7 Insects That Build Mud Houses

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Mud houses, an architectural marvel in the insect world, are structures built from mud and other natural materials.

These homes serve as protective nests, breeding grounds, and food storage sites for various insect species.

In this article, we’ll explore five fascinating insects known for constructing mud houses.

1. Mud Daubers: Most Well Known Insects That Build Mud Houses

Mud daubers, a type of solitary wasp, are renowned for their unique mud nests.

These insects gather mud and sculpt it into various forms, from elaborate tube-like structures to simple plasters over cracks and crevices in wood, stone, or masonry​​​​.

Unlike social wasps like yellow jackets or hornets, mud daubers live alone and do not defend their nests aggressively.

They build a range of nests, including multiple tubes or small vase-like nests attached to plant stems​​​​.

7 Insects That Build Mud Houses
Black and Yellow Mud Dauber

2. Termites

Termites are renowned for their large, complex mud houses, especially in tropical regions.

The Formosan subterranean termites build underground colonies.

With about 2,000 species globally, these insects demonstrate extraordinary teamwork in their colony’s caste system​​.

These insects are known for their large, complex mud houses, especially in tropical countries​​.

A termite colony is divided into three castes: reproducers, soldiers, and workers.

Workers, the most active group, are responsible for maintaining and expanding the nest, which can reach up to twenty-six feet tall in some species​​.

Subterranean Termites

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3. Potter and Mason Wasps: Nest Builders

Potter and mason wasps, similar to mud daubers, use mud to build their nests. These insects gather mud from moist areas to construct homes for their young.

Their nests can often be found attached to various surfaces and resemble small clay pots or tubular structures​​.

Potter Wasp Nest

4. Antlions: Hunting Strategy

Antlions, also known as doodlebugs, are unique in their use of mud. They create cone-shaped sand traps to capture prey.

By burying themselves and using their heads and jaws, antlions transpose sand to the surface, forming these traps which can grow up to 8 inches high​​.

Antlion Larva

5. Cicada Killer Wasps: Nesting Habits

Female cicada killer wasps dig tunnels in bare, sandy soil to create their nests.

These nests are often accompanied by mounds and can be found in groups near garages, patios, and other dry, sandy areas​​.

6. Ants: Underground Nests

Certain ant species, such as fire ants, army ants, citronella ants, and leafcutter ants, construct mud tunnels.

These tunnels serve various purposes, including protection from predators, maintaining suitable temperatures, and building nests and colonies

Harvester Ant Colony

7. Crayfish: Mud Covered Mounds

Crayfish, found near rivers, lakes, and streams, construct their homes by digging burrows into mud banks.

They create mud-covered mounds known as chimneys, providing shelter from predators and a place for laying eggs.

These mounds, often seen in wetlands and swamps, are essential for creating a safe and stable living environment for crayfish

Conclusion

Insects building mud houses display a fascinating aspect of nature’s creativity and ingenuity. 

From the solitary mud dauber to the community-driven termites, each species has a unique approach to using natural resources for shelter and survival.

Understanding these insects helps us appreciate the complexity and diversity of the natural world.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about insects that build mud houses. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Mud Ball Mystery

mudballs
Location: N. California, Sutter County, Sutter Buttes, valley oak woodland
March 5, 2012 2:27 pm
What is the story behind this photo? Taken Feb 2012 in a small valley in the Sutter Buttes, Sutter County, Northern California. I was thinking solitary bee or trapdoor spider?
Signature: JD

Mud Ball Mystery

Dear JD,
While we are not certain what created this Mud Ball Mystery, we are relatively confident it is neither a Trapdoor Spider nor a Solitary Bee.  Could you tell us a bit more about the terrain?  Was this an area that floods in the spring?  It reminds us a bit of a Crayfish burrow.

Some Comments
I cannot imagine that this is a crayfish burrow.  As I remember both of the burrows we saw are in a veg area classified as California Prairie or Blue Oak in rather stony (about 30% up to fist sized cobble sub angular to angular) areas that I do not think flood in the spring.  Would you agree with me Michael and Zack?  Thanks for following up on this Jim.  Leslie

Definately not crayfish, I saw two more at about 1000 feet elevation the other day.
Zack

Hi Daniel,
I concur with comments below (Ed. Note:  comments above) that this is far too dry environment for a crayfish.  I will be in the field soon to get more photos with a ruler for scale, some capture tools.

What additional information is needed and how do I go about obtaining it – e.g. pour water into the hole to encourage the critter up to show itself?  I would rather not be too destructive in the investigation, so I am a bit reluctant to excavate the hole unless you think the animal will be OK to dig another.
Jim Dempsey
Environmental Scientist
California Department of Parks and Recreation, Northern Buttes District

Hi Jim,
We didn’t really think it was a crayfish, but that was a thought.  We do not believe it is a Bee or a Spider. 

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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Tags: Insect Description

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11 Comments. Leave new

  • Was it ever determined what caused these mud balls? My cousin has the same mysterious hole and mud balls in her California home.

    Reply
  • I see these same mud balls while hiking in damp places in Central Florida.

    Reply
  • Maybe it is a type of mold? Funny how mold can look like a lot of different things.

    Reply
  • Jim Dempsey
    April 2, 2018 9:45 pm

    I concluded these mud balls were formed by a Calisoga spider excavating it’s hole. We observed this in action at the Sutter Buttes, Ça.

    Reply
  • Gustaf fredell
    July 12, 2018 10:06 pm

    It may be earth worm poo or mounds
    https://goo.gl/images/yw2Fr9
    https://goo.gl/images/BrBsh1

    Reply
  • Gustaf fredell
    July 12, 2018 10:06 pm

    It may be earth worm poo or mounds
    https://goo.gl/images/yw2Fr9
    https://goo.gl/images/BrBsh1

    Reply
  • Jim Dempsey
    July 13, 2018 9:55 am

    Hi Gustaf – I am familiar with earthworm burrow mud mounds which are linear extrusions into ball-like mounds something like a ball or rather wad of string or from a dessert cake decorating tool; rather, these moist dirt piles consist of perfectly round balls that are carefully and consistently granular in texture – no, as I mentioned in April the definitive explanation in this case (California dry foothills) as we directly observed was a Calisoga (large spider related to trap door spiders) excavating it’s burrow, assembling little leg scoops of moist dirt onto a sticky ball of consistent maximum size held below thorax then rolling the dirt ball up and out of the burrow. I’m familiar with crayfish burrow mud mounds (personal observation in wetland locations of California and Valdivia, Chile), which I suppose could explain what JSharma above observed in damp places of central Florida (but I defer to someone more familiar with that area).

    Reply
  • I have the same phenomena in my yard in Red Bluff,Ca Tehama co. the balls are approximately just slightly larger than 1/4 inch and quite spherical. They are around a hole in the ground that I presumed were large earth worm holes (about 1/2″ in diameter and not necessarily round in shape. There are several within a 30′ area.

    Reply
  • I am a bit further north, but I have seen the same with spider burrows. I can’t say if it is a Tarantula or a Calisoga as they are skittish and back into their hole quickly. I can see their legs at night if I try. For scale, the ones in my yard have a hole roughly the size of a nickel to a quarter.

    Reply
  • Those are spitballs produced by ground-nesting yellow jackets (or other wasps). Bees can’t use buckets so they make spitballs and carry the mining tailings out that way. Sometimes you can see the spit-mud splattered around the entrance in order to reinforce the sandy soil from falling back down the chute from the action of their wings.

    Reply

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