The Yellow Jacket and the Owlflies

Southern Yellowjacket with Owlfly Larvae
Southern Yellowjacket with Owlfly Nymph

In the middle of a patch of Bidens alba, I noticed a Southern Yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa) sitting on a dried stalk of one of the Flatsedges (likely Cyperus sp.).  This wasp seemed to be intensely cleaning its face.

Flatsedge. The arrow indicates where I spotted the owlflies
Flatsedge. The arrow indicates where I spotted the owlflies

While most wasps don’t concern me, I’m not inclined to get too close to Yellowjackets because they are one of the reasons wasps get such a bad name.  An extremely aggressive species, they will attack in groups if you get too close or accidentally encounter one of their nests.  And Yellowjackets are capable of stinging multiple times, so I steer clear.  They build both terrestrial (in the ground) and aerial nests, so look every which way if you see them in the area to avoid a dangerous encounter.

Wasp is munching on the babies. HORRORS!
Wasp is munching on the owlfly babies. HORRORS!

Alas, the behavior of this guy got the better of me so, with no worker friends in sight, I reached in with the camera to take a photo or two. I had hopes that I’d be able to figure out what was going on when I enlarged it on the computer screen.

You can see the holes in the white eggs where the larva emerged from
You can see the holes in the white eggs where the larva emerged from

Turns out I didn’t even need to wait to get into the house because the yellow jacket noticed my presence and decided to fly off.  That’s when I saw the tiny egg casings on the back of that thin piece of dried sedge. Scads of tiny owlfly larvae had recently hatched and were clinging to the dried blade.

There were a gang of baby owlflies. To the left are trophic eggs which help protect the fertilized eggs from ant predation
There were a gang of baby owlflies. To the left are trophic eggs which help protect the fertilized eggs from ant predation

At first I thought that maybe the owfly gang had grabbed hold of the wasp with their powerful mandibles.  I was mad at myself for possibly distracting the owlfly nymphs and allowing the wasp the opportunity to free itself.  Like I said, I don’t like the Yellowjackets…they are bullies!

closeup of owlfly larva
closeup of owlfly nymphs

Ultimately, I saved the owlflies because in reality, the Yellowjacket wasp was dining on the tiny little babies so I’m glad I scared it off.  Hopefully it won’t remember me and return with his or her posse.

Look at those mandibles!
Look at those mandibles!

Yellowjackets feed their own larva masticated (chewed) arthropods, so I guess the little owlflies were easy pickings.  Predators of Yellowjackets include armadillos and misguided humans with spray cans of poison.  Killing them really does a disservice to your garden though. According to UF-IFAS:

“These wasps perform a valuable service in destroying many insects that attack cultivated and ornamental plants.”

So, unless they are building in areas that are close to pathways or the house, let them live to provide non-toxic biocontrol which keep insects that may become pests in check.

As I’ve written in past articles, owlflies are a beneficial in both larval and adult stages.  To attract these guys it is important to leave some taller dried brush so they have a place to lay their eggs.

Adult owlfly from May 2014
Adult owlfly from May 2014

Don’t be a neat gardener at the expense of losing a chance at reproducing beneficials.  Dried brush, decomposing leaves, seed heads, dead trees and such are all VITAL players in providing sustenance for our creatures and keeping balance in our beautiful wildlife gardens.

References:

University of Florida’s Entomology and Nematology Department, Publication Number: EENY-81

National Wildlife Federation,  Nine-Banded Armadillo

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3 thoughts on “The Yellow Jacket and the Owlflies”

  1. I agree with Cindy — Whoo knew! I gladly look forward to the day I can retire and move to a warmer climate so that I can apply all that I have learned from your blogs! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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