A Scary Nature Story

Thread-waisted wasp with caterpillar
Copyright 2010 Andrea Liberatore

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” So begins the classic tale, “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe. In it, the vindictive Montressor lures his rival, Fortunado, into an underground wine vault, leads him into an interior crypt and chains him to a granite wall. Then he walls poor Fortunato in, using building stone and mortar.

Being buried alive is usually a theme of fictitious horror films or novels. However, in nature, the practice is often a way of life—so to speak.

Take predatory wasps as an example. These are wasps that have evolved to eat other creatures instead of pollen. You may know some of them by their common names, such as mud dauber, cicada killer, beewolf, or digger wasp. Only the female is a predator and she captures prey to feed to her young. Depending on the species, she might dig an underground burrow, find a natural cavity in a tree, or construct a special nest chamber made of mud. Once the nursery is complete, she flies off in search of a suitable “host” – a.k.a. victim. This could be an unsuspecting caterpillar, grasshopper, spider, or beetle. She stings her prey, injecting a highly specialized venom that paralyses the insect within seconds, but does not kill it. Keeping the host alive is important so that its body will not spoil. . The victim is hauled back to the burrow, and carefully interred in its burial chamber. One or more eggs are laid upon or near the body, and the young larvae, which hatch a few days later, dig into their living meal.

Pretty creepy. The fate of the wasp victims makes Poe’s Fortunato seem almost fortunate. But in spite of their gruesome eating habits, predatory wasps are generally regarded as beneficial. They feed on pests that attack the crops of farmers and gardeners. So we actually want them around. It’s just easier not to think about their dining regime.

For more scary stories, as well as creepy crafts, come to Stokes Nature Center’s Halloween Program on October 29, 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Go to www.logannature.org for details.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.


Photo: Courtesy & Copyright 2010 Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Andrea Liberatore & Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

University of Kentucky Entomology. 2007. Narrow-waisted solitary wasps. Kentucky Critter Files: Kentucky Insects. https://www.uky.edu/Ag/CritterFiles/casefile/insects/wasps/solitary/solitary.htm [Accessed October 6, 2010]

University of Minnesota. Class Insecta, Order Hymenoptera: Sawflies, bees, wasps, ants, parasitoids. https://www.entomology.umn.edu/cues/4015/handouts/Hymenopteraf.htm. [Accessed October 6, 2010]

Sears, Anna et al. 2001. Nesting Behavior and Prey Use in Two Geographically Separated Populations of the Specialist Wasp Symmorphus cristatus (Vespidae: Eumeninae). American Midland Naturalist. Vol 142 p 233-246 https://www.jstor.org/pss/3083103