Category Archives: Pollinators

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.


National Moth Week 2015: Central Florida

Dateline: July 24, 2015*

Well, another year has passed and we are in the midst of National Moth Week. It started back in 2012 and I have reported on moths I find at my place each year (2012, 2013, 2014). In keeping with that tradition, I am reporting this year on some different moths that have made an appearance at my place for 2014/2015. While the list is not all-inclusive it will give you some idea of what I find and, if I know, what plants attract them to my garden. There are a great many of repeat visitors from years past and several that I haven’t had time and/or success in identifying.

Clouded Crimson Moth on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom

In 2014 I reported on my first encounter with an adult Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae). The larval host has had a recent scientific name change to Oenothera simulans from Gaura angustifolia from which the butterfly species appears to have been named. Southern Beeblossom is still the common name. I just wonder if the poor butterfly is going to need identity therapy. 😉

Palm Leaf Skeletonizer

Another new-to-me adult was the Palm Leaf Skeletonizer (Homaledra sabalella). Prior to this year I had only encountered the damage of the larvae to my Cabbage Palmetto (Sabal palmetto). Since I only have one of these trees I do clip off the severely affected fronds since it is a young tree and I don’t want it to meet its demise. I have been doing a little research on the moth and Chalcid Wasps are indicated as potential predators. I have seen adult Conura sp. wasps at my place and Horismenus ignotus is reported as “likely the primary parasite of the larva” (source: Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington pg. 76-7) and a Tachinid fly may be a parasite of the larva. I’m on the lookout now for these natural predators with my fingers crossed.

A second Palm Skelentonizer shows the antenna
Palm Leaf Skeletonizer can do extensive damage to the fronds of cabbage palms

This week I spotted a Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) shown at the start of this article. A brightly colored and diurnal (day flying) moth that is another personal favorite. According to HOSTS database, larval hosts are in the Rubiaceae family of plants, including Spermacoce brachysepala and S. tetraquetra. While I don’t have those specific species at my place, I do have two similar buttonweed species in that genus.

As with many moths, getting a photo of the Florella Moth was somewhat tricky. Many moth species are inclined to land on the underside of plant leaves and are quick to fly when the big bad photographer stoops down to get a shot. I lucked out that after a three minute chase, it landed on the leaf of some Bidens alba which was somewhat taller so I didn’t have to bend so far.

Mournful Sphinx on Bidens alba

Mournful Sphinx Moth (Enyo lugubris) larvae feed on plants in the grape family (Vitaceae) including Vitus, Ampelopsis, and Cissus species. Still haven’t found a caterpillar for this species, but I see where HOSTS database also includes Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) as a potential host, so I’ll have to start paying close attention since that native vine is also growing at my place.

Diaphania Moth

Diaphania Moth (Diaphania modialis) Host: Creeping Cucumber (Melothria pendula). This poor preyed-upon specimen is still the only one I have encountered.

Puss Moth Caterpillar DON’T TOUCH!

Southern Flannel Moth (Megalopyge opercularis) a.k.a. Puss or Asp caterpillar moth is polyphagous (eating many different species of plants) including oak, citrus, and at my place: wax myrtle or the redbud that is shown in the picture. The caterpillars of this species contain toxic spines so I remove them from the areas of the yard that the dogs have access to in order to prevent potential envenomation. I tried to raise one in a breeding container and it moved to cocoon stage, but never emerged and the cocoon began to disintegrate. Perhaps I’ll see an adult some time in the future.

Groundsel Plume Moth (Hellinsia balanotes) a.k.a. Baccharis Borer Plume Moth uses Groundsel Bush a.k.a. Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia) as the host. I’ve plenty of larval hosts for these babies.

Samea sp. Nectaring on Bidens Alba

This Samea sp. may be a Salvinia Stem-borer (S. multiplicalis) or Assembly Moth (S. ecclesialis). Both are found in my locality and are difficult to distinguish.

common name of the caterpillars is grapeleaf roller

A Crambid Snout Moth (Desmia sp.) is another hard to identify to species. It may be D. funeralis or D. maculalis which use the same species of hosts as the above mentioned Mournful Sphinx. D. deploralis is another possibility since I have Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa), a Florida Native Plant which was documented as a host via a entry.

Coffee anyone?

Since I mentioned Wild Coffee, always happy to share a photo of the tiny and beautiful Coffee-loving Pyrausta Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) moth that also feeds on it. Here it is nectaring on Tickseed (Coreopsis sp.), the state wildflower of Florida.

This Puss Moth caterpillar cocoon never produced an emerged adult.

There are thousands of beautiful moths, so check out what native plants fuel their needs and if you have the appropriate habitat, begin adding them to your beautiful wildlife garden to encourage these important beneficials who then fuel those higher up in the food chain.

Not yet identified. Do you recognize me?

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 24, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Just in Time for National Moth Week 2014

Dateline:  July 25, 2014*

The third annual National Moth Week is winding down.  This year it started last Saturday July 19 and runs through this coming Sunday, July 27, 2014.  The inaugural celebration was back in 2012 and I highlighted some of my favorite moths at the time in my weekly article.

Positioning the rearing container next to a nectar source for release

Moths serve as food for reptiles, birds and bats in adult and larval stages. In addition, the caterpillars host many species of wasps. With their vast numbers (scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species), they are major players in the food chain.
The pretty Clouded Crimson Moth climbs aboard

The last week in July has been designated as National Moth week. In my 2013 article, in addition to adult forms, I included pictures of two of the more unique caterpillars.  One was of the Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae).  That caterpillar looks like a very thin Monarch Butterfly larva.
Caterpillar on Southern Beeblossom

At that point in time I had never encountered an adult Crimson Moth. They apparently are nocturnal and I’m not up for the shining of lights on sheets in order to attract the swarms of moths that fly at night. I tend to attract more mosquitoes with that method and I can do without them. That isn’t to say that at some point I won’t be out there once I’ve photographed all the daytime members of the Lepidoptera order of Insects. If you see me dressed up in mosquito netting, you’ll know my night moth urge has arrived.

seems more interested in the petals than the nectar part
I spent all year trying to see if I could encounter the crimson moth, having seen countless caterpillars on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom (Oenothera simulans). I hoped to spot an adult laying eggs on this tall lanky wildflower that is native to the Southeast. Its range is from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Mississippi.

I was frustrated as all pictures showed me that this was one of the more beautiful moths and I so wanted to see one in the flesh.  So, this year I decided to take matters into my own hands and I put one of the caterpillars in a rearing container.

preparing for release
For the most part I am against captive home raising of butterflies and moths in order to try to “save them”. My belief is that a better way to save our insects is to plant native plants in the garden and stop all pesticide use.

I do however, believe it is a good thing to raise specimens of Lepidoptera for educational purposes.  Two reasons I can think of would be to determine what species a caterpillar will become or to show children the process of metamorphosis. If you only do it occasionally and release them when they emerge, you aren’t upsetting the natural life cycle and/or food chain.

So, I fed my captive caterpillar friend fresh flowers and leaves daily until it disappeared into the provided dirt and leaf litter in the bottom of the container.  While some moths spin their cocoons and hang from branches, this is one of many that pupate on the ground.

Doesn’t mind sharing with the other pollinators

I kept the screened container in a natural environment on the patio.  I checked daily to be sure that the paper towel I placed in the container was damp.  The afternoon rains pretty much splashed enough water onto the screen that my job of providing moisture for this stage of development was easy.

I was rewarded in about 10 days by the arrival of the most beautiful pink and white moth with enchanting big green eyes. The white and yellow headdress is pretty fancy too!

Just look at those BIG green eyes

After a brief photo shoot, I released it onto some Bidens alba that is an excellent pollen source.  After 15 minutes or so, I ushered it over onto the Beeblossom so it would feel at home.
This is a stem of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host. The coloring matches so will be a great hiding place

I’m thrilled I got to see the adult and hopefully I’ll see another some evening when I am outside and the lights are on.
hanging out a new growth of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host

When setting up your beautiful wildlife garden, think beyond the “butterfly” garden and consider the many other pollinators.  Determine which native plants will serve as hosts for moths, nectar for bees and flies and you might just get to see a moth that will give any butterfly a run for its money in the beauty department.
Another view on the new growth of its larval host

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 25, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Meet the Moths: It’s National Moth Week 2013

Dateline:  July 19, 2013*

National Moth Week is a global celebration of moths and biodiversity, being held the last week of July.

New this week: Spurge Spanworm Moth – (Oxydia vesulia) landed on the recycle bin

For 2013, that is July 20-28, 2013.  As you know, I love my bugs and reported on last years’ inaugural celebration of these important players in a garden.  Recently I have identified a few of my unknown moths and a couple of old standbys showed up for a photoshoot.

A favorite colorful, diurnal moth is Syngamia florella, the Red-waisted Florella Moth visits Bidens alba

I’ve talked diurnal moths in the past. Those fly during the day.  Often they are pretty enough to rival the beauty of butterflies.

Black-dotted Spragueia Moth (Spragueia onagrus) colors could rival most butterflies

I’ve talked about the importance of the caterpillars to the survival of other arthropods.  Judy Burris also highlighted some pretty interesting caterpillars recently.

Pale-edged Selenisa Moth (Selenisa sueroides) caterpillar is a favorite food for nesting wasps
But some survive to turn into interesting medium size moths (Pale-edged Selenisa) adult

There are tiny moths.

Stained Lophosis Moth (Lophosis labeculata)

There are HUGE moths, many of which produce silk as reported by Ellen Sousa.

Large Maple Spanworm (Prochoerodes lineola), tattered but still flying (note: not a silk moth)

And there are shiny moths:

Snowy Urola Moth (Urola nivalis)

I’ve tried to alleviate fears of some caterpillars decimating your trees with hints on how to control them in an environmentally sound way.

Bagworm Moth caterpillars cover themselves with debris to try and fit in with the landscape colors. Easily hand-picked and disposed of

How some dress up to disguise themselves from predators.

Some moth caterpillars emulate butterfly cats, such as this Clouded Crimson Flower Moth Caterpillar (Schinia gaurae) who looks like anorexic monarch larvae

There are moths that have unusual shapes:

Diamondback Moth (Plutella xylostella)

And some that have interesting markings:

Plume Moth

Some are in love:

Mating Plume Moths

Moth caterpillars feed birds, host wasps, and perform many important duties in the natural scheme of things. Adult moths serve as a food source for not only birds but for spiders and others as well.

Yellow Mocis Moth (Mocis disseverans)

Plant a few oaks, some wax myrtles and look up what other native plants in your location will serve as a larval plant for the deserving and beneficial moth.  And put on your party hat to join the festivities.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 19, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

National Moth Week

Dateline: July 27, 2012*

Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) is quite beautiful

It’s about time. This week we celebrate the First National Moth Week (July 23-29, 2012). Butterflies always get the Lepidoptera glory with their flashy colorful dazzle, but there are many more moth species than butterflies. A good many are nocturnal, there also are the diurnal, and some of them can give your basic butterfly a run for their money in terms of being colorful.

Many different angles of a looper moth. You can see how feathery the antenna of moths can be

Moths have feathery antenna, which is one of the ways they can be distinguished from the butterfly, which have clubbed antenna.

Coffee- Loving Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) works on pollination duties

Moths help with pollination, serve as food for reptiles, birds and bats so they certainly have their place in a biodiverse food chain and are deserving of their own special week to bring their importance in a wildlife garden to the forefront.

Ornate markings make some moths special

Take some time and turn on an outdoor light and explore our nighttime flying creatures. Or walk around the garden with an eye to the shrubs and ground and you might find some of the more beautiful day moths. They are cagey though. Moths tend to land upside down, under the leaves, making for a challenging photo op. Given the shear numbers of species, it can often be quite a challenge to identify them as well.

Turn on a light and you might attract some pretty beautiful noctural moths such as this IO Moth

Raising a silk moth can be quite an educational experience, as our own Ellen Sousa has documented. Our own Ursula Vernon has been privy to being in the presence of Imperial royalty. These are two of the more beautiful species.

Some moths oddly, don’t look like moths, such as this Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis)

So, pick a moth, any moth, and determine what its host plant might be. Just like butterflies, moths are generally quite specific about what the caterpillars will eat. Then provide the host plant and sit back and enjoy another of our wonderful winged creatures.  You’ll see the light!

Small Frosted Wave Moth (Scopula lautaria)

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 27, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

A Dozen Diurnal Moths

Dateline: August 13, 2015*

Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix)

Diurnal moths fly during the day rather than at night like the majority of moths.  Some are quite pretty and are often mistaken for butterflies.  One way to differentiate between the butterflies and moths is to look at the antenna.  Moths have feathered antenna and butterflies have clubbed ends.

So, here is a dozen diurnal moths that have visited my Central Florida yard from time to time.

Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix) uses Rabbitbells (Crotalaria rotundifolia) as a larval host in my garden:

Bella Moth nectaring on Bidens alba

Small Frosted Wave Moth (Scopula lautaria):

Frosted Wave Moth

Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae) uses Southern Beeblossom  (Oenothera simulans) as a larval host at my place:

Clouded Crimson nectaring on Bidens alba

Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) uses Rubiaceae family of plants, including Buttonweed (Spermacoce spp) as larval hosts:

nectaring on Bidens alba

Diaphania Moth (Diaphania modialis) Host: Creeping Cucumber (Melothria pendula):

Diaphania Moth on Bidens alba (are you beginning to see a pattern?)

Coffee-loving Pyrausta Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) host: Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa ) :

coffee moth nectaring on Tickseed (Coreopsis sp.), the state wildflower of Florida

Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis) Hosts: grasses, lichens, and spike-rushes (Eleocharis spp.):

scape moth nectaring on Saltbush; Look at those feathery antenna

Litter Moth (Idia americalis) larvae feed on lichens:

Litter moth

Milky Urola Moth  (Argyria lacteella):

Milky Urola nectaring on Saltbush

Snowy Urola Moth (Urola nivalis)  lavae feed on grasses; Ligustrum:

snowy urola moth

Yellow-Banded Wasp Moth (Syntomeida ipomoeae) Host: morning-glory (Ipomoea spp.):

wasp moth nectaring on Bidens alba

Black-dotted Spragueia Moth (Spragueia onagrus) hosts: Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia), Castanea pumila, Zea mays:

Spragueia moth resting on leaf of Bidens alba

Add some native larval host plants to attract these beauties and increase their populations your garden.

Larval host Resources:
HOSTS – a Database of the World’s Lepidopteran Hostplants
Butterflies and Moths of North America

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 13, 2015 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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 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.

Got Grubs? Help is on the Way

Dateline: August 3, 2012*

A gang of male Thynnid Wasps on dried sedge
A gang of male Thynnid Wasps on dried sedge

Ok, I know most of you aren’t lawn people…at least I hope that is the case given that a lawn is basically a biological desert from the standpoint of providing for wildlife. But we all get grubs, even those of us with meadows and I don’t know about anyone else, but the resulting May and June Bugs (Subfamily Melolonthinae) always freak me out. I still recall them buzzing and getting caught in my hair as a kid. Come to think of it, some kind of May/June Beetle (Phyllophaga sp.) did that very thing the other night when I took the dog out. And yes, I screamed like a little girl.

Male Five-banded Thynnid Wasp
Male Five-banded Thynnid Wasp

Enter my friend, the Five-banded Thynnid Wasp (Myzinum sp. possibly quinquecinctum). Back in 2009, when I was just starting out with my bug obsession, I found a gang of these guys waving in the breeze while clutching to some dried sedge. I was fascinated by their little hook, which reminded me of a “lobster claw” jewelry catch. These are the males of the species and the stinger looking thing is a pseudostinger a.k.a. a fake.

The pseudostinger reminds me of a jewelry clasp
The pseudostinger reminds me of a jewelry clasp

Males are rather long thin wasps, and my first reaction was that they have no waist (see top photo) and they seem to be the ones easily located for photoshoots. On close inspection of my photos, indeed the boy wasps do have a waist (see other photos).

Females are more robust. Shown on Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
Females are more robust. Shown on Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)

The larvae are parasitoids of white grubs, especially May Beetles (Phyllophaga spp.) Females lay one egg per grub in soil. Larvae hatch, penetrates host, first feeding on non-essential tissues, later feeding on essential organs and killing the host. Sounds a little like they are less than humanitarians, but heck, when it comes to the June Bugs, I’m not going to invoke the buggy Geneva Convention. Pupae overwinter in the soil and the adults emerge in early summer. I guess that’s why they were abundant in recent times.

Why they hang out on dried sedge is a mystery to me, since the adults are said to feed on pollen, although my recent gang has been waving in the breeze on some primrose willow (Ludwigia sp.). I’m guessing that dried sedge has some hidden pollen/nectar within. Gotta tell the butterflies about this!

a different view of the male
a different view of the male

Since grubs can eat the roots of plants other than lawns I’m sure you are concerned about controlling these pests. Before you reach for the manufactured “Grub Control” pesticides, consider eliminating all pesticides to allow for Mother Nature to take care of your garden naturally. For this task, the Thynnid Wasp is a welcome addition to my garden.

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 3, 2012 at the defunct national blog  beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Hot Diggity Wasps

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on October 13, 2013 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

I was taking my routine morning walk and headed back toward the pond.  As I approached the one spot where I have a good view of the turtles and fish, I heard a loud buzzing.  Something large, VERY large circled away from me, but quickly came back and landed on the ground.

Dragging her prey behind her
Dragging her prey behind her

How fun that it was to watch a Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) bringing a katydid to provision her nest in order to lay her eggs. The prey may have been a grasshopper, but, at any rate,  it was some sort of Orthoptera, an insect order that also includes crickets in addition to the other two.  Let’s just say jumping things.

This prey will serve as the food for the larvae that hatches and will grow into future Sphex wasps. Momma Wasp stings the prey to paralyze it with toxins.  She then flies, as this one did or if her prey is too big or heavy drags it to the nest.  This prey was much larger than the wasp itself but it still managed to fly it in.  Makes you wonder if katydids are hollow.

Very neat entryway
Very neat entryway

Prior to the capturing process, a nest is painstaking dug in a sunny location with Momma carefully digging out grains of sand or dirt, carrying it to the entrance between her arms and then flipping it underneath her body and between her legs.  Sounds like the digging method my Irish setter uses.  I’m betting it is a long process since I read that they create several tunnels off this main deep entrance.

She just left her prize unattended. Brave wasp with all the other visitors in my habitats
She just left her prize unattended. Brave wasp with all the other visitors in my habitats

These wasps have a fascinating provisioning behavior.  I was surprised to see her crawl into the nest leaving her jumping friend lying at the entrance.  Of course since it was paralyzed it didn’t have the ability to escape on its own.  Good for me as I was able to get a photograph or two, but I thought it odd that she would leave it exposed where another critter (looking up to the sky…no, not me) might come along and scoop it up as a ready-made meal.  Apparently this does happen, with birds being the likely suspects.

Research reveals that if the prey is moved further away (mean researchers they are) when Momma comes out, she will drag the prey back close to the entrance and once again pop in to check the nest prior to bringing the prey inside.  She will do this numerous times (REALLY mean researchers they were) despite the fact that it is the same exact prey that she initially caught.

The only thing I can think of is that she is so wary that something might infiltrate her house, even in the short time it takes to bring the prey back a few inches that she feels the need to double check that all is in order. Rather paranoid if you ask me, but hey, I’m not in the wasp business, so what do I know.  Heck, many humans have neurotic behavior (think checking two or three times to see if the windows are locked).  If Momma wasp wants to be super-careful with her nursery seems like she should be nominated for a mother of the year award rather than cast in the light of needing therapy.

Great Golden Digger Wasps are Pollinators too!
Great Golden Digger Wasps are Pollinators too!

Adults take nectar and aren’t at all aggressive.  All these years, the fear of wasps is turning out to be wasted anxiety.

Since the only prey of the Great Golden Digger Wasp are what one might consider pest species, and since it pollinates, it is definitely high on the beneficial list.

Spider Wasps provision nests with…you guessed it….spiders!
Spider Wasps provision nests with…you guessed it….spiders!

Another prey-dragging wasp is in the Pompilidae  Family: the Spider Wasp. A while back I observed what I believe to be a Blue-Black Spider Wasp (Anoplius spp.), Wolf Spider in tow.  A very BIG spider; much larger than the wasp itself.  All these wasp-types must work out.
She seems unconcerned with the large size. Must work out to build muscles
She seems unconcerned with the large size. Must work out to build muscles

This tenacious flying insect walking along the ground with its prize also fascinated me.  Now that I think about it, I’ve seen more spider wasps crawling around the ground looking like they are on a mission, than I have seen flying around the flowers.  Yet another wasp that has a set behavior in life.

The spider is likely a Wolf Spider
The spider is likely a Wolf Spider

Wasps are important players in the garden with their pest control and pollination duties, so don’t grab the bug spray out of fear.  Let them be to do their jobs and sit back to enjoy the show.

The baby wasps will be well fed with this big fella
The baby wasps will be well fed with this big fella