Spring Nesting Season Isn’t Just for Birds

Hate pesticides?  Concerned with caterpillars devouring your plants?  Mother Nature has a natural solution that you may not be aware of.

Red-marked Pachodynerus Wasp chooses a dried stem of Bidens alba to set up a nest.
Red-marked Pachodynerus Wasp chooses a dried stem of Bidens alba to set up a nest.

I was opening the drive gate and next to the post where it locks when open I noticed some dead brush from Bidens alba being utilized by a mason wasp as housing for her nest.  It brought back a memory from the first time I spotted this behavior some years back. Time to dust off the lost article and post it again.

Dateline:  March 23, 2012*

A week or two ago I was out and noticed some activity by the Chickasaw Plum sapling I planted this past fall. The tree is staked with a hollow bamboo stick where an attractive Red and Black Mason Wasp (likely Pachodynerus erynnis) was busy. As I looked closer, I saw that it was dragging a caterpillar into the center of the bamboo. So, this Mason Wasp, also known by the common name Red-marked Pachodynerus is beneficial in the garden since larval stages develop as a parasitoid of caterpillars. It is also beneficial as an adult performing minor pollination duties as it feeds on nectar and pollen.

They paralyze the caterpillar by stinging them
They paralyze the caterpillar by stinging them

A Mason Wasp is one of the solitary wasps so you really don’t have to fear being stung unless you grab the poor thing. Being solitary, they don’t swarm and they don’t tend to defend their nests. This little bugger didn’t give me a second look, even though I was circling with the camera and was very close.

Hollow tube-like sticks provide nest areas for solitary bees and wasps...place some around your garden
Hollow tube-like sticks provide nest areas for solitary bees and wasps…place some around your garden

Mason wasp parents build mud cells and lay a single egg in each cell placing it on a caterpillar. They capture caterpillars by paralyzing them and the family of choice is Noctuidae, which includes cutworms, armyworms and other destructive pests. They also have been known to feed on beetle larvae.

Dragging prey which will feed the wasp's own larvae
Dragging prey which will feed the wasp’s own larvae

I am waiting for an identification confirmation on the caterpillar that I believe is the larvae of a Pyralid/Crambid moth. After they get the nest set up and the eggs laid, they seal it up with mud which in Florida really is damp sand. Now we wait.

Sealed with sand-like mud. Now we await the miracle of birth
Sealed with sand-like mud. Now we await the miracle of birth

This is integrated pest management at it’s best. Why use pesticides when Mother Nature will perform admirably if given the chance.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 23, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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