Monday, March 7, 2011

Potter Wasp

It may seem strange to be writing about wasps when there is still snow and ice on the ground but what prompted me is a friend who last week gave me three very curious-looking wasp nests to pass along to a local outdoor education teacher. These are little round mud pots, smaller than a marble with an opening on one end and a sort of round flat lid on the other end.  
Potter Wasp Nests in glass jar.

My friend told me that her neighbor found these on the underside of an outdoor geranium leaf and gave them to her. I think the neighbor was afraid these were going to harm the plant. My friend put them in a jar where they hatched, each one hatching out a little wasp, a few hours apart. She released the wasps outside and kept the empty nest knowing it would be an interesting addition to the outdoor education centre.
In researching these pretty little mud pots, I found out they are the nests of the Potter Wasp (or Mason Wasp), from the family Eumenidae.  The name Potter wasp is derived from the shape of the mud nests they build. They are solitary wasps, considered to be beneficial garden insects.  After building the mud nest, they collect caterpillars or beetle larvae and paralyze them with their sting and place these in the nest to serve as food. They then lay a single egg. Later the developed adult will emerge by chewing its way out of the little nest pot. The adult feeds on flower nectar. There is a belief that Native Americans based their pottery designs on the forms of local potter wasp nests.  To read more about this wasp please check this site:
If you find these in your garden, please leave them undisturbed until the wasps hatch out. How magical is this, another secret life in the garden, under our very noses!

I made another discovery in my own garden last summer. A giant flying insect with a long tail landed on a deck post next to me as I was hanging the laundry. It looked like a cross between a dragonfly and a wasp. Laundry immediately forgotten, I quickly grabbed my camera and managed a couple of shots before it flew off.

It turned out to be the Giant Ichneumon parasitic wasp, species Megarhyssa atrata. The female wasp body is about 1.5” long and with a very long ovipositor (longer than 3” in my photo) at the end of the abdomen.
Ichneumons are another beneficial insect that prey on wood borers but they do not sting.  The females use their antennae to “feel” vibrations made by Horntail  Wasp larvae inside the wood, usually a tree.  When she locates a larva, she drills into the wood with her ovipositor.  When she senses the tip is in contact with the host larva, she ejects an egg and deposits it on the larva.  After the egg hatches, the young wasp larva feeds on the Horntail larva and pupates in the wood.  When mature, it chews its way out and begins life as an adult wasp.  Males are attracted to the “wood chewing” vibrations and many can be gathered around waiting to mate with an emerging female. How cool is that!
Wasp unknown species looking in the window. So pretty!
I always marvel at how little miracles of nature occur all around us while we remain unaware. In clearing out that messy area or dead wood in your garden you may also be destroying or removing very helpful garden friends and their habitat.  
Everywhere I look in my garden, forest or meadows, I see a seemingly endless variety of beautiful beetles, spiders, butterflies and weird looking insects of every shape, size and colour. The insect world is fascinating and our yard hosts many beneficial insects, as we garden organically, so I will post more about this when the weather warms. If you find a strange insect and want to identify it check out this site:
If you take the time to observe nature please remember that while it is tempting to remove things found in nature, it’s always best to look and enjoy without trampling or disturbing, leave nothing and also take nothing but memories or photos.
A few flies and ladybugs are out of their slumber and basking on the sun-warmed cedar shakes on the west side of the house, soon we will see wasps and bees at the first emerging spring flowers!

1 comment:

  1. WOW!! What beautiful little nests! I have never seen any like that but I will definitely keep my eye peeled to my geranium plants! We have paper wasps that love to "eat" our deck. You can actually see where they strip away little pieces of wood that they use to build their nests. I love insects, they are amazingly varied and each one has a purpose even if we (humans) think they are pests. Your photos are gorgeous as always! You are my inspiration! :)