Mega Wasp

For the last couple summers I have caught fleeting glimpses of some type of “mega-wasp” flying by as I tended the barbecue grill in our backyard.

Although I never received an entomology degree as intended, I still maintain an interest in small creatures that crawl, creep, fly or jump. So I was quite excited when I actually got to meet this flying phantom face to face.

It was July 11, 2010, a sunny day, when I saw it once again. It flew by several times, but I lost it in the trees. A full ten minutes went by, so I thought I had misses my opportunity. But then it appeared, hovering five feet from where I was standing. It seemed to be very intent on the western red cedar logs which held up the roof of my outdoor cooking area.

After buzzing around for some time, the insect landed on one of the posts.

The body of the wasp was about an inch and a half long. The ovipositor looked to be two inches. Add to that the antenna and you have an insect that is approx. 3 3/4 inches long when fully extended.

I did some research to find out what kind of wasp this was. I found out that this is an Ichneumon Wasp. I could not narrow it down much beyond that because there are over 3000 species in this group.

This female looked intimidating, but chances are she was unable to actually sting (some can, and many of those that can’t will try anyway). It turns out that the female inserts the ovipositor into a dead tree and deposits her eggs in the tunnel that was most likely made by another species of wasp. Since these photos were taken, I spotted two other smaller species of ovipositor-baring wasps hanging around this same area. The larval form of the Ichneumon wasp crawls along the tunnel to feed upon the larvae of the other wasp species.

Nature can be cruel.

The inset shows the she-wasp “ovipositing” her eggs. The black line under the left front leg is the ovipositor which has been inserted into a hole in the post.

To view a Wasp with an even more impressive ovipositor length, check out the “Tiny Little Life” blog at http://tinylittlelife.org/?p=180

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6 Responses to Mega Wasp

  1. Probably Megarhyssa nortoni.

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  2. Yea, colours are not always helpful, are they? Hey, you know what you might love? bugguide.net
    You can submit photos for ID and everything.

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  3. Bruce Hagen says:

    Rick, I agree with standinbgoutinmyfield, this Ichneumonid definitely looks like Megarhyssa nortoni. The inordinately long ovipositor is used to lay an egg in the larvae of ‘horntails’ (Syricids), that burrow in trees killed by fire, insects, disease, etc., as well as windfall., causing circular, pencil-sized holes when the adults emerge. Female Syricids also have ovipositors, though they are comparatively shorter, to lay lay their eggs deeply in the wood. It’s utterly amazing to me that these parasites can locate their host deep in the wood, and then insert their ovipositors into developing larvae with uncanny accuracy.

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