What wasp is this?
Location: Wollongong
November 10, 2010 9:33 pm
We have wasps?? feeding on our tea trees in the garden. I have tried to identify this but the marking differ from the available resources.
Signature: Rob

Flower Wasp we believe

Dear Rob,
We spent a bit of time researching this and though we have not found a perfect match, we believe with some certainty that this is a Flower Wasp in the family Tiphiidae.  We started our search where we generally start with Australian insects, on the Brisbane Insect website.  There are some similarities to the images of the Yellow Flower Wasp in the genus
Agruimyia that is pictured on the Brisbane Insect website, but the markings are very different.  There is an unidentified Flower Wasp at the bottom of the family page on the Brisbane Insect Website, and the markings are totally different, but the body structure and wing veinage seem similar.  The What Bug is That? Australian website has a head on view of a Flower Wasp feeding on the blossoms of the tea tree that is probably the closest visual match we have found.  There is a photo of a mounted specimen of Thynnus zonatus on a Tasmanian government website that also bears a resemblance to your wasp, so we did a search on that genus and hit paydirt with a photo tentatively identified as Thynnus apterus on RedBubble.  Your wasp is nearly identical to the male wasp on RedBubble and photographer posted this comment:  “This is a wingless Female Flower Wasp but I’m actually not sure of this species. Brisbane Insects have a shot and speculate Catocheilus sp., (synonym: Hemithynnus sp.). But I’ve found something close on the WA Ag Dept ICDB Specimen Images that seems close to Thynnus apterus? If anyone knows let me know. (see accompanying shots) Now the story.
I was out in the middle of the day hope to find some nice reptiles or insects and was following an Owl Fly when I saw this lady come out of the sandy soil and climb up the nearest shrub. As she reached the top I heard a buzz past my ear and a yellow headed winged male landed on her (I moved away a bit at this stage having a healthy respect for “flying” wasps!!!). After a quick pash they were copulating and he flew off carrying the wingless female. From the time she emerged from the soil, set off her pheromones and was carried away on her honeymoon the whole episode to less than a minute and a half. Talk about a whirlwind romance with his child bride!!!!
”  The photos were taken at Emerald Beach in New South Wales, the same state as your city of Wollongong.  Most of the wasps in this group in Australia have wingless females and the winged males fly about with the females attached during the mating process. Just to create additional confusion, when we did an image search for Thynnus apterus, a nearly identical image of a mounted specimen identified as Agriomyia maculata (flower wasp) popped up from the entomology collection of an Australian museum.   After an hour, we thought this is enough research for now.  We are confident that you have a Flower Wasp in the family Tiphiidae, which may be either Thynnus apterus or Agriomyia maculata, or the two names may be synonymous for the same species.

Ed Note:  April 4, 2013
We returned from a holiday and found a slew of mail, including this correction with the explanation that the family has now been split because of DNA analysis.  DNA analysis is now revolutionizing entomology, and we are a bit sad that observations are now not enough for conclusive species identification.  “Dead and spread” to quote Julian Donahue now seems to be the only way we mere humans will ever know for sure if the taxonomy is correct until the next new revolution in attempting to understand the complexity of life on our planet is discovered.

Correction:  April 4, 2013
Hi Bugman,
It should read now Thynnidae.
Dr Graham Brown
Consultant Insect Taxonomist

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Location: Australia

5 Responses to Flower Wasp from Australia

  1. Graham Brown says:

    The wasp is currently know as Catocheilus apterus if it came from Wollongong (south of Sydney on the east coast). However this is a large complex of species each with a small distribution. The photo is of a male. The family is now considered to be Thynnidae, differing from Tiphiidae based on molecular data.

    • bugman says:

      Thanks for the correction

    • bugman says:

      Are they still commonly called Flower Wasps? If they can only be distinguished by molecular data, does that mean all the other information in our original identification is correct?

  2. Graham Brown says:

    The common name goes back to at least the turn of the previous century for the family Thynnidae in Australia. This family was reduced to a subfamily within the Tiphiidae on 1949 but revived as a family and several other subfamilies added a few years ago on molecular data. As the Thynnidae of the early 1900s is now a subfamily Thynninae within the new Thynnidae the question arises as to whether the name should be applied to the family or subfamily. I’m inclined to apply the common name to the family as the second largest subfamily, the Anthoboscinae, was included within the Scoliidae pre 1949 and the common rname for these is hairy flower wasps. These two subfamilies are most diverse in Australia and the common name is in common usage here. I’ve seen comments elsewhere stating the common name flower wasp is only used rarely is wrong.

  3. I have a good shot of what is probably a male flower wasp, taken in the Third Cemetery on North Head (Sydney). Available on request to petermacinnis@ozemail.com.au — I took about 20 shots to get the best.

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