Killer Wasps

Now that it’s summer, the time for pictures of pretty flowers is over, and most of the things I take pictures of are insects. That’s because it’s Grasshopper and Wasp City here in Milam County, Texas. I’ll save you the grasshoppers for now, and instead share what I’ve been learning about local wasps.

Hello, I’m a cicada killer wasp. I’m big. Why did you dig me up?

First, there are so many kinds of wasps in Texas! Second, most of them aren’t out to attack us. They are busy doing their own thing, for the most part. Two types of wasps I’ve been seeing lately are way too busy killing other creatures to mess around with us. That’s good, because one of them is pretty darned big, and the other one can sting painfully, if you let it.

First, I’d been seeing these reddish wasps with black wings around the porch lately, but they would not hold still long enough to pose for a photo. Luckily, my Master Naturalist friend found one doing its “thing” and got a couple of photos, even though he said his were a bit blurry. Here’s his blog on these spider wasps. Yes, those guys flitting around my porch weren’t after ME, they were after the numerous spiders out here in the country. I wish they would get all the black widows, but they seem to go after bigger prey.

Spider wasp (Tachypompilus ferrugineus) going after a rabid wolf spider. Photo by Eric Neubauer.
Spider wasp with an unidentified prey, found at my neighbors’ house. Photo by Mark Ellet.

I got interested in them, and began reading up on spider wasps. It turns out the females drag a paralyzed spider to their burrow (or the spider’s previous burrow) and lay one egg in them. The egg hatches in there, and the baby wasp goes through five instars with the spider as its food source. Interestingly, they save the vital organs until last, ensuring their food remains “fresh.” How appetizing! Here is an article about spider wasps, if you’d like to learn more.

Spiders aren’t the only insects that need to be watching their backs right about now. Remember the insect at the top of the blog? That’s a cicada’s worst nightmare, Sphecius speciosus! From the sounds we are hearing in our woods, cicadas are up and crawling around, singing their tiny hearts out. No wonder the cicada killer wasps are crawling out of their holes in search of yummy morsels. Now, cicadas are pretty large insects. It’s no problem for cicada killers, though, because they are the biggest wasps in Texas.

Even though it’s a big wasp, a cicada is bigger. Good thing the wasp has strong wings!

I was really impressed when I saw the one above just slinging that cicada around like a sack of potatoes. Even more amazing was that it picked the insect up and flew off with it (granted, it didn’t achieve much height). I already knew they lived in burrows, because that’s where we found the one at the top of this page. I now know that the cicadas are used as food for their young, just like with spider wasps. The adult wasps feed on nectar from flowers. They rarely sting humans, and the more aggressive males actually can’t sting. Here is a lot more information on cicada killers. They’re related to my buddies, the mud daubers, who daub pretty much constantly around the ranch.

So, that’s today’s non-controversial news! Thanks to those of you who actually come here to learn stuff!

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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