Thursday, 1 April 2010

Cuckoo wasp parasitizing the nest of a Mason Wasp

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The mason wasps are a large sub-family of wasps and include many wasps which build nests out of mud. I spotted one such wasp, busily walking back and forth over its nest in a hard to access location and decided it would make for some good macro shots. ( see below for how I took the shots)

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As you can see from the below shots, the wasp seemed to be very agitated and was restless pacing about over its nest, as though it was trying to guard it. This particular mason wasp had made its nest, comprising of three separate tubule like chambers, from a combination of mud and regurgitated water.

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when the nest is completed, most wasps collect beetle, spider or caterpillar larvae by stinging them and paralysing it. The larvae is then dragged back into the nest where they are inserted , still alive but paralysed. The wasp then lays an egg, either within the chamber, on the larvae or on the mouth of the chamber lid. When the wasp egg hatches, its own larvae will proceed to eat the paralysed captive larvae (while it is still alive and paralysed!)

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Anyway, while I was wondering what was agitating this wasp so much, I managed to catch a flash of something incredibly flashy and glittery, trying to access the nest.

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I was able to catch a glimpse of this shiny creature when it finally landed nearby. It turned out to be a Jewel wasp.

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Jewel wasps are also called Cuckoo wasps as their behaviour is similar to the Cuckoos – They are brood parasites.

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There are two types of cuckoo wasps – the Parasitoids which feed on the larva of the host and cleptoparasites which "steal" the host's food. In both cases the host larva dies.

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No wonder then, that this mason wasp was desperately trying to guard its nest and keep the intruder away.

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Many times, the cuckoo wasp would land on or near the mason wasp’s nest but would be promptly chased away by the latter.I was keen on getting a clean shot of the two wasps interacting but the action was too fast and the location and light were not in my favour. I however did finally manage the shot below showing them going head to head.

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Eventually though, the mason wasp left for a few minutes, perhaps to collect mud to seal the entrance, perhaps to collect a spider or caterpillar for its nest, but anyhow, the cuckoo wasp chose this opportunity to sneak into the nest.

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It was too late by the time the mason wasp returned, I`m guessing that within the time it had to itself, the cuckoo wasp had laid its egg within. You can see in the picture below, the cuckoo wasp is crawling out after having completed its dirty job!DSC06880.jpgDSC06922.jpg

The mason wasp returned just in time to see the cuckoo wasp leave. I`m guessing this particular cuckoo wasp is a parasitoid and its larvae when born will eat the mason wasps larvae.

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The mason wasp perhaps doesn’t know this just yet and all it can do now is continue its work and seal up the entrance blissful in the belief that it will keep its progeny safe.

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…and thus nature has its ways…

How the images were shot:

Shooting the two wasps was quite a task! The mason wasp had built its nest in a most unusual location – on the face of this Bison Skull (that my great grandfather is said to have once shot) which adorned a wall and was fixed about 10 feet high.

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I used my minolta 58mm Rokkor lens affixed to a bellows unit on my Sony A550 and a Minolta 3600D flash to capture this scene. Holding all this up (approx 2kg) and waiting for the wasps to make their move was hard enough. Initially I was balancing on a chair, but I finally pulled up a table and propped up my tripod, precariously balanced on it to give a little relief to my aching arms!

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