Saturday, July 31, 2010

Helping a Wasp

Yellowstone National Park: May 14, 2010

Blacktail Loop Road – a dirt road closed to cars at this time of year, but open to hiking.

Blacktail Loop Road is a blackboard waiting to be read. We hiked in a few days ago and found both wolf and grizzly tracks. The next day it was obvious a wolf had come through again, and a coyote. Today the wolf and grizzly tracks are fading, but I noticed small black wasps, and to my mind comes “spider hunting wasps.” Sure enough. Before long I spot a wasp crossing the dirt road, burdened with an immobilized spider. He crosses the road and I thought lost his spider. The spider got caught up in a one inch tall tangle of vegetation on the edge of the road. The wasp seems to be searching everywhere. I decide to help out – I nudge his spider off the little plant and onto the ground where he can find it. Ha! He came right back and put the spider back on the plant – “Silly woman. Leave my spider alone!” He goes back to searching.

I finally realized he is looking for a place to dig a hole and deposit his spider. Spider hunting wasps immobilize a spider, deposit the spider in a tunnel of their own making, lay an egg on the spider, and close up the tunnel. I must have watched for twenty minutes before I gave up on seeing the end of the story. He searched, napped, disappeared, tried digging in a couple of spots and maybe he just gave up. … or is he off napping again?

But only about fifty feet farther down the road I find another wasp busy starting a hole, and a few feet farther along another hole. Both of these wasp tunnels are dug in indentations made by a bison’s hoof. I think the steep wall of the track provides a damp wall to dig into.

I decide to watch the second hole. Every few seconds fresh dirt is being thrown out. I finally get to see the wasp. It looked like the same species. Suddenly he moves about a foot away and grabs an immobilized spider he has waiting. Getting it down into the hole is a tight fit. Five minutes later he is still trying to wedge his spider down the hole … and we have a dinner date need to get back to town.


  1. I love this sketch. I have watched a wasp do this in our garden. it is amazing how the dirt flies.

  2. AMAZING! I've never heard of a spider hunting wasps! Too cool. If they did that around here my hubby might be inclined to let them live.

  3. I've seen little holes with dirt shooting up out of them every so often but never have seen what was in it. I didn't want to dig in case I collapsed it. Maybe that's what I saw