Bug of the Month August 2015: Three Wasps from Minnesota: Potter Wasp, Paper Wasp and Cicada Killer

Subject: Identify Wasps
Location: South Central MN
July 30, 2015 7:54 am
Since 2013 I’ve been caring for a large rain garden on Faribault County, MN. The pollinators have been late to return, but now I have several of them and of large size, too. I took some photos yesterday and include three below, which to my untrained eye look like wasps. They have never gone after me, even when I’ve been working in the garden, preferring instead to to move from blossom to blossom.
Image 1 is pictured on the leaf of an achemilla plant. I rarely see this wasp, so for me this was a lucky shot.
Image 2 was a surprise close-up. It looks very much like Image 3 along the abdomen but the head is different in color and markings. To my eye the antennae also differ.
Image 8196 is the most common in my garden. These vary in size from small to as big as my pinky. Right now they are in the large range, approaching thumb size. They are are hefty in weight; blossoms droop when they land on them. They seem to favor milkweed and ratibida (yellow coneflower).
There are a couple others I see now and again, such as the the Great Black and a red version of same with black tip on base of abdomen.
Then there’s one with long legs that trail in flight, though I’ve not been able to capture a photo. Again, I feel safe enough in my garden; I do my weeding thing and they do their thing on the blossoms. I wear a hat and long sleeves with gloves, which I think helps.
Can you identify them? Are they native or exotic?
Thank you.
Signature: Wanda J. Kothlow

Unknown Wasp
Potter Wasp

Goodness Wanda,
There are at least ten times more words in your request than in most of the phrases we generally receive.  We miss the chatty identification requests from days gone by before everyone was able to connect to the internet with cellular telephones and people began to forget how to write.  Your first Wasp is not something we immediately recognize, though we suspect it is a Potter or Mason Wasp.  It looks very similar to this 
Ancistrocerus adiabatus posted to BugGuide.

Paper Wasp
Paper Wasp

Your second Wasp is a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes, and a quick glance at BugGuide has us believing it is the Northern Paper Wasp,  Polistes fuscatus.  According to BugGuide:  “Adult P. fuscatus feed mainly on plant nectar. The species is considered insectivorous because it kills caterpillars and other small insects in order to provide food for developing larvae. Foragers collect various prey insects to feed to the larvae. The wasp then malaxates, or softens the food and in doing so absorbs most of the liquid in the food. This solid portion is given to older larvae and the liquid is regurgitated to be fed to younger larvae. (Turillazzi and West-Eberhard, 1996)”

Cicada Killer
Cicada Killer

Your hefty behemoth is a magnificent Cicada Killer, and your indication that there is a significant population of them indicates a ready food supply for the larvae.  Female Cicada Killers sting and paralyze Cicadas to provision an underground nest.  There is one generation per year and where they are found, Cicada Killers make seasonal appearances.  None of your wasps are considered aggressive.  Thanks again for your entertaining submission.  Your rain garden sounds like it has a very healthy ecosystem.

2 thoughts on “Bug of the Month August 2015: Three Wasps from Minnesota: Potter Wasp, Paper Wasp and Cicada Killer”

  1. 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


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