Location: Baghdad, Iraq
May 19, 2011 1:55 am
These large ”wasps” (?) are quite common over here. I found this one dying today so…
I’d like to know the species AND I’m really curious about the apparent parasite infestation it is suffering from. They look like ticks of some sort.
Signature: Phil Monroe

Mammoth Wasp with Phoretic Mites

Dear Phil,
We stumbled a bit on this but eventually we found the identity of your Flower Wasp in the family Scoliidae.  We based that initial search on the robust size and hairy legs of this magnificent creature.  According to BugGuide, the best source for well organized insect identification of North American species, Flower Wasps can be identified by as being: “Robust wasps, medium-sized to large. … Bodies hairy… Usually dark-colored, often with light marks (yellow or white) on abdomen.”  The web search then provided a BioLib link and we immediately landed on a nice composite image of
Megascolia maculata maculata.  The yellow head on your individual indicates she is female.  Elsewhere on BioLib, a page with images of living individuals contains this description “Abdominal apex with red pubescence” and that is supported in your photograph with the scaled ruler.  A Cretan website indicates that it “is the largest European solitary wasp”  and the author writes “It doesn’t seem to be a very rare insect but I had never seen one close-up before.  Females will find, paralyze with their sting and then lay their eggs in larvae of large beetles (such as dung beetle and rhinoceros beetle). Upon hatching the wasp larvae will then feed on the paralyzed grub.”   Here is some information from the not to terribly scientific Wildside Holidays website:  “This is a very large solitary wasp, the female reaching up to 4.5cm whereas the male is a little smaller. This species appears in warm weather during late May, June, July and August. They hold no danger to humans despite their size and black / yellow warning colours. They feed eagerly on flower nectar and this is the best time to view them.The larger female can be told apart by her yellow face and short antennae. The male has a black head and longer antennae. Both have two yellow bands on their abdomens which can sometimes be divided to form 4 spots, which is more evident on the female in these pictures.  You may see several of these wasps flying around decaying tree stumps, they have a purpose here. They are searching for larvae of a particular beetle. Inside the rotten wood may be young of the Rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes nasicornis) [See image below]. The female Mammoth wasp once she has discovered the huge larvae will sting one to paralyze it and then lay her egg on the outer skin. On hatching, the larvae of the Mammoth wasp will eat into its host thereby killing it. The larva of the wasp then creates a cocoon near to the meal remains. It will stay in this cocoon over winter and hatch out once the spring weather warms sufficiently.”  TrekNature also has a nice photo and information.  North American species also paralyze Scarab Beetle Grubs.  What you believe to be parasites are Phoretic Mites.  These Mites do not harm the host insect, but use it for transportation purposes.  Phoretic Mites often attach themselves in great numbers to flying insects who then transport the Mites to new locations and fresh food supplies.  There may be some benefit for the Mammoth Wasp for this to be considered a symbiotic relationship.  Perhaps the mites feed on something at the location where the Beetle Grubs are found that ensures that the wasp larva will not have any competition for food, but that remains to be researched.

Mammoth Wasp with Phoretic Mites

Wow!  That’s a lot of info!  Thanks!
That’s interesting about them flying around stumps.  We have a great deal of date palms here and they fly around the base of those almost exclusively.

Location: Iraq

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