For those of you who dislike spiders, I’d like to introduce you to your new favorite friend:
Pison mud wasp on her nest (Victoria, Australia)
The genus Pison refers to a small group of crabronid wasps containing about 200 species worldwide. These insects raise their young on a diet of living, but paralyzed, spiders. Paralyzed spiders don’t decay, staying fresh while the wasp grubs eat them alive. It’s a pretty gruesome death, being chewed up in the dark and unable to move. Not that spiders themselves kill humanely. What goes around comes around, I suppose.
While in Australia I photographed one female’s mud nest stuck to the side of a building. Knocking away drying mud walls reveals the efforts of what I timed to be half an hour’s worth of spider hunting:
A stash of paralyzed spiders.
The Pison egg on a tasty arachnid.
After I disturbed the nest, the wasp rebuilt it and promptly filled the cell with new spiders.
Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 200, f/13, 1/250 second
diffuse twin flash
At the time I photographed this little scene (at Bell Smith Springs, Illinois) I was myself unsure of the drama playing out on the oak gall. I sent pictures to wasp expert Hege Vårdal to see if my preliminary guess of a pair of gall parasites was worth anything. Her reply: Continue reading →
From the amazing BBC series Life in the Undergrowth:
From National Geographic’s In the Womb:
A young adult Comperia merceti, a parasitoid wasp in the family Encyrtidae, emerges from the egg case of its cockroach host.
photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 20D
ISO 100, f/11, 1/200 sec, flash diffused through tracing paper
Braconid wasps attacking caterpillar – pumpkin by Lorenzo Rodriguez
Heterospilus sp., head & compound eye, Costa Rica
Here are some shots from my training session this morning at the Beckman Institute‘s Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). I haven’t used SEM for years- wow! Great fun. Click on each image to enlarge.
Continue reading →
Meet the European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominulus. Or is it Polistes dominula? Most biologists I know refer to this common Holarctic insect as P. dominulus, but I’ve just learned via Bugguide.net that the common spelling is a grammatical misunderstanding of the original latin:
So it’s P. dominula. Damn taxonomists.
photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon 20D
ISO 100, f/13, 1/250 sec, flash diffused through tracing paper
Velvet ants- which aren’t really ants at all- are wingless wasps that parasitize ground-nesting bees. They are attractive insects, bearing bright colors and cute frizzy hair. But in case you are ever tempted to pick up one of those cuddly-looking little guys, let the photo above serve as a reminder about what lies at the tail end: an unusually long, flexible stinger. As you can see, the wasp is capable of swinging it back over her shoulder, with perfect aim, to zing the forceps. The venom is potent, and in some parts of the U.S. these insects are called “Cow-Killers”. As is always the case with solitary wasps, the sting is only deployed defensively. If you don’t bother the velvet ants, they won’t bother you.
When not attacking entomologists, the wasp in the top photo (a nocturnal species in the genus Sphaeropthalma) looks like this:
Thanks to Kevin Williams for the collection, the identification, and for holding the forceps.