Friday, August 17, 2012
BAD IN BLUE
While poking along the weedy banks of small, shallow lake where I like to stalk dragonflies, I saw this rather large wasp nectaring on a cluster of milkweed blooms. What caught my eye, of course, were the shiny, midnight-blue wings, which sparkled in the afternoon sunlight like the chromed front-end trim on my father's 1956 Olds '98.
Though it superficially resembled the blackish-blue mud daubers of my youth, which used to build their cylindrical pottery-like nest tubes along the tops of the basement windows, this wasp was noticeably larger. Which I suppose some, to whom the size of such things matters, might interpret as bigger-equals-badder, and thus view such a winged beast as exponentially more frightening.
I just thought it was striking and made a portrait. Back home, I tentatively keyed the critter down as being a great black wasp, Sphex pensyvanicus, also known as a katydid hunter.
Members of the digger wasp clan, they construct a burrow-like nest hole in the ground. Eggs are laid in this tunnel. The great black wasps then goes about hunting down and stinging such things as kaytdids and grasshoppers. Toxins in their sting paralyze rather than kill their prey. These still-living victims are then carried into the nursery as food-in-waiting for when their larvae young hatch. Kinda like putting away a stock of home-canned goods for the family.
And when they're not out looking to zap and immobilize future meals for the kids, adult great black wasps like to dine on nectar and pollen. Which explains what it was doing on the milkweed…nothing like a bit of dessert after the hunt.