Chrysis sp. “Cuckoo Wasp” Chrysididae
May 17, 2016
Cuckoo Wasps are a massive, possibly polyphyletic group of parasitic wasps. More than half the members of this giant family are placed in the genus Chrysis (more than 1000 species!). Undoubtedly, in the coming years this genus will be stripped, split, and reorganized in favor of a more monophyletic and phylogenetically accurate set of genera. As their common name might suggest, cuckoo wasps lay their eggs in the nests of other wasps, and many specialize on a single host species. This lovely individual appeared to be waiting outside an old nail hole on the side of my house that was occupied by a cavity-nesting wasp of some sort.
Acraspis macrocarpae “Jewel Oak Gall Wasp” gall, Cynipidae
October, 21 2015
Female jewel wasps are adorable, wingless, pudgy little things when they emerge from these galls in October. Here’s another picture of these cuties for good measure. These unique organisms reproduce in cycles of alternating generations of all females and generations with both sexes. In years with only females, the wasps reproduce parthenogenetically. Apparently, parthenogenetic galls are different in size, shape, and color than their sexually-produced counterparts. I was unable to find specific information regarding this phenomenon in Acraspis macrocarpae, but most accounts suggest that only females occur inside these particular galls, which leads me to believe they may be the sexually-produced versions of these oak galls. Perhaps next year, we’ll see a completely different variety of gall on our local oaks! I’ll be sure to update you all next fall.
Also, fun fact, this species of gall wasp was originally described by Alfred Kinsey, the world-renowned human sex scientist! It’s true! Before studying sex, Kinsey collected more than 7.5 million galls and wasps and named dozens of species. Of the 18 million insect specimens currently housed at the American Museum of Natural History, nearly a third are from Kinsey’s dissertation! His work not only revolutionized our understanding of this wasp family, but also had profound impacts on the ways we conducted phylogenetic and entomological analyses. Read more about his fascinating work as an entomologist here.
Enicospilus “americanus” species complex, Ichneumonidae
July 25, 2015
This elegant wasp is a parasitoid of Saturnid and Sphingid moth caterpillars. Females lay their eggs on the bodies of caterpillars and the larvae then grow inside the caterpillar, consuming it and taking its place inside its cocoon. Adults visit flowers at night and are commonly seen at lights. We spotted this individual at our mothlighting event for National Moth Week!
Polistes aurifer “Golden Paper Wasp” Vespidae
May 13, 2014
Anoplius sp. “Blue-black Spider Wasps” Pompilidae
June 29, 2014
These lovely wasps are vicious spider hunters and have an absolutely gruesome life cycle. Instead of immediately killing their quarry, females paralyze the spider with a sting, and drag it down into a burrow. There, the female will lay eggs inside the spider, where her young will hatch and feed on the poor arachnid from the inside-out. Interestingly, spider wasps are nectivorous and lose their hunger for arachnid flesh at adulthood.