Our Friend Cindy asked me for help identifying a wasp that she spotted. What she described is a Blue Winged Wasp.
The late summer sun casts its glow across the open field illuminating the insects that buzz about a few inches above the grass. They seem to ignore me as I wade through them although several nearly collide with my bare legs. They’re definitely wasps and at first glance they look like yellow jackets swarming but they made no aggressive movements so I persisted until I spotted one at eye level. This wasp feeds on pollen and nectar which means it’s not a yellow jacket or hornet of any kind. It’s docile behavior gave me confidence to move in for a closer look however I cautious about crowding it. The body is black and the wings are iridescent blue like a mud dauber but it’s abdomen is orange with two large yellow spots. This is a “Digger Wasp” which is also known as a Blue Winged Wasp or sometimes Blue Winged Digger. The scientific name is Scotia dubia. This gentle wasp is actually a friend of gardeners.
It gets the name Digger Wasp because when it’s not feeding on pollen and nectar it’s hunting grubs in the lawn or garden. It specifically targets scarab beetles like June bugs and Japanese Beetles. Somehow it’s able to detect them underground well enough to distinguish scarab beete grubs from the hundreds of other grubs the feed on the tender roots of our lawns and vegetables. The online community was was sparse on the finer points of how this is accomplished but I suspect that those heavy club like antenna are the secret. Insects use their antenna to smell with. If you look closely at moths and butterflies you’ll notice that their antenna are either feathered or club shaped. In most butterflies the antenna end in bulbs. These bulbs are clusters of olfactory nerves that can sense oders over great distance. In the Blue Winged Wasp we see that the antenna are thick the entire length. I wasn’t really able to confirm it but it stands to reason that the antenna are thick because they contain a lot of these nerve clusters. I suspect that they know where the beetle larvae is by smelling them below ground. Once they have their target they will tunnel right down to the grubs and paralyze them with a sting. Sometimes they they lay a single egg right there where they captured the grub but other times they’ll bury it to hide it while they dig a better hole to place it in and then lay the egg after the grub has been moved. The grubs are not dead. They’re only paralyzed and when the egg hatches the wasp larvae eats the grub. A Blue Winged Wasp larvae will then spin an underground cocoon and transform into an adult Blue Winged Wasp.
The Blue Winged Digger Wasp is a solitary wasp. They are found in clusters but only if there’s sufficient scarab beetles to host the eggs. In 2016 a wet Spring led to an increase of Scarab Beetles and then a wave of these predators which is still going strong today in some areas.
There is an interesting tidbit about this wasp’s relationship with certain orchids. Some orchids have adapted to mimic the female in this family of wasps. The male becomes confused and mates with the orchids and by doing so pollenates the orchids.
White any wasp will become aggressive if you step on them or try to catch them the Blue Winged Digger Wasp is not generally considered a problem. When they are not controlling the scarab beetles they are likely pollinating orchids as mentioned before or the females are visiting one of the other wildflowers such as Goldenrod or wingstem.
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Overall, every state extension office between the Eastern Shoreline and the Rocky Mountains listed the Blue Winged Digger Wasp as a beneficial insect so if you have them around they’re only there to help.
That’s it for tonight friends and be blessed throughout your days.
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