Cuckoo Wasp

The bags were packed and I was all set to head back home after a couple of days in the wild. I came out of my room after the customary last minute check for anything that might have been inadvertently left behind. As I walked out, I espied a gorgeous little hard-to-miss metallic blue / green insect flying about. Out of curiosity, I stopped to see what it was upto. Even as I watched, it disappeared under a wooden table in the corridor of the building.

The usual series of events transpired – the camera bag came out and so did the camera; all the gear was in place to watch and photograph what was likely to transpire.

I bent down and peered under the table and was pleasantly surprised to see the nest of the beautiful Potter Wasp Delta conoideum in the angle between one of the legs and a side of the table. The Potter wasp was sitting on its nest and the metallic wasp was hovering about the nest.

I quickly crawled under the table and positioned myself to witness some action.

Soon, the metallic wasp went closer to the Potter Wasp and chased it away. It was at this juncture that I guessed the metallic insect to be a Cuckoo Wasp!

This interaction happened several times during the wait under the table. At times, the Cuckoo Wasp and the Potter Wasp would even collide in mid-air. Though the Cuckoo Wasp was much smaller than the owner, it seemed to be very capable of taking on the larger cousin.

The Cuckoo Wasp returned and landed on the mud nest. It wandered about the nest for a few minutes and then settled in one place. It seemed to be using its head to do something to the mud nest. I realised what it was upto only when my attention was drawn to the mud that was falling down to the ground – it was digging into the nest!

After a few minutes it moved a bit and the end of its abdomen was now in the little cavity (almost imperceptible) that had been excavated.

It remained in this position for a while. Though the wasp moved in circles, the tip of its abdomen was plugged into the cavity. One can only guess as to what the Cukcoo Wasp would have done – laid its eggs inside the Potter Wasp’s nest!

The Potter Wasp approached its nest, only to be promptly chased away by the Cuckoo Wasp. The Cuckoo Wasp would return to the nest after chasing away the Potter Wasp and get on with its business. This happened several times.

At this juncture I decided to leave the wasps and get on with the journey that had been put on hold. On my return to Bangalore, I shared the images with L.Shyamal and he confirmed that it indeed was a Cuckoo Wasp; he also gave me the identity of the owner!

Many species of Cuckoo Wasps are a metallic blue/green and those with this colouring are often referred to as Emerald Wasps. They belong to the family Chrysididae represented by some 3000 species world over. As can be guessed by the name, it lays its eggs inside the nests of other insects – often, other wasps like the Potter/Mud-dauber Wasps. The larvae of the Cuckoo Wasps are known to feed on the larvae of the host and also on the food provisioned by the female Potter Wasp for its own larvae.

The dramas that unfold in Nature are as always, surprising and at the same time, intriguing. I am not sure if I will be at the same place at the right time to see the new generation of Cuckoo Wasps emerge from the nest of the Potter Wasp. However, I shall always cherish the memories of the interaction between the two, the spectacle that I witnessed and the subsequent learnings about the beautiful little wasps!

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