Friday, July 19, 2013

What the Heck is That #3

I don’t know how people survived in the ‘olden’ days . . . without the Internet. I will be eternally grateful for this marvelous invention of our former Vice President, Al Gore. I mean, how did folks get along without it? There isn't a day that goes by that I don’t google (verb – to search the Internet with the search engine Google) to find out why my daisies are dying, what bug is bugging me and how to cure the waxy buildup on my flooring.

I have had this little, round, clay-like structure on my desk in my garden shed for the longest time thinking someday I would ‘google’ and find out what it is. Imagine my surprise when one of my favorite garden bloggers, Loret Setters of Beautiful Wildlife Garden (, wrote about the Potters Wasp and there it was. . .my little, round clay-like structure. Really . .how can anyone get by without the Internet and blogger friends, I ask?

The Potter Wasp or Mason Wasp is a common name for a group of caterpillar-hunting wasps (cue the Twilight Zone music) known for the pot-shaped mud nests they build. There are about 270 species of this creature in the U.S. The adult female does not get to enjoy our hot summers here as she lives about 6 weeks and spends most of her time fashioning 15 – 20 little pots of clay that she mixes from earth and her own saliva. 

Each pot takes a few hours to complete and when finished she lays a single egg inside and leaves enough food in it for her offspring to have brunch! She hunts for tiny caterpillars, which she paralyzes and stuffs into the pot until there is no room in the ‘inn.’ She then seals the chamber opening with a mud pellet, making the pot rainproof until the emerging wasp cuts an exit hole from the inside, and flies off to make another. . .such is the life of a mother and housewife.
Photo courtesy of Galveston Master Gardeners
In a few weeks the larvae hatches, dines on the caterpillars and then makes a cocoon in which to overwinter. When the weather warms, the insect eats its way of out the pot and goes on to live the short life of an adult Potter Wasp. 

The hole is where the wasp emerged. The little thing
on the right is where the nest was attached to the leaf.
Now, this is very interesting indeed.  No wasp is taught to make these pots, nor are the larva taught to make their cocoons, nor to eat their way out of their first homes to go out into the world to perpetuate the cycle.  This is clearly genetically driven-behavior.

The adult is a medium sized wasp which is black with white markings on the abdomen and thorax. It also has a narrow "waist." They feed on flower nectar and caterpillars. While Potter Wasps are capable of stinging, females do not defend their nests and are rarely aggressive. 

I appreciate these lovely wasps for the insect control they provide in my garden and the joy of the discovery of this tiny “urn” in my backyard.