GIANT WASP LIVES AMONG US
adventures can await just outside your own door. My wife and I recently
had a spectacular wildlife encounter on our front porch. Hanging from
the ceiling was the longest wasp found in North America. Half a foot
long is big for any insect, but a wasp?
might argue that the stinger of a wasp should not be counted as part
of its length. Whichever side you choose, it is a take-it-to-the-bank
fact that the creature my wife and I found had a body 2 inches long
and a "stinger" that was more than 4. We were looking at a
giant ichneumon wasp that was absolutely stunning in appearance.
body of this Goliath of the wasp world was longer than an average paper
wasp. Its color was alternating bands of orange, yellow and black. But
the feature that would catch anyone's eye was the ovipositor. An ovipositor
is simply a tube some animals, notably insects, use to lay eggs. An
ovipositor doubles as a stinger in many kinds of wasps, bees, and hornets.
The ovipositor of the giant ichneumon wasp can be almost 5 inches long!
Imagine a wasp with what appears to be a stinger long enough to go through
however, an ovipositor is just an ovipositor, serving the purpose of
transmitting an egg from the female's body to the location where she
wants it to hatch but not being used as a stinger. This is the case
for this largest of the large ichneumon wasps. Some smaller ichneumon
wasps can sting, as I have learned by picking one up to find out.
wasps have a pretty amazing lifestyle, which for most involves laying
their eggs in or right next to another insect or a spider. When the
egg hatches, the wasp larvae feed on their unfortunate host. In the
case of smaller ichneumon wasps, the host animal may be temporarily
or permanently paralyzed through stinging.
giant ichneumon wasp, the victim is the larva of another species of
wasp called a pigeon horntail or wood wasp. The whole life cycle relationship
between giant ichneumon wasps and pigeon horntails is extraordinary
- and not to the advantage of the wood wasp. They are also large wasps
that do not sting. They use a long ovipositor to bore into the wood
of a dying tree and deposit eggs. The larva of a wood wasp eventually
hatches out and chews its way to the surface. However, female ichneumon
wasps have another plan for wood wasp larvae as they rest peacefully
inside a tree.
ichneumon wasp lands on a tree and uses her long antennae to feel along
the surface to detect vibrations that indicate a wood wasp larva is
inside. Then she inserts her incredibly long ovipositor by pushing or
drilling several inches into the tree until she locates the wood wasp
larva and deposits her egg next to it. When the giant ichneumon larva
hatches out, it begins to devour the helpless wood wasp larva and later
emerges from inside the tree as a full-grown giant ichneumon wasp.
on the surface a female giant ichneumon is usually greeted by several
male suitors, one of whom successfully mates with the female who then
goes about her egg-laying mission. Her diet plan for maintaining a wasp
waist is basic enough - don't eat, just lay eggs and die. We don't know
if the one on our porch was in the process of looking for egg-laying
sites or had already completed her task, but as we watched the big insect
fly away into the yard, my wife said, "Between us we've lived well
over a century. How could we both have missed something that remarkable?"
adventures may not greet you every day the moment you walk out the door,
but you shouldn't have to look far to find something in yard, park or
local woods that you've never before seen.
you have an environmental question or comment, email