Ooops! Anatomy of a Potter Wasp Nest

Dateline:  June 28, 2013*

Potter Wasp (Eumenes fraternus)

I feel horrible.  I guess I will be up for only 2nd degree bugslaughter since I didn’t realize what I was doing.  There was no intent, I swear, Judge.

Potter Wasp Nests

Yesterday I noticed three potter wasp nests on the brick skirting around the bottom of the house.  They look like pots similar to what you would see at a ceramics store before the painting and firing of the clay, only in miniature. Without any thought I used the screwdriver in my hand to scrape these brood cells off the bricks since they were awfully close to the door.  All three “popped” open and I was shocked to see scads of caterpillars and what I thought was beetle or fly larvae.

Holy Mackerel!

Well, as research would reveal the larvae likely were young potter wasps in the Eumenes genus, probably E. fraternus based on the way the nests were constructed.  Just minding their own business, working through complete metamorphosis.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know that until today.

Eumenes fraternus nest has a distinct pottery shape like a little jug

I’ll probably get a stay of execution because, as luck would have it, a hungry green anole showed up almost immediately upon the caterpillars being scattered.  He ate the evidence.  That potter nest must have rung like a dinner bell when I disturbed it.  At least my mistake made for a happy critter next up the food chain.  Hopefully it will be seen that way and I will avoid being fed to the mosquitoes.

Had I known the larva was a wasp, I would have moved it to a rearing box (or in my case, a screened Beanie Baby box) and tried to see it into adulthood.  Having now had this educational experience, in the future I’ll be a lot more careful about removing the little pots and will place them somewhere safe rather than attacking them with a screwdriver.

Put down the screwdriver lady! The larger green larva on the left is the wasp larva, others are various caterpillars

Although I doubt there would ever be a next time since it appears that momma potter wasps aren’t protective of the nest, so you don’t have to worry about some angry, aggressive insect with the stinger coming after you if you walk by.  They are capable of stinging; they just don’t really bother.  Now that I know that, I’d just leave the little pots alone.  One can never have too many wasps to help with pollination.  The adults are nectar feeders.

The wasp larvae was at the top of the pot until the crazy human came along and flipped open it’s housing

When I see how many caterpillars were provisioned in those three tiny pots, I’m amazed.  The potter wasp lays an egg suspended from the “ceiling” of the cell by a filament. She then gathers a bunch of caterpillars that she paralyzes and puts them into the brood cell so her larva will have something to feed off.  Then she seals up the entry with mud.

A different species shows how to capture and disable a caterpillar

This is an example of how nature stays in check.  Had all those caterpillars remained on a shrub or plant, there surely would have been noticeable chewing damage.  Had someone come along and treated the shrub with pesticides, there would be less pollinators, both butterflies and wasps, and fewer baby birds because there would be no caterpillars as food.   My mistake also destroyed a potential home for others, as older mud cavities are reused by Leafcutter Bees.

Luckily, if you create habitat as Mother Nature intended, the food chain works like it is suppose to work.  There are enough caterpillars to turn into moths or butterflies, but there are also enough to grow wasps, birds and whatever other critters find the squiggly things tasty, such as my anole buddy, who probably thought he died and went to heaven.

Another beneficial lesson about a beneficial in my beautiful wildlife garden.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on June 28, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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