Do not destroy; enjoy this nest
Potter wasps are friends to you and your garden
I got a gift from a friend this past week that bothered me. She got me a wasp trap, even knowing that I am a Master Gardener and a naturalist.
I apologized, but I threw it away. The next day, I was out waging the war on my house plants summering outdoors. One had mealy bugs and as I cleaned them off, I found mud pots on a branch.
I had potter wasps!
There are many wasps that are predators, pollinators and not trying to get people. The potter wasp is an insect predator. It is NOT trying to get you. If you threaten them, they may sting you as a defense. This is quite rare.
This wasp is just under an inch long, black with creamy stripes on abdomen and thorax, and the typical wasp-waist.
I had seen one drinking at my trough many times. She is solitary and carries water to soil to make small balls to build her nest. She makes untold trips to carry water, and then to carry the small mud balls. The nest is in the shape of a vase or a water vessel, rounded with a narrow top, with a flat lid.
Once built, she provisions the pot with a caterpillar, or a larva of some insect that she has stung to immobilize. The insect is not dead. This food is placed in the pot, and then she lays an egg that is attached to the pot by a filament. She then seals up the pot and flies away.
Who needs sci-fi and thriller movies when we have this kind of excitement in the insect world?
This wasp is in the Vespidae family, but the subfamily Eumeninae. Most of us know similar wasps the mud daubers, which are in a different family. These mud daubers form 3-plus-inch tubes of clay on boards and structures. The tubes are side by side, like a pipe organ. This is where the mud daubers lay their eggs place their stunned prey so the developing young have food.
The mud daubers we have in Ohio are iridescent, dark blue and look very different than potter wasps.
The potter wasp’s structure is an elusive and rare thing to behold. I have one Master Gardener Volunteer friend that found one last year in Columbiana County. What a privilege to find one of these myself while exploring my back yard.
Take time to watch the insects in your yard. It is a great pastime to watch and learn.
To see photos of these insects and their mud nests, go to https://go.osu.edu/potterwasp and http://go.osu.edu/muddauber.
Hughes is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.