Parental care in potter wasps

The word wasp is often associated with fear…fear of a possible painful sting! It is mostly this fear that prevents us from trying to understand these marvelous creatures and their ways. Would we even associate these wasps with parents that provide for their young?!

Inspite of their repugnant reputation, these little insects can be very caring parents. This is particularly true of the potter wasps. They take their parental roles very seriously. Their ability to mould wet earth into miniature pots is quite amazing.

Once they have located the best spot, they start building; they come back to the same wet patch time and again to collect mud pellets.

A wasp collecting a mud pellet.

A wasp collecting a mud pellet.

The mud pellets are then deftly moulded into an earthen receptacle.

Earth being shaped into an earthen structure.

Mud pellets being shaped into an earthen structure.

The shape and size of the receptacle/pot varies according to the species.

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Once the pot is complete, depending on the species, the wasp goes about looking for a prey. Different species of wasps specialize in hunting different prey – some look for spiders, others for caterpillars, and so on…

A wasp dealing with a grasshopper.

A wasp dealing with a grasshopper.

Once the quarry has been stung and paralysed, the limp prey – often heavier than the wasp itself – is dragged to the place where the pot has been constructed. I have seen wasps cutting off the limbs of spiders before carting them away on several occasions. At times, they even fly with the prey!

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The prey is stuffed into the pot, an egg or two is laid and the pot is closed.

A pot containing a caterpillar and a wasp egg visible.

A pot containing a caterpillar and a wasp egg visible.

By indulging in this industry, the parent wasp ensures that the newly born has fresh food (remember the prey is only paralysed and not dead!).

No matter how much I try to explain the process with words and pictures, it will be no match to a personal observation of the incredible capabilities of these little potters. Once you have witnessed this first hand, believe me, you will start looking at wasps with a very different pair of lenses!

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