This Cuckoo’s Offspring Depend on a Mud Dauber Wasp

Cuckoo Wasp (Chrysis angolensis)
Cuckoo Wasp (Chrysis angolensis)

I spotted a pretty little metallic insect on the railing by the door the other day.  I took a few photos, assuming that it was a one of the sweat bees that visit the Wild Poinsettias which are just a few feet away.  I did find it odd that a bee would be crawling along the railing and the side of the house.

When I brought the photos up on the computer I realized that this was not a bee at all, but a wasp…specifically, a cuckoo wasp.  I’ve met a cuckoo wasp or two scurrying along the leaves of the groundsel trees (Baccharis halimifolia) out back.

The bright metallic coloring is eyecatching
The bright metallic coloring is eyecatching

Cuckoo Wasps comprise the Chrysididae Family in the Bee/Ant/Wasp/Sawfly Order (Hymenoptera).

“Chrysidids are parasites of other insects, or more parasitoids, which means that their activity – in most cases – brings death to their hosts; some species are also cleptoparasites, which means that they use the food carried on by the host as resources for their larvas”

I identified my find as a member of the Chrysis genus and ultimately settled on angolensis as the species.  Interestingly enough these cuckoo wasps don’t sting.

“Chrysis angolensis, an introduced species native to the Old World, but now widespread in the eastern states. They are stingless parasites of mud dauber wasps.” Eric R. Eaton, principal author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America

What is so enticing about those shutters?
What is so enticing about those shutters?

I was curious why this particular one was hanging out on the patio.  I observed his interest in the shutters, occasionally crawling up under the slats.

Hmmm, a Mud Dauber Wasp likes the shutter slats too
Hmmm, a Mud Dauber Wasp likes the shutter slats too

The next day I was out on the patio when I saw a Black and Yellow Mud Dauber (Sceliphron caementarium) headed up under a slat of a different set of shutters.  A light bulb went off in my head.  That’s why the cuckoo wasp was hanging out on the patio.  She’s looking to take over a nest. That’s also how I settled on which species of cuckoo wasp for my identification.

Must be building a nest
Must be building a nest

The mud dauber was busy as a bee.  Flying back and forth.  The mud nest is up behind the top slat of the shutters so I couldn’t make out if she was still building or if she was carrying spiders to provision her nest.  Needless to say, I watched for a while capturing the encounter with less than stellar photos.  They are fast and the afternoon light under the patio cover doesn’t make for quality photos.

Maybe it was one of the ones I spotted back in the pond bed last May gathering building materials
Maybe it was one of the mud daubers I spotted back in the pond bed last May gathering building materials

I was excited to actually see the cuckoo wasp fly in and slip up under the slat while mom dauber was doing whatever it is she is doing in her hidden enclave.  There seemed to be a slight tussle with dauber legs appearing fighting mad as they came out between the slats. The dauber spent a lot of time fussing about after the meet up with the cuckoo.  I never did see where the cuckoo wasp went.

Black and Yellow Mud Dauber (Sceliphron caementarium)
Black and Yellow Mud Dauber (Sceliphron caementarium)

Mud Daubers can and do sting, but to me don’t seem particularly aggressive. I’ve been nose to nose with them while they feed at flowers, but truthfully, this is my first nose to nose with their nest.  And yet, she didn’t seem the least bit bothered by my presence.

As you can see, the house needs a good pressure washing, but I hate to upset the critters’ choice of habitat.  The cleaning crew will be coming within the next few weeks so I hope that whoever is nesting completes their lifecycle.  I’m betting that the pressure washer man will hike up his rates if I request that he wash AROUND the mud nests and little pots that dot the siding.   Being a shepherd for the wildlife is tough and timing is everything.

References:

Bugguide.net

Chrysis.net

Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America (preview)

Sceliphron caementarium http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio210/s2012/bain_mega/Index.htm, part of Multiorganisms site by University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Students.

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