out, it will have a ready-made orthopteran meal. Talk about room service!

This beautiful wasp was found by my buddy Linsi, here in Indianapolis. She is now in Australia and you can follow her blog here. She asked me to ID it for her. I was having a bit of trouble, so I asked Eric Eaton for a some help. He knew right away that it was a Spider Wasp, Tachypompilus ferrugineus. It has a beautiful, rich rusty-colored body offset with black iridescent wings. Ferrugineus is Latin for "rusty", a very fitting name.
A spider wasp will sting the spider in a ferrocious battle, then drag the parasitized victim quite a ways back to its underground nest. Note its long legs, which is a characteristic of spider wasps. I am guessing the long legs aide in dragging the victims. The female spider wasp then lays an egg on the spider and again, the larva will have a fresh meal. Poor spider!

All of these wasps are a valuable part to the circle of life. They are an important part of nature's checks and balances. Not all wasps will attack, so with caution one can enjoy some of the world's most fascinating creatures.


Scott said...

Good stuff, Janet. I admire wasps, though I know little about them. My favorite, at this point, has to be the Cicada Killer, which has similar life cycle habits to the others that you mention.

ramblingwoods said...

Wonderful post. I've only recently expanded my interest in insects beyond butterflies and taking photos. This is great information to have...Michelle

Adrienne in Ohio said...

Hi, Janet. Love your blog! I'm having trouble feeling sorry for the spiders--not my favorite critters. I'm glad you did a post about these fascinating wasps. We have a nest of the large irridescent mud wasps (reminds me I need to look up their name) in the opening of the storm sewer drain along our front curb. It's rather amusing to watch people make a wide berth or stop in the middle of the street to watch them flying in and out. I've seen the wasps carrying grasshoppers nearly twice their size. Amazing creatures!

Michelle said...

I love to see people admire a "scary" bug. :) Cheers!

dAwN said...

Great info Janet..
thanks..Its nice that you can enlighten others to why insects..are important..and not always harmful!