Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Busy Bugs!

Since I'm leading a nature walk at Woods Hollow Nature Preserve near Ballston Spa this week, I braved the sweltering heat today to preview what we might find at this wonderful preserve.  I found a number of interesting plants, but I'll save my photos of the flora for when I post about the walk. Right now I want to report some fascinating insect behavior I witnessed while exploring the open, sandy area of the preserve.

I was hoping to see a Sand Tiger Beetle scurrying at breakneck speed across the sand, so I was standing still, letting my eyes scan the sandy expanse.  That's when I noticed this small black wasp with a noticeably red abdomen running back and forth around a hole in the ground.

From time to time, she would fly away, only to promptly return and then resume patrolling the area around the hole.  On one of her returns, she halted at the edge of the hole, then suddendly entered the hole and disappeared in the darkness.  I am quite nearsighted, so I did not realize the wasp was schlepping a grasshopper until I checked this image on my camera and zoomed in on it.

The wasp had dropped her burden when she entered the hole, and the grasshopper just continued sitting there.  (It had been paralyzed by the wasp's sting, I now know, but I didn't know this at the time.)

Soon enough, the wasp again appeared at the entryway and, grasping the grasshopper, dragged it down into the hole.

A moment later, the wasp emerged and began kicking sand into the hole.

After a few moments' efforts, the hole became filled with sand.  Here is the wasp, seeming to inspect to see if the entrance to her hole was sealed to her satisfaction.  It must have been, for the wasp then flew away and did not return.

Wow!  What a fascinating display of wasp behavior!  As soon as I got home I googled "small black wasp with red abdomen" and promptly found look-alike photos labeled "Grasshopper Hunter Wasp."  Eureka!  I soon found out that this wasp (its scientific name is Prionyx parkeri) can capture grasshoppers many times her size, which she paralyzes with a sting or two before carting her prey off to her nest and hauling it down into the hole.  There, she lays her eggs in the body of the still-living grasshopper and then seals it inside the hole.  Her eggs will hatch and the larvae will consume the grasshopper as their early food. The larvae will pupate within the nest, emerging as adults in the spring. As an adult, this species of wasp, despite being a ferocious predator of grasshoppers to feed its larvae,  eats mainly plant material, such as nectar from blooming flowers.

After all that, I DID see a Sand Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa), and I'm lucky I got a photo of it, since it was tearing across the sand at breakneck speed.  But then it would stop, bam! -- halting for just a few seconds before streaking off again.  I have read that this beetle can run so fast pursuing its prey, it outruns its eyes' ability to see, which is why it has to stop now and then and wait for its eyesight to catch up.  (I learned about this on this site full of fascinating information about this and other beetles.)

Topping off this day of marvelous insect encounters,  I was treated to visits by two beautiful dragonflies, both of them the species called Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa).  And both of them were kind enough to sit still for the picture-taking.

Here is the female Widow Skimmer, with her gold-striped abdomen and big brown eyes.

And here is the male Widow Skimmer, with darker eyes,  a powdery blue abdomen, and white areas on the wings.


Uta said...

Amazing that you came upon this and got such terrific pictures. Thank you for sharing.

Woody Meristem said...

Excellent photos of the insects. You may find a cicada hunter doing the same thing with paralyzed cicadas. With the same lifestyle, there's also the tarantula killer in the southwest, a very beautiful insect with a blue body and orange wings and one of the most painful stings in the world.

threecollie said...

AWesome! I learn something every time I come here. Thanks

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, dear friends, for your kind comments. I was so excited to have witnessed this wasp behavior, and I guessed that some of my readers might enjoy the account. I was thinking of you folks when I thought that. I actually am very fond of (most) wasps, having learned that most species are quite mild-mannered and have no desire to sting anything they can't paralyze and haul off to their nursery nest.