Sunday, August 28, 2011

Potter Wasp

Potter wasp nest- Click to enlarge
While looking for caterpillars under leafy branches, we came upon this jug vase-shaped structure, a half inch in diameter, attached to a thin stem.  It looked like something I would make if I tried my hand at pottery.  We guessed it was a nest of some kind.  Dr. Chris Barnhart later pointed me in the direction of a potter wasp nest.

Some build solitary nests in small existing cavities in wood or stone, even using nail holes and screw shafts on farm equipment.  Many species also construct their unique vase shaped nests of mud and regurgitated water.  Wikipedia quotes studies suggesting that some Native Americans based their pottery designs on these structures.
Potter wasp,  Eumeninae family- Wikimedia
They use materials similar to a mud dauber and like the daubers, they provision the nest with a paralyzed caterpillar or spider for their single egg.  When the larva hatches, it has food to last until it pupates.  The life cycle can go from a few weeks to a year.  Adults feed on floral nectar.  When you consider the size of a wasp brain, their pottery skills are quite amazing.

Yellowjacket- MDC
Potter or mason wasps are in the family Eumenidae, a diverse group of 200 genera.  They are generally black or brown with patches of yellow, white, orange, or red.   Wikipedia describes a unique identifying feature, a small plate on the back of their thorax, "a posterolateral projection known as a parategula on both sides of the mesoscutum".  When you can identify this on a flying wasp it indicates that 1) it is probably a potter wasp and 2) you are way too close if it isn't a potter wasp.  At the distance I try to keep from a black and yellow wasp, it is difficult to differentiate them from the more aggressive yellowjacket.  Probably that is best for all concerned.

The MU Extension has a good resource page on wasps in general.
Pictures from Wikimedia.

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