Year of the Pollinator Series – November: Scollid Wasp

Presenting: Awbury’s 2018 series on pollinators– from wasps to wind! 

Monthly articles will correspond with our programming and our “Pollinators FOUND at Awbury Arboretum” art show and scavenger hunt.

Articles written by La Salle student and Awbury intern Dan Sardaro.

NOVEMBER 2018 – SCOLIID WASP

Scollid Wasp (credit: NC State Extension)

Scollid Wasp (credit: NC State Extension)

Ever see a wasp and suddenly feel overcome by a sense of fear? I’m sure almost everyone has been surprised by one while walking through a garden or park. They can seem like pests – bothersome and unworthy of our attention and gratitude – unlike the great monarch or honeybee which is praised for being beautiful and hardworking. However, it turns out that wasps are more helpful to us than we think. This seems to be the undercurrent of this blog series – sometimes the most uninviting bug actually helps us more than we know.

The scoliid wasp is one of these insects that gets little attention when it comes to their role as a pollinator. Karen Singer created November’s ceramic tile illustrating the wasp perched on a goldenrod flower.

Scoliid wasps, part of the scoliidae family, are a solitary wasp, meaning they live their lives pretty much alone unlike the bees we have learned about, and you can find 20 different species and numerous subspecies across parts of America and Mexico. They are rather large, averaging about 5/8 of an inch long, and are marked with two white or yellow bands usually that wrap around their abdomen. They have a significant amount of hair on their bodies, with orange ones on their abdomen, making their tail end a rather bright orange color. They look menacing, but fear not. Scoliid wasps tend not to sting unless grabbed or stepped on.

Scollid Wasp – of the FOUND exhibit by Karen Singer Tileworks

Scollid Wasp – of the FOUND exhibit by Karen Singer Tileworks

While these insects do feed on the nectar of flowers, they aren’t always vegetarians. Scoliid wasp larvae are parasitic, and their favorite meal is beetle larvae. The question is, how in the world do wasp larvae find beetle larvae? The answer is that female scoliid wasps are great parents. You probably will see the female wasps flying a foot above your lawn in figure eight type motions. Don’t fret – the reason for that behavior is because these mothers are looking for a place to put their larvae, namely the underside of a grub. Once the mother locates a beetle larva, she will sting it, rendering it paralyzed, and then lay her eggs on its underside. The wasp larvae will feed on their host until they are ready to spin a cocoon, pupate, and then become a full-grown wasp.

But what about pollination? Well, the scoliid wasp does pollinate, but they do so not because of their appetite or an attraction to bright colors. Some plants actually take advantage of the sex drive of certain insects, and the scoliid wasp is one of them. A species of orchid called the copper beard orchid has a floral structure and scent that mimics the female scoliid wasp. Attracted to the scent, male wasps will attach themselves to the flower and try to fly off with it, all the while bumping the pollen-laden stigma. This process happens every time the wasp comes in contact with another orchid, and so the plant’s pollen gets effectively delivered to several plants in the area. It seems that Mother Nature has her ways of keeping the natural cycles going, even if it’s at the expense of the fooled scoliid wasp.

 Sources:

Hartop, Emily. “Scoliid Wasp Seeks Scarab.” Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 13 Jan. 2017, nhm.org/nature/blog/scoliid-wasp-seeks-scarab.

“Mimicry.” Johnston Ridge Observatory | US Forest Service, US Forest Service, www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/Plant_Strategies/mimicry.shtml.

Nixon, Phil. “Home Yard & Garden Newsletter at the University of Illinois.” Scoliid Wasp, University of Illinois, 28 Aug. 2009, hyg.ipm.illinois.edu/article.php?id=105.