Tuesday, August 29, 2023

One bad ass wasp

    Nearly a million known species of insects in the world, and many more yet unknown, despite biologists fanning out everywhere, cataloguing them hand over fist.
     So we shouldn't be a surprise to be confronted with any bug not seen before.
     And yet ... you just don't expect to bump into a new one. 
     Such as Sunday, when my wife and I were strolling in bliss around the Chicago Botanic Garden, I was drawn to an outcropping of a familiar white flower.
     "Queen Anne's lace!" I exclaimed, rejoicing in a particularly bright white array. "I haven't seen much of it this year."
     Three steps away, my wife announced that I'd better be careful; there were bugs on them. A lot of bugs. Sure enough, small black insects that shone iridescent blue when the light angled a certain way. 
     I could pretend I knew them on sight. But in truth, identification had to wait until I got back to the office and could ask my Uncle Google. The blue mud dauber wasp, or chalybion californium, which the U.S. Forest Service dubs "The Black Widow Killer" because it is "most famous for its predation of black widows." 
     Not round these parts, I hasten to add. As far as I'm concerned, the blue mud dauber wasp isn't famous at all. On the other hand, who am I to quibble with the United States Forest Service? 
     The wasps snatch spiders right off their webs, sting them to death (don't worry; they aren't physically able to sting humans, which is a relief). Then they take them home to feed to the kiddies. (The main biological difference between bees and wasps, which both belong to the order hymenoptera, is that bees feed their young with pollen mixed with honey, while wasps provide them with captured insects).
    And those homes might be, ah, borrowed from other wasps. The blue mud dauber will  taking over the nests of other species of wasp, booting out their larvae and replacing them with their own.
    All told, one bad ass wasp. As a rule, I'm not fond of wasps — based mostly on an unfortunate encounter with more mundane yellowjackets almost a decade ago. More of a bee man, myself.
     However. It must be that iridescent blue. A great blue will cover many sins, such as being a wasp. Anyway, it was news to me, and I figure I'd share it.


  1. Really appreciate this, fascinating, a good brain jolt to learn stuff first thing in the a.m.

  2. I like the blue color, too. But I'd add, any bug that kills spiders and can't sting humans is alright by me.

  3. Very nice photo. With your phone, I suspect. Amazing what we can carry around in our pockets these days.

  4. When one is out and about and encounters an insect (or plant) you don't know, the absolute best thing is to have the iNaturalist.org app on your phone (assuming you take your phone with you). Snap a pic and quickly learn what it is -- from dedicated citizen scientists. I highly recommend it.
    Couple years ago on a walk I noticed an interesting-looking caterpillar. Thanks to a friend's tip and iNaturalist, I learned it was poisonous. I shared it on a neighborhood site in hopes of saving any curious kids from a world of pain.

    "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so we might fear less." -- Marie Curie

  5. I see you share an all too common prejudice against spiders. Check it out: very few species of spiders are in any way harmful to humans and the most common ones provide numerous benefits by capturing and killing other nasty insects.


  6. Excellent capture! I'm also an iNat fan. Would love to hear you've planted a small section of native plants in your garden (much easier to grow than tomatoes!), so we can look forward to more pollinator photos in the future. (but I agree that aerial yellowjackets deserve wide berth, especially this time of year when they are spiteful and mean for no apparent reason)
    Jill A

  7. Yellow jackets are the really nasty ones. August and September are when they're at their worst. They will literally get in your face, and try to eat your food and to get into your sugary drink or your beer, often with fatal results...they drown. So watch out. And they kill honeybees.

    A tip: Don't try to stand around with a hose and flood an underground nest. The ones coming back to it will sting the shit out of you, and their stings feel like you're being tortured with lit cigarettes. Wear long pants and long sleeves. Cover your face. Use an insecticide on them...aerosol sprays or insect dust...and then beat them to death when they're incapacitated. Show them no mercy. But be careful.

  8. Grizz knows whereof he speaks. I discovered an underground nest the hard way while mowing the lawn last year when a wasp flew right up my pants leg, with predictable results.

    Flooding the nest with a hose didn't occur to me, but instead I went straight to my spray can of Hot Shot Wasp & Hornet Killer, which blasts a marvelously long, straight stream of insecticide that enables you to hit overhead nests from a safe distance. When used within the confines of an underground lawn tunnel opening, a hearty blast forms a temporary plug of deadly foam that let me make a clean getaway.


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