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Wood wasps in the log pile

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 24 Sep 2010 at 02:45 PM

I’m back after unscheduled break to have my appendix out last week. It certainly wasn’t on my timetable and I now have a short period of enforced idleness, whilst everything knits back together again. In hospital, I looked out of the window and watched pigeons bathing in a pool of water that had gathered in a depression on the flat roof of another hospital building. It was a sunny day and the water was quite shallow, so it might well have been a pleasantly warm bath.

Back at home, I lay in bed for a day or so, until I got bored, and watched a small flock of blue tits and long tailed tits foraging together in the Magnolia tree outside the window. Their constant high-pitched ‘seep, seep, seep’ giving them away quite clearly when they weren’t visible.

From there, I progressed to looking out of the living room window, where a mass of purple Asters is flowering and attracting the last of the season’s honey bees. Apparently, a family on the other side of the green from here keeps bees and, since there are always honey bees to be seen in the garden when almost any plant is flowering, I’m guessing that these bees have come foraging from there. They are a welcome sight, especially as autumn approaches and the season is winding down. The Asters are actually a bit of a nuisance, spreading with ease and vigour but, once I see honey bees crawling over the flowers with such energy, then I’m glad I haven’t dug them out.

A sunny day lured me out into the courtyard and there I found my reward. A pile of old cherry logs sits to one side of the yard, kept back from when the big cherry tree had to be cut back last year. Sadly, this magnificent old tree is feeling the effects of age and it is dying; in a year or so, it will probably have to be cut down and we’ll no longer marvel at the spring blossom or admire its gnarled girth.


Nature, though, has a way of continuing matters and the logs stacked in the courtyard have become a new home. As the wood breaks down and becomes lighter, wood boring wasps have moved in. I first noticed that the logs were showing holes at the ends and then that there were growing piles of wood dust on the ground under the holes. As luck would have it, a wasp came out of a hole as two of us watched.




Superficially, wood boring wasps – or digger wasps – look much like the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris), but look carefully and you can see that they have different markings, body shape and antennae. There are a bewildering number of wasps in the wild and when you start trying to identify them, it is confusing because so many of them look alike. You end up with a long list of ‘It isn’t this one’ before eventually figuring out what it might actually be. After much searching, I think this one is Ectemnius cavifrons.




From what I’ve read, these wasps will make nests in old wood, where they will lay eggs and feed the larvae on a variety of flies. Many hoverflies are taken and, as this has been a good year for hoverflies, it seems likely that the digger wasps are also having a good year. We should be able to see them about until October and can then look out for them again next year, from June onwards. 


Insects that nest in dead wood


pushkin said:

I'm glad you're feeling better, Miranda.  Take it easy while you heal.

I particularly liked this posting and, as usual, your photographs are wonderful.  Come back to the other place when you feel up to it, I miss you.

on 24 Sep 2010 at 03:24 PM

David Benson said:

How sad that the cherry must come down. It still looks fecund with cherry blossom but I guess all things must pass.

I saw a wasp wrestling with a daddylonglegs today - very dramatic!

Hope you well on the mend now and feeling stronger.


on 24 Sep 2010 at 07:18 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

pushkin - thank you for the kind comment! I'll pop into the other place and say hello.

David - on the mend now, thanks! How exciting to see two insects wrestling. I suppose the wasp won?

Yes, it is a great shame about that tree but, when you look closely, there is a lot of die-back and fungus. When the time comes, we'll have to think of another one to replace it with.

on 25 Sep 2010 at 11:24 AM

richardpeeej said:

Miranda, thank you for posting this interesting article although you are recovering from your recent operation. I am so glad that you are well on the mend. The wood wasps and myself are wishing you a speedy recovery and wish you well for the future. Richard x

on 25 Sep 2010 at 10:37 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks, Richard! The wood wasps are waving their antennae in your general direction :-)

on 26 Sep 2010 at 11:09 AM