Potter Wasp Facts: Essential Facts for Nature Enthusiasts

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In this article, we discuss everything that you might want to know about potter wasps, such as their lifecycle, eating habits, habitat, and why they are known as “potter” wasps.

Potter wasps, also known as mason wasps, are a group of wasps that come under the family Vespidae in the order Hymenoptera.

In the past, they have also been classified under another family, Eumeninae.

The following article will discuss more about these potter wasps: what they eat, their lifecycle, their mating rituals, etc. Keep reading!

 

Potter Wasp
Potter Wasp Nest

 

What Are Potter Wasps?

Potter wasps get their name from their habit of building a nest that resembles a pot.

It’s about the size of a cherry tomato and has one small opening, just like a vase.

Potter wasps are largely black or brown with yellow, red, orange, or white bands. Their bodies are small, measuring only around ⅜ -¾ inches long.

Much like other vespids, when at rest, the wings of potter wasps remain folded along their length.

They have a prominent abdomen and thorax and a very narrow waist.

Though closely related to paper wasps, potter wasps are solitary wasps that build their own individual nests and do not live in colonies.

Potter Wasp Types

There are a few types of potter wasps that have physical characteristics that differentiate them from each other.

Potter wasps are often confused with paper wasps, Indian hornets, or bald-faced hornets, but they are starkly different from them.

Behavior-wise, all potter wasps are solitary wasps that build mud nests and hunt paralyzed caterpillars for their larvae.

Physical coloring and patterns can be used as a way of differentiating between types of potter wasps.

However, there may be several species in different genera that share the same physical characteristics. Here, we list a few of them.

Eumenes fraternus

This species of potter wasp can be identified by its long abdominal segment.

It’s slender and thin at the head but widens towards the tail end. It’s largely black in color, with a few ivory markings.

This species is common in the eastern US and Canada.

 

 

Monobia quadridens

This species, also known as the four-toothed mason wasp, is mostly found in North America. Their bodies are largely entirely black, with just one broad ivory band.

There are two generations of this species: one emerges in the summer and one in the spring.

One distinct fact is that copulation in four-toothed mason wasps lasts for 30 minutes, while it lasts only for one or two minutes in other wasp species.

Euodynerus potter wasps

Wasps that fall under this genus have a similar appearance: black bodies with varied yellow patterns.

Some species have a yellow band on their thorax, while others have yellow dots near this band.

Some species have two yellow bands: a decorative one on the abdomen and a plain yellow one towards the tail end.

Ancistrocerus

Potter wasps that fall under this genus can be differentiated by the variety of patterns on their bodies.

Wasps with five yellow bands on their bodies and a pattern resembling a smiley face could be identified as the Catskill potter wasp, Ancistrocerus albophaleratus.

At the same time, the Lobed Mason wasp may not have the smiley, just two dots and bands.

Stenodynerus

Yet another genus is Stenodynerus. Potter wasps of this kind have a black body but a pattern of six yellow bands.

Cross-Potter wasp

The cross-potter wasps are not as well known but are abundantly seen on both coasts of the US. They have a black body with pale white or yellow patterns.

What Does A Potter Wasp Eat?

Adult potter wasps have a simple diet and usually feed on flower nectar.

However, the developing potter wasp larva is carnivorous and feeds on the prey brought to it by the mother wasp.

Female potter wasps hunt caterpillars, beetle larvae, or spiders by paralyzing them to bring them as food to their larvae.

Potter wasps also lay only one egg per cell that they build.

Hence, they have to undertake multiple trips to get prey for each developing larva.

The larvae then keep feeding on the provisioned prey until it’s time to pupate.

 

 

Where do Potter wasps live?

Geographically, potter wasps are mostly found in temperate regions.

In the US and Canada alone, there are around 270 species of potter wasps, and there are close to 3,000 species worldwide.

Habitat-wise, potter wasps can be spotted in urban areas and in woodlands.

The potter wasp larvae live inside the pot nest that the mother wasp builds, while the adults can be spotted foraging around flowers.

Potter wasps build their nests practically anywhere, but they mostly prefer the underside of leaves or on plant stems and twigs.

They also sometimes build their nests in neglected spaces like keyholes, cracks in buildings, etc.

The Life Cycle of a Potter Wasp

Potter wasps tend to have 2-3 generations in a year and very short lifespans.

They mate during the spring, summer, and fall, and male wasps are known to have more than one mate.

Laying Eggs

Once the male and female potter wasps mate, the female goes on to build her nest with soil and regurgitated water. Some species also use chewed plant matter for the nest.

The potter wasp builds her nest in the form of a clay pot with a small opening, usually on the stems of plants or on twigs. That’s where the name “potter” comes from.

A female wasp lays only one egg per cell.

Now some species might build their nest, then go on to hunt for caterpillars and other prey, bring them to the nest, and then lay the egg on top of the prey.

Other species might lay the egg first, then go out and hunt for fresh prey for their young once the egg hatches.

 

Potter Wasps Mating

 

Larval Stage

Once the egg hatches and the nest is provisioned with sufficient prey, the female wasp seals the nest so that the larva can feed, pupate, and develop during the winter.

She may go on to make other nests and lay more eggs.

Adulthood

Potter wasp larvae may take a couple of weeks to up to a year to fully develop into adults. Once they have transitioned, they dig their way out of the chamber.

However, the survival of each larva is not guaranteed. Female potter wasps do not defend their nest, and hence it can easily be scraped off surfaces.

How Long Do Potter Wasps Live?

Potter wasps, like other wasp species, do not have a very long lifespan.

Female potter wasps usually survive for two to three months after emergence from their chamber.

During this time, they find a mate, lay their eggs in various pot cells, and provision them.

Do They Bite or Sting?

Potter or mason wasps do not bite or sting unless provoked.

Usually, potter wasps will not bother to disturb humans. But if they are provoked or manhandled, they will deliver a painful sting that might also lead to allergic reactions.

Are they poisonous or venomous?

Yes, potter wasps are venomous. But the use of this poison is directed towards prey that they hunt, such as caterpillars.

They use venom to paralyze the prey so it can be carried to their nest easily.

Venom is never meant to harm humans or pets.

Are they harmful or beneficial to humans?

They aren’t really harmful to humans except that they can deliver a painful sting if manhandled or threatened.

They are beneficial because their main prey is caterpillars.

Hence, they are good pest controllers because they will reduce and control the populations of caterpillars in your garden.

What Are Potter Wasps Attracted To?

Potter wasps are attracted to flowers like goldenrods and late-season thoroughworts because their nectar and pollen serve as a good source of food for the adults.

Additionally, they are also attracted to caterpillars, which are their natural predators.

They might also be attracted to spider and beetle larvae as they hunt these insects for their young ones to feed on.

 

 

How Do I Get Rid of Potter Wasps?

Potter wasps are not really harmful or threatening. It’s alright if they’re flying around in your garden.

However, if there are too many of them in your house, you can take the following measures to combat them.

Try to remove wooden furniture from outdoor spaces since bees are attracted to wood.

You can also seal any holes or spaces that might serve as entryways for these wasps to come into your house.

You can also use aerosol pesticide sprays on them to kill them. However, this is a very drastic step and not usually recommended because potter wasps are harmless.

Bug Control Recommendation Tool

What type of pest are you dealing with?

How severe is the infestation?

Do you require child/pet/garden safe treatments (organic)?

Are you willing to monitor and maintain the treatment yourself?


Interesting Facts About Potter Wasps

  • Though potter wasps are mostly black or brown in color with white and yellow bands, there are some species that have shiny wings and dark blue bodies.
  • Potter wasps are named so because they build their nests in the form of a pot or jug.
  • Different species of potter wasps build their nests in different places. Some use plant stems and hollow twigs, while others may use nail holes and screw shafts. Some species also use the abandoned nests of other insects within Hymenoptera.
  • A single female potter wasp can build around 20 different nests in her lifetime.
  • Potter wasps are natural pest controllers. They keep caterpillar populations in check as they hunt the grubs for their developing

Wrap Up

Potter wasps are a very interesting group of insects. They are known to be marvelous architects because of the way they build their nests in the form of a clay pot or jug.

These are solitary wasps and spend their lifetime mating, building a nest, and provisioning their larva with food.

They do not live in colonies but may still have multiple nests at the same time.

Thank you for reading!

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it called a potter wasp?

Potter wasps have diverse nest-building habits, they either use existing cavities or construct their own underground or exposed nests with one or multiple brood cells.
They use mud or chewed plant material as the building material.
The name “potter wasp” comes from the shape of mud nests built by certain species, on which Native Americans may have based their pottery designs.

Where can you find potter wasps?

Potter wasps are mostly found in temperate regions, with around 270 species in the US and Canada and close to 3,000 worldwide.
They can be found in urban areas and woodlands, and their larvae live inside the pot nest built by the mother wasp.
Potter wasps build their nests on the underside of leaves, plant stems, and twigs, and sometimes in neglected spaces like keyholes and cracks in buildings.
Adult potter wasps can be spotted foraging around flowers.

How big is a potter wasp?

Potter wasps are small wasps with black or brown bodies and colored bands. They grow to be about 3/8 – 3/4 inches long.
Their wings are folded along their bodies when at rest.
They have a prominent abdomen and thorax and a narrow waist. Potter wasps are solitary and build their own nests, unlike paper wasps, which live in colonies.

What attracts potter wasps?

Potter wasps are attracted to flowers like goldenrods and thoroughworts for their nectar and pollen.
They are also attracted to caterpillars, spiders, and beetle larvae, which they hunt for their young to feed on.
These wasps are also attracted to any place where there is loose soil, which they need to build their nests in.

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.

    View all posts
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23 Comments. Leave new

  • I have both of these wasps in my collection, and have had them identified at the South Australian Museum. The striped one is Abispa splendida, which is relatively rare. The overly enthusiastic male on top is the common Abispa ephippium. I remember in Brisbane the male ephippiums used to hang around at the swimming pool all day, waiting to jump on the hard working females when they came to get water. The behaviour in the photograph is the same, except this male is chasing after the wrong species.

    Reply
  • Thanks so much for helping me identify this wasp 🙂

    Reply
  • I think this is Eumenes fraternus:
    http://bugguide.net/node/view/32193
    Zethus has no white spots on the last body segment.

    Reply
  • Mark O'Neill
    April 28, 2013 4:06 am

    Years late – but this is a potter wasp, Delta dimiatipenne to be precise …

    Reply
  • michelle jamieson
    January 10, 2015 3:50 pm

    Dear All ,
    I captured & took very detailed photos of the larger wasp ?the one on the bottom with srtipes in the above photos at Salamander Bay NSW Australia , there where about 14 flying around &the outside of house /it was very pretty but to me it said it would bite & cause pain for my young grandchildren,thats why I captured it alive /my son in law works for National parks & wildlife or department of enviroment ,so I gave it to him /so far they think its a potters wasp ////but what ever it is I can tell you I now know what bit me 19times through my clothes last time I was up there about 3months ago /I was putting children in car when I felt knife stabbing hot burning stinging pain all up & down my leg over & over never felt pain like it / I stripped my thick jeans off thinking it had to have been inside my jeans I now know it was on outside /thankful it got me not the children /swallowed to antihistamine tablets & went straight to hospital I had a job to walk,some tablets & needle helped/ the Dr said it had to be a wasp or something spider for the number of times I was bitten – but for weeks after, the burn was still there couldn’t bare to have clothing touch it / so just what do you know about the venom ?? If you would like photos I am happy to email them /for my grandchildrens saftey would like to know how to get rid of them .Regards many thanks

    Reply
  • michelle jamieson
    January 10, 2015 3:50 pm

    Dear All ,
    I captured & took very detailed photos of the larger wasp ?the one on the bottom with srtipes in the above photos at Salamander Bay NSW Australia , there where about 14 flying around &the outside of house /it was very pretty but to me it said it would bite & cause pain for my young grandchildren,thats why I captured it alive /my son in law works for National parks & wildlife or department of enviroment ,so I gave it to him /so far they think its a potters wasp ////but what ever it is I can tell you I now know what bit me 19times through my clothes last time I was up there about 3months ago /I was putting children in car when I felt knife stabbing hot burning stinging pain all up & down my leg over & over never felt pain like it / I stripped my thick jeans off thinking it had to have been inside my jeans I now know it was on outside /thankful it got me not the children /swallowed to antihistamine tablets & went straight to hospital I had a job to walk,some tablets & needle helped/ the Dr said it had to be a wasp or something spider for the number of times I was bitten – but for weeks after, the burn was still there couldn’t bare to have clothing touch it / so just what do you know about the venom ?? If you would like photos I am happy to email them /for my grandchildrens saftey would like to know how to get rid of them .Regards many thanks

    Reply
  • We took e few photographs one of these 2 days ago in Mount Evelyn Victoria

    Reply
  • Dear Catherine,
    it seems to me that this is a Bottlebrush sawfly – Pterygophorus cinctus. Since sawflies can’t sting, the coloration is probably mimicking a (stinging) wasp, for example Abispa ephippium.

    Reply
  • Wanda J. Kothlow
    August 1, 2015 9:09 am

    Greetings, Daniel et al!
    Thank you so much for your prompt and detailed reply!

    I confess, I can be chatty; I believe in providing details to help with identification. I find the details help the person I’ve asked for assistance to have a more thorough picture of the critter and environment in which said critter was encountered.

    I like to think we have a healthy ecosystem. The garden is over 80% native perennials, weeding is done by hand and I encourage integrated pest management. Absolutely nothing that ends in “-cide” is allowed near my garden. We freshen the mulch every fall, leave the foliage through the winter for structure, and in April begin loosening the winter debris to allow new growth.

    It is because I took over care of this garden that I’ve been photographing the insect life I find in the garden, on the plants, in the soil. Was fascinating watching the parasitic wasps go after the milkweed aphids in 2013! Found lacewing eggs, saw the larvae going after the aphids, and the lady bug larvae finding meals, too!

    The cicadas are beginning their annual concerts now, singing in the heat of the day. I found a few shells yesterday. Summer is here!

    Blessings to all at What’s That Bug,
    Wanda J. Kothlow

    Reply
    • Thanks for the update Wanda. We look forward to future submissions of your interesting insect wildlife.

      Reply
  • Thank you for explaining. We have curious young boys who are into bugs.

    Reply
  • Squatted one in Epping Victoria last week as it was aggressive. It looked unusual and not like anything I’ve seen before so I decided to take a photo . How do I upload pic as proof?

    Reply
  • Grace Pedalino
    September 5, 2016 7:05 pm

    Thanks very much for the ID. I thought the wasp’s markings were quite striking. I’m glad you like the photo. One thing we have lots of is goldenrod. I’ll see what else I can photograph that might be of interest on the goldenrod for your new section.

    Thanks again for an informative website.

    Reply
  • Grace Pedalino
    September 5, 2016 7:05 pm

    Thanks very much for the ID. I thought the wasp’s markings were quite striking. I’m glad you like the photo. One thing we have lots of is goldenrod. I’ll see what else I can photograph that might be of interest on the goldenrod for your new section.

    Thanks again for an informative website.

    Reply
  • JC Ynzaurralde
    January 28, 2017 10:58 pm

    I’ve had a very large wasp trying to collect water from my 3 year old son’s pool and so far so long as we don’t fear,attack it or loose site of it it has never bitten any of us even with my nieces when they were in the pool with my son and I’ve had also the opportunity of having this beautiful species of insect as close as one foot away from me without fearing it

    Reply
  • I’ve seen these wasps around my swimming pool on Friday. We live in Lysterfield Victoria.
    My puppy bit it and then I saw the wasp attack my dog.
    Pup went to vet to get help as her face swell up. Never seen these types of wasps around before.

    Reply
  • I was doing some yard work in my front yard, by my front door I saw a potter wasp on my stairs. When I took a closer look I saw the dirt chamber and not wanting a wasp nest, I sprayed it with water then knocked it away with a stick. That is when I saw the green worms. They freaked me out a little bit. When I was done with my work I came inside to find out what the wasp and green worms were.

    Reply
  • Mark,it’s Delta Dimidiatipenne

    Reply

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