Potter Wasp Nest: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

Potter wasps are small, solitary insects that are known for their unique nests. With a narrow “waist” and wings that fold in half lengthwise, these wasps are typically black with yellow markings and range between 3/8 to 3/4 inches in length [source]. They build nests that resemble small pots or jugs, made from a mixture of mud and saliva, which provide shelter for their young.

Potter wasps are considered beneficial insects as they help control populations of other pests, such as caterpillars and beetles. These wasps lay their eggs in the nests they build, and then provision them with paralyzed insects as a food source for their developing larvae. Their nests can be found in a variety of locations, including tree branches, garden structures, and even beetle holes.

Understanding the behavior and nesting habits of potter wasps is crucial when dealing with their nests. While they are not typically aggressive, it’s important to be cautious when approaching their nests, as they may defend their territory when threatened. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about potter wasp nests, including how to identify them and how to handle them safely.

Potter Wasp Nest Identification

Shape and Structure

  • Potter wasp nests are small and shaped like a vase or jug
  • They have a single opening and typically have only one cell

Potter wasp nests are distinct in their shape and structure compared to other wasp nests. These nests resemble a vase or a jug and have a single opening at the top. They are smaller than nests constructed by other species of wasps, and usually contain only one cell where the female places a single egg.

Colors and Materials

  • Potter wasp nests are made of mud
  • Their color varies depending on the type of mud used

The primary material used by potter wasps to build their nests is mud. As a result, the color of these nests can vary according to the type of mud they use. Mud dauber wasps, a closely related species, also construct their nests with mud.

Location and Habitat

  • Potter wasp nests can be found on walls, trees, and other surfaces
  • They may also be located underground or within stems

Potter wasps are not particular about the location of their nests as long as it provides the necessary protection and resources. They may build their nests on walls, trees, and various other surfaces. In some cases, potter wasp nests can be found underground or within the stems of plants.

Comparison of Potter Wasp Nests and Paper Wasp Nests

Feature Potter Wasp Nest Paper Wasp Nest
Shape Vase or jug Open-faced comb
Material Mud Wood fiber and saliva
Cells Single cell Multiple cells
Location Walls, trees, plant stems, underground Building eaves, tall structures

In summary, potter wasp nests are small, vase-shaped structures made of mud, whereas paper wasp nests are open-faced combs made from wood fiber and saliva. Potter wasp nests can be found in various locations including walls, trees, and plant stems, while paper wasp nests are typically found attached to building eaves or tall structures.

Potter Wasp Species

Colors and Markings

Potter wasps display a variety of colors, with the most common combinations being:

  • Black and yellow
  • Red and black
  • Orange and black

They often have slender bodies, narrow waists, and wings folded in half lengthwise when at rest1.

North American Species

In North America, there are several potter wasp species, such as:

  • Eumenes fraternus
  • Eumenes smithii

These are the most commonly found species in Florida2. The genus Symmorphus contains some of the smallest potter wasps, with females measuring about 3/8 inch in length, and males around 1/4 inch3.

Behaviour and Aggressiveness

Potter wasps are solitary insects4. They are generally less aggressive than other wasp species like hornets. Notable behaviors include:

  • Building jug-like mud nests
  • Nesting in beetle holes
  • Females provisioning nests with food

While potter wasps can sting, they rarely do so unless threatened.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Egg Laying Process

Potter wasps lay a single egg in their nests, attaching it to the top inner surface before provisioning it with food. Then they seal the nest to protect the egg from predators or disturbances. Typical nests are small, simple, and made of mud 1.

Larval Stage Development

  • The larva hatches and starts feeding on the provided food
  • After consuming enough food, it enters the pupal stage
  • Pupal stage occurs during hibernation2

Adult Stage

After hibernation, the fully-developed adult potter wasp emerges from its nest. Adult potter wasps have specific characteristics:

  • Length ranges from 3/8 to 3/4 inch
  • Black body with yellow markings
  • Folded, lengthwise wings at rest1

Mating

Potter wasps mate, and the fertilized female creates a new nest to continue the life cycle3.

Differences between queen wasps and potter wasps:

Feature Queen Wasp Potter Wasp
Nest Size Large and complex Small and simple1
Nest Material Wood fibers and saliva4 Mud1
Number of eggs per cell Multiple Single1

Feeding and Foraging Habits

Caterpillars and Beetle Larvae

Potter wasps primarily feed on caterpillars and beetle larvae. These predators play a crucial role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem by controlling pest populations. Some common prey for potter wasps include:

  • Hornworms
  • Cabbageworms
  • Beetle larvae

Prey Capture and Storage

Potter wasps have a unique way of capturing and storing their prey. They paralyze their prey using their venom, instead of killing it. This preserves the freshness of the food for their offspring. Here’s a step-by-step process of their prey capture and storage:

  1. Locate and paralyze prey
  2. Transport the prey to their nest
  3. Seal the nest with mud or clay

Pollination and Gardening Benefits

Apart from being predators, potter wasps are also efficient pollinators. They visit various flowers while foraging for nectar, which aids in the pollination process. Gardening enthusiasts and farmers benefit from the presence of potter wasps as they provide the following advantages:

  • Natural pest control
  • Pollination of various plants
  • Lower need for chemical pesticides

In conclusion, understanding the feeding and foraging habits of potter wasps helps us appreciate their role in our ecosystems. They contribute to pest control, pollination, and overall biodiversity.

Dealing with Potter Wasp Nests

Removal and Prevention Methods

Potter wasps are generally considered beneficial insects, due to their predatory nature, which helps control garden pests. However, when their nests become a nuisance or hazard, some removal methods can be employed:

  • Soapy water: Spray the nest with soapy water and wait a while. This method is considered safe and non-toxic, making it suitable for individuals who wish to avoid chemical insecticides.
  • Protective coverings: Cover surfaces prone to wasp nesting, such as eaves and ledges, with materials like fine wire mesh or insect screens to discourage nest building.

To prevent future nesting, consider these options:

  1. Regularly inspect potential nesting sites and promptly remove any new nests.
  2. Encourage natural predators, such as birds, by installing birdhouses and feeders nearby.
  3. Seal up exterior holes or cracks around your property to minimize accessible nesting sites for potter wasps.

Professional Pest Control Options

Depending on the severity of the issue and the location of the nests, employing the services of a professional pest control company can be a more effective solution:

Pros Cons
Efficient removal Can be expensive
Expertise in handling nests May use harsh chemicals
Access to specialized tools and equipment Appointment scheduling may take time

Overall, handling potter wasp nests can involve safe removal techniques, proactive prevention methods, and the option to engage a professional pest control company when necessary.

Potter Wasp Sting Risks

Sting Symptoms and Treatment

Potter wasp stings can cause discomfort and pain, though they are generally less aggressive than yellowjackets. Symptoms may include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itching

To treat a potter wasp sting:

  1. Clean the area with soap and water.
  2. Apply a cold pack for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Use pain relievers and antihistamines if needed.

Allergic Reactions and Warnings

Sometimes, a potter wasp sting may trigger an allergic reaction. Watch for signs like:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of face, lips, or throat
  • Rapid or weak pulse

Seek immediate medical attention if experiencing such symptoms.

Comparison: Potter Wasps and Yellow Jackets

Feature Potter Wasp Yellow Jacket
Aggressiveness Less aggressive, usually sting if provoked More aggressive, may sting unprovoked
Nest Location Above ground, in small nests Ground nests or larger exposed nests
Prey Caterpillars, pests Bees, insects, and human food
Sting Severity Mild to moderate pain Moderate to severe pain

Remember to take precautions when dealing with either wasp species. Keep a safe distance and avoid disturbing their nests to minimize sting risks.

Footnotes

  1. Texas A&M University – Potter Wasps 2 3 4 5 6

  2. University of Florida – Eumenes spp., potter wasps of Florida 2

  3. Clemson University – Potter and Mason Wasps 2

  4. University of Minnesota Extension – Solitary Wasps 2

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Orange Potter Wasp provisions nest with Caterpillar in Australia

 

Subject: aussietrev Orange Potter Wasp stocking the Larder
Location: Nth Burnett. Queensland Australia
December 26, 2012 5:05 pm
Hi guys,
This Orange Potter has been busy for days building a large nest on an old pulley in my shed. Here she is shoving the second of two caterpillars into one of the chambers. The end of the caterpillar is pushed into the chamber and then she pushes it bit by bit until the entire caterpillar is inside, then quickly seals the chamber over. To her right is a freshly sealed chamber as well shown by the slightly paler disc of mud. At some stage in her foraging she has been in contact with a spider web and has a small spider hitching a ride on her leg.
Signature: Aussietrev

Orange Potter Wasp provisions nest with Caterpillar

Hi Trevor,
Thanks for sending your beautiful photo of a beautiful Potter Wasp provisioning her nest.  We found her identified on the Brisbane Insect website as the Orange Potter Wasp,
Eumenes latreilli.

Hi Daniel ,
A bit of extra information. Watching her build the next chamber and start to provision it, after inserting the first caterpillar and flying off to find a second, a small (I think tachinid) fly that had been sitting patiently nearby flew into the opening and, I assume, took advantage of her work to lay some eggs of its own.
I would think this would be a symbiotic relationship rather than parasitic of the wasp larvae as it would be doubtful the fly would be sufficiently strong to break out of the mud nest on its own. Probably share the caterpillar bodies until the wasp makes an escape hatch for them? What do you think? Have you heard of this behaviour before?
regards,
Trevor

Thanks for the update Trevor.  Kleptoparasitism, or one insect (or other creature) stealing food that has been gathered by another, is common enough.  We can’t think of what the advantage of sharing food would have for the Potter Wasp. You are right that an adult Tachinid Fly  does not have the type of mouth that could chew its way out of the pot.  Let us know if a Wasp emerges from that particular chamber or if it remains as a sealed crypt.  Perhaps there is some enzyme or other substance secreted by the Tachinid Larva that makes it unpalatable to the Potter Wasp Larva to avoid being eaten.

Letter 2 – Potter Wasp stinging Caterpillar

 

Bald Faced Hornet eating caterpillar
Hello again bugman,
Couldn’t beleive it when I seen it, this hornet swooped down on a caterpillar, picked it up, landed on a leaf nearby and started stinging it to death! Sat and watched it a while until he finally got piturbed at me and picked the caterpillar back up and flew off again. Good pics though. Thought you might find them interesting. Enjoy.
CC

Hi CC,
This is not a hornet but a Paper Wasp, genus Polistes. The photos aren’t clear enough to give an exaxt species. Hornets do not have the narrow “wasp-waist” that is evident in your photo. Hornets are stockier in build. The caterpillar is not food for the wasp, but food for the young. Adult feed on nectar and pollen.

Ed. Note Correction: (12/03/2005)
ID corrections, etc. I’ve just discovered your excellent site (directed there by “This is True”), and as a hymenopterist have a few comments: The picture of “Paper Wasp stinging Caterpillar” (10/11/2005) looks to me rather to be a species in the subfamily Eumeninae, probably one of the potter wasps (not a paper wasp). I’m not that familiar with the North American species, but it certainly isn’t a Polistes. (Also see the potter wasp photo (09/02/2005) of a very similar species.) I hope these comments are useful. Denis

Letter 3 – Potter Wasp stocks up on provisions

 

Potter Wasp photos and Kudos.
Found your sight through Google. Good source for ID and interesting site to see insects from other regions. I live in Florida with children and want them to appreciate the life that is around them. Thanks for your site. Here are a couple of shots of a Potter Wasp that I observed loading her pot with caterpillars. Your site helped me make ID. Thanks again. I’ll be back and will gladly provide you with photos if you can use them.
Chris Visscher.

Hi Chris,
While we have gotten photos of the Pots, the only other Potter Wasp photo we received is difficult to see. Yours is pretty great and we are thrilled to have it.

Letter 4 – Potter Wasp's Nest

 

Green mini catepillars inside a mini clay pot
January 16, 2010
I was looking in my dogwood tree and found two perfect little miniature clay “jugs” attached to a branch in the tree. so curious i was about the “pots” that i crushed one open and found three little green catapillars hanging out inside. The jugs were about a half inch wide with a little fluted opening resembling a vase or handleless jug. these catapittars were found in Dayton ohio. sorry no photo!
H Butt
dayton, ohio

Sketch of a Potter Wasp nest

Dear H Butt,
You have found the nests of a Potter Wasp in the genus Eumenes.  The female wasp constructs the nest from clay and then provisions it with caterpillars or beetle larvae, according to BugGuide.

Thanks so much, very interesting. I have seen those wasps in and outside of my house!

Letter 5 – Nest of a Potter Wasp

 

Potter Wasp Nest
June 25, 2010
Here are two photos of potter wasp nests, seen on the branch of a Parkinsonia microphylla (Palo Verde) tree (gray backdrop) and Acacia brandegeana, in the Sonoran desert near Mulegé, Baja California Sur.
D. Valov
Mulegé, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Potter Wasp Nest on Palo Verde

Dear D. Valov,
Thank you for your excellent documentation.  It is nice to see the type of plants the Potter Wasp chooses as a foundation to its nursery.

Letter 6 – Possibly Mason Wasp Nest from Turkey

 

Nest
Location: Mediteranean coast of south westTurkey
October 3, 2011 12:28 am
Please identify this wasp’s? nest. It is on the side of my house on the artificial facing bricks 1.7 meters from the ground. (we do get mud daubers but these construct the 8mm dia x 30 mm long nests)
Thank You
Signature: Malcolm

Mason Wasp Nest, we believe

Hi Malcolm,
We believe this is a Mason Wasp nest from the subfamily Eumeninae, however, we are unable to substantiate that in our web searching.  We are posting your photo and letter and we hope to get some confirmation eventually.

Letter 7 – Potter Wasp Nest from Argentina

 

Subject:  Mystery nest
Geographic location of the bug:  Buenos Aires, Argentina
Date: 01/12/2018
Time: 10:05 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Dear Mr Bugman,
I come to ask you about the small nest that’s formed on my ficus tree. I live in the Southern Hemisphere and it’s summer right now. I suspect it’s some kind of wasp nest. What can you tell me about it? Also, should I just leave it alone?
It’s about 5 cm x 4 cm x 4 cm by the way
How you want your letter signed:  Sofi

Potter Wasp Nest

Dear Sofi,
You are correct that this is a Wasp Nest, and since it is a non-aggressive solitary Potter Wasp, there is no need to fear it or to remove it.  Potter Wasps or Mason Wasps in the subfamily Eumeninae construct nests of mud.  Here is a BugGuide image for comparison.

Potter Wasp Nest

Thank you!!! It’s so cool you were able to identify it!

Letter 8 – Potter Wasp Nest from Australia

 

Subject:  Wasp??
Geographic location of the bug:  Byrnestown qld. 4625.
Date: 03/07/2018
Time: 01:56 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Have had a lovely yellow and black wasp  building a very small mud nest on the toilet seat of all places! I have not seen another one like her, there are a lot of the mud dauber wasps that build their nests everywhere in the house, this ones stripes are more yellow than the mud dauber, she was trying to put a caterpillar in the nest but caught me watching her and took off  and I haven’t seen her return, usually the mud dauber wasps don’t care if you watch them, actually can get very close, would you happen to know the species?, seems very shy.
How you want your letter signed:  Leigh

Potter Wasp Nest

Dear Leigh,
This looks to us like the nest of a Potter Wasp in the subfamily Eumeninae, a subfamily well represented with yellow and black individuals from Australia pictured on the Brisbane Insect site where it states:  “Potter Wasps in Eumeninae build mud nest. They are solitary wasps. They are typically black and yellow or black and orange in colours. Potter wasps usually prey on caterpillars which they paralyze and place inside cells in their nests for their young. Nests are either dug into the ground, constructed from mud, in wood, or in existing burrows of their hosts.

Authors

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  • 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.

  • 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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