The Flying Jackhammer

Bzzzzzzzzzz! Whoa. Did you see that?

One lazy Saturday morning a ginormous insect flew past my vision. I stepped back, and took a deep breath. I knew one thing, it surely appeared to be a type of wasp. But definitely not your typical, scare your sister, mud dauber wasp that you see in your garden shed or on the side of your house, though. No. This wasp was large, and a bit intimidating. My interest was piqued, and I wanted to know more.

The species that I observed was the female Long-tailed Giant Ichneumon Wasp. This was not your average wasp. For one thing, a Giant Ichneumon Wasp is about the length of its printed name…one and one half inches long. It’s stinger is an impressive four inches long. Extending the size of this insect to over five and half inches long! The impressive size alone, is enough to make you wonder about this insect. It lives only twenty-seven days, and rarely eats a meal. It spends it’s time hunting for the perfect spot to lay its eggs.

As I observed throughout the afternoon, this wasp spends it’s time using its ultra-sensitive antennae tapping on rotting wood structures for existing insect larvae. Once it’s found the perfect spot, in our case a rotting tree stump in our yard, it begins the long process of egg laying. This amazing process could take up to 40 minutes, but trust me it’s worth that wait. After the Giant Ichneumon wasp then locates an insect larvae inside the stump. An Ichneumon wasp resembles a tiny jackhammer, as it raises and balances on its stinger. The stinger is actually called an ovipositor. In fact, this insect rarely uses it to sting.  A very precise jackhammer, at that.  Then GI wasp, then uses it ovipositor to drill down into the wood until it reaches and punctures the existing insect larvae. Then, the GI wasp retrieves two more filaments from its abdomen and uses those to insert an Ichneumon egg into the larvae. It was fascinating to watch it retrieve the ovipositors curl out from its abdomen, and baffling to think that a four-inch ovipositor could come out of a one and a half-inch long insect.

 

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The process not only provided a safe place for these eggs grow and hatch.  It also provides the first and only meal the newly hatched ichneumon wasp may ever eat.  Such insects, like the GI wasp, that lay their eggs inside a host (insect larvae), are called parasitoids. The parasitoids then continue to grow and hatch inside their host (insect larvae), then proceed to eat the larvae (host) for nourishment.

Whether you consider her tactics cruel or ingenious,  the GI wasps tactics are effective. By destroying harmful pest larvae before it hatches, the Giant Ichneumon wasp helps control populations of pesky insects such as tomato worms or other unwanted wood-boring insects.

Being outside allowed me to discover the female Giant Long-tailed Ichneumon Wasp…right in my backyard. An experience I won’t likely forget! Explore your outdoors. See what you can discover in your yard today. You’ll never know what you will find. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

 

 

 

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