In Fall, bald-faced hornets enter the autumn of their lives. Surviving adults, no longer responsible for providing masticated prey for the colony’s growing young, enter into a retirement of sorts. They abandon their nest and spend their last days, up until the first frost, feeding on nectar. Only mated queens survive to found new colonies the following year.
When I encountered the planthopper above, I had no idea what was going on. While not entirely sure, I assumed that might be a parasite on its abdomen. I had wanted to get a closeup of just the parasite, but when I went to grab the planthopper, it jumped and flew away with little difficulty. The parasite must not have been as much of a hindrance as it would appear.
Here’s a crop of the image above showing the parasite.
It didn’t take much searching on the internet to determine that this must be the larva of a wasp in the family Dryinidae. There are plenty of images of larvae on BugGuide. According to Wikipedia, a larva initially feeds internally on the host. Only later in its development does it protrude the host as shown here.
I feel lucky to have seen this. As is usually the case, this just whets my appetite for more. Now I’ll be on the lookout for the odd looking adult.
This is the first time I can recall encountering one of these wasps in the field. Chalcid wasps are easily recognized by their enlarged hind femora.
If you missed the one that emerged from a chrysalis I collected, check out this earlier post.
These attractively patterned little cocoons seem to be a common sight no matter where I travel. Each one holds the pupa of a parasitic wasp. I’ll often find what’s left of a caterpillar host nearby. The ones I notice are usually suspended by a thread, as here. That’s not always the case though.
Each one of these eggs from the underside of a leaf was parasitized by a wasp. Their barrel shape with round fringed caps suggests they might be stink bug eggs. Had a stink bug nymph emerged, the caps would have been neatly opened. Instead, they each have a roundish hole chewed in them. In fact, there’s a parasitoid wasp straggler chewing its way free from the rightmost egg.
I might be seeing things, but you can almost make out the wasp’s body through the transparent egg shell.
I didn’t notice at the time, but a mite came along.
I collected this little chrysalis while I was in the field the day before I took this photo. I didn’t think I’d be able to get a good photo at the time, and I was curious to see what might emerge. Strangely, looking at this with my own eye, it appears opaque with a silvery and gold surface. With the camera and flash, it appears as above, somewhat transparent and showing what looks like a wing inside. I figured it would only be a short time to see the butterfly that might emerge. Well, I was half right.
About a week later, I found this in the rearing container.
With those enlarged hind femora this must be something in the superfamily Chalcidoidea, perhaps in the family Chalcididae. The natural history fits, since Chalcidids are parasites of Lepidoptera and Diptera pupae.
Here’s what’s left of the chrysalis.
Velvet ants are challenging to photograph. They always seem to know when you’re after them. They are either running so fast you can’t keep them in the frame (much less focus) or they find cover to hide under. I always just shoot like crazy and hope for the best.
The more I observe nature, the more I realize that parasites rule. So far this trip, I’ve accumulated dozens of photos to prove my point, including the one above.
Believe it or not, this caterpillar was still alive. The parasites, wasps presumably, are long gone.
The local common name for these social wasps is marimbondo-chapéu in Portuguese or hat wasp in English. The name refers to the form of the nest, seen above.
Seen from below, I’d say it looks more like a sunflower. They are really packed in there. I’d estimate there are probably a couple of hundred of them.
Here’s another crop that I like of that same image.
You’ve probably noticed by now these images were taken during the day. So what are all of them doing hanging out on the nest? Taking a siesta? I wondered the same thing. I spent around 45 minutes taking pictures and attempting to gauge just how closely I could approach without alarming them. During that whole time, not a single one flew off or arrived.
I began to wonder if these wasps might be nocturnal. When I returned a few hours after dark, I had my answer. At that point, the nest was quite active, with dozens flying around. A quick internet search for “nocturnal wasps Brazil” gave me the genus, Apoica, a genus known for its nocturnal habits.
When reviewing the images, I noticed they have relatively large ocelli, which undoubtedly helps them navigate and find prey at night.
Most of these photos were taken with my 100mm macro, sometimes combined with my teleconverter. The closest I ventured was for this habitat shot, taken with my wide angle zoom at its widest 18mm setting.
I don’t have my copy of Latin American Insects with me, but I just checked it via google books. Hogue refers to this genus as parasol wasps, also because of the shape of the nest. He notes that only the common species, Apoica pallens, has a yellow abdomen.
I spotted this wasp nest way up in the canopy. I like how it’s open-ended at the bottom, exposing the comb inside.
It’s amazing to me the variety of forms that tropical wasp nests take. One day I’d like to do a compilation of all the ones I’ve photographed over the years.