In this article, we will share some immensely fascinating facts about cuckoo wasps, one of nature’s most beautiful wasps.
Cuckoo wasps are interesting insects widely recognized for their beautiful colors.
You can spot them in rainbow or shiny metallic colors, mostly blue and green.
There are several interesting facts about cuckoo wasps that make them one-of-a-kind.
In the following article, I will discuss some interesting facts.
What are Cuckoo Wasps?
Cuckoo wasps belong to the family Chrysididae and the order Hymenoptera. They are also known as ruby-tailed wasps and are usually under 0.5 inches in size.
The term Chrysididae is derived from the Greek word “Chrysis,” which means “gold vessel” and could have inspired the term “gold wasps.”
They have unique bright and metallic colors, making it very easy to spot them.
Cuckoo wasps are solitary wasps and do not live in social colonies like other bees. They do not build nests or colonies.
Cuckoo wasps are also external parasites and feed on mature bees and wasp larvae.
Adult cuckoo wasps will also feed on flower nectar while foraging and looking for potential hosts.
These peculiar insects prefer Mediterranean and dry climates. In North America, they are most commonly found in California.
4 Amazing Facts About Cuckoo Wasps
1. Cuckoo wasps live up to their name: they plant eggs in other arthropod’s nests
The cuckoo wasp engages in an activity known as brood parasitism, which the cuckoo bird also engages in. It means that they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.
Living up to the name, the female cuckoo wasp, once pregnant, stakes out a good wasp or bee nest to lay her eggs in.
At the right moment, when the host insect leaves its incomplete nest unattended to hunt for food, the female cuckoo wasp will sneak into the nest and leave her eggs with the host’s eggs.
Another way they sneak into a host’s nest is by attaching themselves to the paralyzed prey that the host drags into the burrow as food for its larvae.
Once the resident bee or wasp finishes the nest, she leaves food inside for her own larvae and seals the nest.
Once the eggs hatch, the cuckoo wasp larvae either feed on the host larva of the bee or wasp or starve them to death by monopolizing the food source within the nest.
2. They can curl themselves up, and their outer shell protects them like an armadillo
Cuckoo wasps are protected against the stings and attacks of other insects by their exoskeleton.
The inside surface of their abdomen is cupped, so if and when they get attacked, cuckoo wasps tuck their legs in and turn them into a ball.
Much like an armadillo, the external skeleton will then protect the cuckoo wasp against the attack of other insects.
Usually, when the female cuckoo wasp tries to sneak into the nest of another bee or wasp, there’s a high possibility that the host insect will catch her inside the nest.
The female cuckoo wasp curls into a ball when the host bee or wasp attacks her. The host is then left with no choice but to pick up the cuckoo wasp ball and evict her from the nest.
The unharmed female will try again to sneak into the nest whenever possible to lay her eggs.
3. There’s an arms race going on between cuckoo wasps and apoid wasps
Scientific research has established that when brood parasitism occurs, there is pressure on the parasite to evolve methods to remain undetected and on those being preyed on to evolve so that they can detect the parasite.
This is the case with cuckoo wasps and apoid wasps as well.
While apoids had to find a way to embalm their prey, cuckoo wasps felt no such need, and thus the chemical composition of their venom is different.
4. Scientists don’t understand the reason behind their beautiful colors
As we discussed above, cuckoo wasps have unique and interesting colors.
Their appearance greatly contrasts their brood’s parasitic nature of leaving their eggs in another bee’s or wasp’s nest.
Since they use camouflaging techniques and trickery to lay their eggs, you would expect them to be ordinary-looking so as not to draw attention to them.
However, that is not the case. Cuckoo wasps can be spotted in bright colors like red, blue, and green.
They are also known as gold wasps, jewel wasps, or emerald wasps, probably because of their shiny colors.
Interestingly enough, scientists have not been able to pinpoint the exact purpose behind their colorful appearance.
It was only in 2009 that it was found that colors are a result of light refraction.
The cuckoo wasp’s exoskeleton has open spaces in between the six layers of cuticles.
Light refracts when it falls onto these open spaces, giving the wasps attractive and shiny colors.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the meaning of cuckoo wasp?
Chrysura Refulgens is a type of wasp known as a “cuckoo wasp” because it lays its eggs in the nests of other species.
The scientific name for this family of wasps, Chrysididae, comes from their shiny appearance, and many species have names like jewel wasp or gold wasp.
The largest subfamily, Chrysidinae, are kleptoparasites, laying their eggs in host nests and consuming the host egg or larva.
Chrysidids are always solitary and prefer dry, sandy habitats. They can curl into a defensive ball when attacked. Some species visit flowers for nectar.
What species of cuckoo wasp has a red abdomen?
Hedychrum rutilans are a species of cuckoo wasps that are primarily found in Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Bulgaria, Italy, France, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and North Africa.
They are cleptoparasites and parasitoids of beewolf larvae.
The female cuckoo wasp paralyzes honeybee workers and then puts her eggs on them. These poor honeybees end up becoming food for beewolf larvae.
Those larvae are then placed in the female beewolf’s brood cells.
When the beewolf larvae come out, the cuckoo wasp larvae are waiting for them. They use both them and the honeybees to satisfy their dietary needs.
These wasps prefer sandy and warm habitats.
What is the rarest wasp in the world?
The emerald cockroach wasp is a solitary wasp found in tropical regions of Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.
It has a metallic blue-green body and a unique reproductive behavior where it stings a cockroach and uses it as a host for its larvae.
The wasp chews off half of the roach’s antennae and leads it to its burrow, where it lays eggs between the roach’s legs.
The hatched larva lives and feeds on the roach for several days before consuming its internal organs and eventually killing it.
The fully grown wasp emerges from the roach’s body and lives for several months.
What is the name of a cuckoo wasp?
Cuckoo wasps are part of the Chrysididae family.
Chrysididae is a large family of parasitoid or kleptoparasitic wasps with over 3000 described species.
They are known as cuckoo or emerald wasps and have brilliant metallic colors created by structural coloration.
They are most diverse in desert regions and often associated with solitary bee and wasp species. Some species have evolved chemical mimicry of host odors.
The cuckoo wasp is a very interesting species of wasp. These tiny insects have a lot going on for someone as little as them.
It starts with their colorful and metallic appearance. Cuckoo wasps can be spotted in several colors, from blue and green to red and purple.
They are also brood parasites that leave their eggs in another host’s nests, similar to what the cuckoo bird does.
Lastly, like an armadillo, cuckoo wasps can curl into a ball to protect themselves from attacks and predators. Their pitted exoskeletons protect them against stings and bites.
Thank you for reading!
Cuckoo wasps are such fascinatingly beautiful creatures that no one can remain untouched by their beauty.
Many of our readers wrote to us asking us about these wasps, and the reason behind their metallic, shiny colors.
Please go through some of the letters that we have received over the years, along with some amazing pictures of these insects.
Letter 1 – Cuckoo Wasp
Cuckoo Wasp Timothy Hi Timothy, We wanted Eric Eaton to concisely clarify the difference between Cuckoo Wasps and Sweat Bees. Here is what he wrote: “Well, actually, this is a cuckoo wasp (Chrysididae). It IS hard to tell the difference:-) You might note how the abdominal segments are unequal in length in many of the chrysidids, and the sculpturing on the thorax is generally much more coarse than it is in metallic sweat bees. Further, you don’t often see chrysidids on flowers. The are more often around aphid colonies, and old barns and such. Hope that helps a little. Eric”
Letter 2 – Cuckoo Wasp
found this fly/wasp? in Oman Tarik Al said Hi Tariq, This sure looks like a Cuckoo Wasp from the Family Chrysididae to us. These metallic blue or green wasps can roll into a ball by burying their head in the concave abdomen. It lays its eggs in the nests of bees and wasps, hence the name cuckoo.
Letter 3 – Australian Cuckoo Wasp
Strange flying insect Hi! Your site is incredible, I’m enjoying it immensely. While I don’t normally have trouble identifying the bugs I find, this one’s really stumping me. It flew into my office here in Brisbane, Australia, and most closely resembles a wasp. It had large wasp-like mandibles, and held its wings like a wasp, but the colour was breathtaking. This irridescent green would turn blue depending on the light, and after taking several photos I let him go and it was like watching a sapphire soar into the sky. If you could help identify it I’d be very happy. I have images of more Australian insects here: http://nfg.2y.net/system/gallery/index.php?list=7 Thanks, Lawrence. Hi Lawrence, Your beauty is a Cuckoo Wasp, in the family Chrysididae. Cuckoo Wasps get their name because they parasitize the nests of other wasps and do not build their own nest.
Letter 4 – Cuckoo Wasp
Delightful insect! Location: Charlottesville, Virginia March 6, 2011 1:53 pm Hello! I found this little guy in our central Virginia windowsill one morning. I’ve seen a lot of bugs, but I’ve never seen one like this one before. I’m not sure if it’s a wasp or some type of fly. It was only about 1/4 of an inch when all curled up. The wings were iridescent purple on the back, which unfortunately didn’t show through on the pictures. I left him unattended, and unfortunately during that time, my mom found him and, not realizing how cool I thought he was, she threw him in the garbage. I did get a few fairly good pictures before then, thankfully. Anyway, I’d love some help in identifying it. I’ve browsed whatsthatbug many times in the past, and can’t remember seeing a match. Thanks for your help! Signature: Jessica Hi Jessica, This jewel like beauty is a Cuckoo Wasp in the family Chrysididae which you may verify on Bugguide. According to BugGuide: “Scientific name is from Greek, chryso, meaning ‘gold’, referring to the metallic golden coloration of some species. The name ‘cuckoo wasp’ is attributed to the fact that this insect, like the cuckoo bird, lays her eggs in the nest of an unsuspecting host.”
Letter 5 – Cuckoo Wasp
Metallic bee or wasp Location: Northeast Louisiana June 20, 2011 10:54 pm Bugman, In 2010 I was stung by a stunningly beautiful bee or wasp. In reflex I knocked it off my arm. Naturally it was stunned. I was able to capture it and used a lasso technique to photograph it; afterwards I let it go out into the wild blue yonder. It reminded me of a sweatbee, but larger, more the size of a honeybee. Outer shell very hard and glassy. Brilliant metallic peacock blue with translucent black wings. Antennae did not curl like you see in some species. It’s definitely not a cricket killer, orchard bee. I’ve compared every detail. I think it’s too big to be some sort of sweat bee. Hope you can identify it. Signature: BugBunny Dear BugBunny, This colorful creature is a Cuckoo Wasp in the family Chrysididae. We are very intrigued with your lasso technique for photography. It appears that dental floss or thread was used to keep the Cuckoo Wasp from flying away before the photo session was complete. Cuckoo Wasps, according to BugGuide, as “Parasitoids feed on the larva of the host and cleptoparasites ‘steal’ the host’s food. The food-stealing behavior of cleptoparasite species resembles that of the cuckoo bird and gave rise to the cuckoo wasp’s name. Hosts of parasitoid species include bees, sphecid wasps, potter wasps, sawflies, silk moths, and the eggs of stick insects. Cleptoparasitic species feed on provisions of sphecid wasp nests, which may include dead spiders, true bugs, aphids, or thrips.” BugGuide also notes: “According to Kimsey (2): ‘The female sting has been modified into an egg-laying tube with highly reduced valvulae and poison gland. As a result, unlike most other aculeates, chrysidids cannot sting, and they can be easily handled whether male or female’.” That information contradicts your personal experience that you were stung. Perhaps you were really bitten as it appears that Cuckoo Wasps have well developed mandibles. Daniel, I had already found the photos on BugGuide of the Cuckoo Wasp, when I was holding my wasp in my hand. I was able to compare them carefully, and I didn’t believe it to be the same wasp. My wasp was bluer in tone and did not have the hair or pitted (bubblely?) shell that the Cuckoo photos seem to show. Mine was extremely slick or glassy feeling. The body wasn’t as thick looking as the Cuckoo (more streamlined). As for the sting, maybe it was a “pinch”, because it certainly didn’t hurt or throb afterwards, but it looked liked it had a stinger and I noticed it because of the pain (minor) on my arm. The lasso was made with jeweler’s wire, which is thin as thread and pliable. It was fairly easy to wrap around his body and then unwrap. This must be a huge family of wasps, in all my searching of images on the internet, I haven’t found one that looked like mine. It is a beautiful creature though, it seemed to me to be a fantasy model of a transformer wasp. Since we have no entomologists on staff, we may be wrong.
Letter 6 – Cuckoo Wasp
A Bug I Photographed With Outstanding Coloring! Location: Southern New Jersey September 26, 2011 9:24 am Hey bugman, First time on your site. I actually have a bit of a bug phobia, but I got over my fears to shot this little guy, specifically because his coloring was so amazing! FYI I did not enhance his colors in any way. Wit htat said, I’d love to know what he is since I’ve never seen anything like this before! He was tiny… probably half the size of my pinky fingernail. Thanks, Signature: Jeff D. Hi Jeff, This is a Cuckoo Wasp in the family Chrysididae. We agree the colors are magnificent. Cuckoo Wasps have the ability to curl up into a ball to defend themselves. Here is some information from BugGuide: “Most species are external parasites of wasp and bee larvae … Some species are parasitoids and others cleptoparasites. Either way the host larva dies. … Parasitoids feed on the larva of the host and cleptoparasites ‘steal’ the host’s food. The food-stealing behavior of cleptoparasite species resembles that of the cuckoo bird and gave rise to the cuckoo wasp’s name. Hosts of parasitoid species include bees, sphecid wasps, potter wasps, sawflies, silk moths, and the eggs of stick insects. Cleptoparasitic species feed on provisions of sphecid wasp nests, which may include dead spiders, true bugs, aphids, or thrips. … The female sting has been modified into an egg-laying tube with highly reduced valvulae and poison gland. As a result, unlike most other aculeates, chrysidids cannot sting and can be easily handled.”
Letter 7 – Cuckoo Wasp
Brilliant Blue Bugger Location: North San Francisco Bay Area, Inland January 27, 2012 9:48 pm I’ve searched your site, and the net in general, but haven’t found a good match for the subject of my attached image, recorded May 7, 2011 in mid-afternoon. Taken in macro mode, when viewing ”actual pixels” the effective magnification is about 4.5X. Body length, excluding legs, is 13/32” ±1/32, or about O.40”. Our photogenic friend’s carapace has an irridescent metallic sheen that can range from royal blue to teal to green. Here it appears to be royal blue with light blue speckles on the top, while it’s lower hemisphere is teal. At other angles the body appeared green and the tail blue. Might this be a wasp of some sort? Signature: zzwerzy Dear zzwerzy, While it is an easy enough matter for us to identify your lovely insect as a Cuckoo Wasp in the family Chrysididae, it is quite another matter for us to be able to provide you with a species identification. According to BugGuide: “they are most diverse in the west: 166 spp. are found in CA alone (10% of all our spp. are CA endemics)” and we haven’t the necessary skills to differentiate between the species. BugGuide also states: “The name ‘cuckoo wasp’ refers to the fact that these wasps lay eggs in the nests of unsuspecting hosts” and clarifies that with this information: “Parasitoids feed on the larva of the host and cleptoparasites ‘steal’ the host’s food. The food-stealing behavior of cleptoparasite species resembles that of the cuckoo bird and gave rise to the cuckoo wasp’s name. Hosts of parasitoid species include bees, sphecid wasps, potter wasps, sawflies, silk moths, and the eggs of stick insects. Cleptoparasitic species feed on provisions of sphecid wasp nests, which may include dead spiders, true bugs, aphids, or thrips.” BugGuide describes Cuckoo Wasps as having a “Body metallic blue or green, usually with coarse sculpturing (many pits in surface).”
Letter 8 – Cuckoo Wasp
Subject: Blue Fly Location: Southwest, Florida, November 15, 2012 11:25 am I have no idea what kind of fly this is I have searched everywhere and cannot find a picture of this..this picture was taken in southwest Florida, November 15th.. Signature: David Dear David, This magnificent creature is not a fly, but rather a Cuckoo Wasp in the family Chrysididae. The common name originates from the reproductive behavior female who rather than building her own nest, parasitizes the nest of another wasp. According to BugGuide: “Some species are parasitoids and others cleptoparasites. Either way the host larva dies. … Parasitoids feed on the larva of the host and cleptoparasites “steal” the host’s food. The food-stealing behavior of cleptoparasite species resembles that of the cuckoo bird and gave rise to the cuckoo wasp’s name. Hosts of parasitoid species include bees, sphecid wasps, potter wasps, sawflies, silk moths, and the eggs of stick insects. Cleptoparasitic species feed on provisions of sphecid wasp nests, which may include dead spiders, true bugs, aphids, or thrips.”
Letter 9 – Cuckoo Wasp from UK
Subject: small green and purple wasp? Location: Wolverhampton UK July 21, 2013 3:38 am Saw this bug that appeared to be a wasp in the bus stop by my house in Wolverhampton UK. Never seen anything like it before so was interested. It was under an inch long very metallic colours with a bold almost turquoise green abdomen and purple rump. Any ideas Signature: Adam Dear Adam, We thought this was going to be easy, but now we are not certain. Last year we posted a photo of what we identified as a Ruby Tailed Wasp, Hedychridium roseum, a species of Cuckoo Wasp. Today, we tried to verify that and we found the BWars page which describes the wasp as being: “Hedychridium roseum can be diagnosed by the dull, as opposed to shining, abdomen – unique to this species amongst British Hedychridium.” It is difficult to discern if the abdomen on your specimen is dull or shining, but our previous post appears to be shining. That brings us to another possibility, Chrysis fulgida, which we discovered on The Guardian and then verified on BWars and BioLib. To further complicate matters, BWars has other similarly colored species, including Pseudospinolia neglecta, yet another UK Cuckoo Wasp pictured on BWars. So, this is a Cuckoo Wasp, with a general name of Ruby Tailed Wasp, but we are not certain of the genus nor species.
Letter 10 – Cuckoo Wasp
Subject: Metallic blue house fly with big stinger Location: Orlando, Florida March 24, 2016 1:20 pm 3/23/16 Dear Mr. Bugman, I was at my aunt house in Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida, at the beginning of spring in 2016 and I came across an interesting fly that was a dark metallic blue with a stinger as big as big as the fly itself was. The fly was normal size and the stinger was slightly curved. It had a sort of yellowish color to it, but it was mostly brown. It was dead when I found it, and that was the only one I saw, but I still took a picture (though I sincerely apologize for the poor photo taking). Please identify it and if it is a new species, to please call it the Benjamin Fly. Thank you for your time and have a good day. -Benjamin Gillan, 12 year old Signature: Benny G. Dear Benny, This is not a Fly. Flies in the order Diptera have but two wings, a single pair. Your Cuckoo Wasp from the Family Chrysididae has four wings. According to BugGuide: “The female sting has been modified into an egg-laying tube with highly reduced valvulae and poison gland. As a result, unlike most other aculeates, chrysidids cannot sting and can be easily handled.”
Letter 11 – Cuckoo Wasp from Australia
Subject: Strange fly/bug Location: thornlie, western australia March 29, 2016 4:55 am Hi, my mum had a bug/fly land on her and swatted it. It died but is dark in colour but when the photo is taken with flash has amazing colours and a very big sting, similar to a bee but much bigger and with barbs on it. Signature: Email Though it appears to be a stinger, the Cuckoo Wasp is incapable of stinging. The female uses her stinger-like ovipositor to lay eggs and according to the Brisbane Insect site: “Most species are external parasites of other wasp larvae. Females lay eggs in nest of other wasps (Eumeninae of Vespidae and Sphecidae) while the nest host collect food for larvae. Cuckoo Wasp larvae hatch and feed on the food or the host larvae.”
Letter 12 – Cuckoo Wasp
Subject: Orchid bee or cuckoo wasp Location: Birmingham AL April 22, 2017 8:37 am Not sure what this is. Found dead in porch in Birmingham Al Signature: Jeremy Dear Jeremy, This is definitely a Cuckoo Wasp. According to BugGuide: “The female sting has been modified into an egg-laying tube with highly reduced valvulae and poison gland. As a result, unlike most other aculeates, chrysidids cannot sting and can be easily handled.” Daniel Thank you for the reply. I have never seen one before. Very interesting.
Letter 13 – Cuckoo Wasp
Subject: Shiny Blue/Green fly Geographic location of the bug: Raleigh, NC Date: 09/30/2019 Time: 05:31 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman: I saw this shiny bug on my neighbors fence and was curious about what it was because I had never seen one around here. The season is fall but it is still pretty hot and humid and I saw the bug in the late afternoon when it was just about to get dark. Thanks in advance. How you want your letter signed: ADG Dear ADG, This is not a fly. It is a Cuckoo Wasp in the family Chrysididae. According to BugGuide: “The name ‘cuckoo wasp’ refers to the fact that these wasps lay eggs in the nests of unsuspecting hosts.”