Garden Wasp

I’ve been too busy writing reports lately to post anything here, and for the rest of this month I will be doing fieldwork in Maine, with little or no free time or internet access.  So I thought I’d dash off a little something right now, in the gap between work and dinner.

This March, after several consecutive 80-degree days, I decided it was time to get started in the garden.  As I was digging around in the raised beds, I found this papery cocoon, 2 cm long:

It had a similar texture to the cocoon of a black and yellow mud dauber (Sceliphron caementarium), but was a little different (and not found in a mud nest), so I figured it belonged to some related kind of wasp.  I threw it into a container, covered it with some soil, and continued gardening.  Sitting there among all my other bags and jars, I quickly forgot what was in this unlabeled container of soil, until two months later when I noticed this wasp crawling around in it:

This is a wasp in the genus Ammophila, which like the black and yellow mud dauber belongs the family Sphecidae, known as the thread-waisted wasps (I think you can see why).  Ammophila species, like many wasps, dig holes in sandy soil and place at the bottom a paralyzed prey item, on which they lay an egg.  Various digging wasps use flies, beetles, spiders, grasshoppers, cicadas, or other prey items; Ammophila species use caterpillars. Unlike, say, cicada killers (Sphecius spp.), Ammophila adults do not leave conspicuous piles of soil next to their burrow entrances, because they carefully carry away the soil as they excavate.

Ammophila adults are often seen on flowers, and apparently the only one I had photographed previously was this one, which had fallen prey to a well-camouflaged crab spider (Thomisidae) while visiting some daisy fleabane (Erigeron):

When I set the newly emerged wasp on the stone walkway in front of the house to photograph it, it began wandering around and soon discovered the white splatter of a robin dropping, which, as so many other insects do, it found delicious.

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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3 Responses to Garden Wasp

  1. Troy Mullens says:

    Nice post and story. One of my favorite quotes that I use a lot.
    “The world is full of magic things,
    patiently waiting
    for our senses to grow sharper.
    ~W.B. Yeats”

  2. J Carty says:

    thanks for a great article on the black nd yellow mud dauber. I believe I have many of them in and around my wooden house. Can you tell me if the droppings resemble a black hard substance about the size of an ant. JC

    • This article is not about the black and yellow mud dauber, but in any case, I would not expect either wasp to have anything but liquid droppings. Black hard droppings the size of an ant make me think of mouse droppings, but I would have to see a photo to say anything with confidence.

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