The BugLady has been stalking invertebrates that hang out on the east wall of the Field Station lab. The wall is painted cinderblock that warms up in the morning and probably keeps some heat as it gets shaded in the afternoon. Grass grows right up to the edge of the building. The BugLady hypothesizes that bugs can enjoy the residual warmth without getting fried by the sun, because she sees some small critters on the north wall but very few on the bright south wall. She found some familiar faces and some new ones—plant-eaters and an array of carnivores that come to collect the herbivores.
The Black and Yellow Mud Dauber is a common, native wasp that occurs in meadows and gardens from Canada to the West Indies and which has hitched a ride from North America to Europe and Australia. BYMDs build nests from mud, while other species of sphecids may nest in vegetation or in abandoned cavities. As each cell nears completion, the wasp hunts for and paralyzes invertebrates (spiders, in the case of the BYMD) to provision the nests.
It’s a good thing that the BugLady doesn’t have nearby neighbors (or a Home Owners’ Association) who might be alarmed about someone who turns on the porch light and then creeps around taking pictures of porch critters at midnight.
To attract Giant Ichneumon Wasp two ingredients are necessary; first, a dead tree, and second, a distant GIW relative, a primitive wasp called a pigeon horntail. GIW larvae are parasitoids. They eat other insects, slowly, starting with non-essential structures and ending with essential organs, so that the host stays alive until the parasitoid is ready to pupate. In this case, the unfortunate victim is the larva of the pigeon horntail that is developing in a chamber in the rotting wood.
The BugLady had a professor years (decades) ago who used to say “Don’t just tell them what it is, tell them ‘What about it?’” Here is the second installment of miscellaneous bugs with brief biographies—insects about whom the BugLady can’t find many “What about it’s.”
The Great Black Wasp (GBW) is decorated at one end by heavy-duty mandibles that allow her to hang onto her prey and, toward the other end, by a narrow constriction/stalk at the top of a stinger-tipped abdomen. GBWs appear in mid-to-late summer, in fields and meadows throughout the U.S. except the Pacific Northwest. The wasp is also called the Katydid Hunter and Steel-blue Cricket Hunter.
These lovely Tiphiid wasps sipping nectar on goldenrods and other prairie wildflowers and doing a bit of pollinating on the side. Some species of tiphiids have been imported to combat Japanese beetles and other pest scarabs. The female doesn’t bring food to her egg; she brings her egg to food. When the female wasp locates a grub in the ground, she lays an egg on/near it. Some smaller tiphiids actually crawl underground to accomplish this. Although the adults are vegetarians, their offspring are confirmed carnivores.
American Pelecinid Wasps are relatively common from Argentina through Canada, in woodlands, grasslands and gardens, from mid-summer to early fall. APWs are whip-thin, shiny, and black, with extra long antennae. A female may measure almost 2 ½ inches long, and her abdomen is five times the length of the rest of her body; males are only about an inch long. The diet of adult APWs is nectar, perhaps supplemented by some pollen and water. Their larvae follow the parasitoid path.
Cuckoo Wasps are found worldwide except in Antarctica. There are about 230 species north of the Rio Grande, and California is especially cuckoo-wasp-rich. The name refers to their habit of depositing their eggs in other insects’ nests; a strategy practiced by birds like the Old World Cuckoos. The larvae of some species of cuckoo wasps feed on the larvae of the nest-builder, usually another wasp, a bee, a silk moth or a walking stick.
Horntails are often called “wood wasps,” probably because their eggs are laid in wood, and their young spend both their larval and pupal stages there. Horntails practice “complete metamorphosis,” going through an egg stage, a larval (eating) stage and a pupal (resting/changing) stage before emerging as a very different-looking adult.