Scattered throughout the barns, sheds and attics of Eastern North America are clusters of nests that look like something from science fiction. Deep within the clay tubes the brood of a winged predator sleeps. Their armor is shiny black with blue highlights. Hidden within the tail is a venom that completely paralyzes it’s target but doesn’t kill. It’s sleek body moves through the air effortlessly. It’s eyes see into ranges that we can’t perceive. But this strange creature isn’t interested in world conquest. It simply wants to exist quietly and unnoticed. And if you’re one of millions of people who are put off by spiders the Organ Pipe Mud Dauber is your best friend.
As a kid we just called them mud daubers. And it wasn’t until I was much older that I learned that not all of them make tubes like ours do. I remember the first time I heard that high pitched humming outside of my grandfather’s bedroom window. He got a kick out of watching my look around for the source of the noise. Eventually he told me that it was just a “Dauber” talking. It’s really amazing to watch them work as they land on the edge of a puddle or pond or anywhere that they can find some wet clay. The wasp digs around and makes a little pellet of mud which it carries back to just the right spot to build a nest. They need a place that’s out of rain where the mud won’t be washed away. They need to be close to plenty of spiders and their favorite prey is the black widow. The female builds the nest with special mouth parts that actually have little paddles on the end for shaping the mud.
I have always assumed that the high pitched buzzing sound that they make was the wings drying out the fresh mud. However the wasp seen here was “singing” even though it’s wings were not moving.
Mud Daubers are actually downright friendly when it comes to humans. The one here was really curious about the giant who was watching her work. She actually flew up and looked in the eye before going back to work. I was always afraid of wasps but the mud dauber wasps are as tug at as honeybees. I’m sure that if I’d tried to interfere with the nest that she would have become defensive but she didn’t really seem to mind me being right on top of her while she worked. Like a rattlesnake the mud dauber usually gives us a warning that we’re making them nervous. They’ll flick their wings as if to say “back off!” I really wouldn’t recommend pushing them but it seems to be a bluff. I have never had one make good in the threat. They’re almost domesticated. Venom is biologically expensive to produce and they need it to breed. The tubes are sectioned into cells and each cell contains a living but paralyzed spider for the young to feed on.
Nobody wants to have them inside the house but when you see that alien looking mud tube on the side of a shed or rocky outcrops near the home then it only means they’re out there keeping the spiders under control.
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