This lovely lady has a territory right off my back porch. I’ve been watching her on and off for a couple of months now. She is a solitary female wasp in the family Pompilidae. This group is characterized by long, spiny legs, which you can see well in the picture below. There are over 5,000 identified species around the world!
The soft dirt right off the patio is perfect for her because she repeatedly digs holes. Once a hole is dug, she goes hunting in the yard (I’ve seen her up in the garden), attacks a spider, immobilizes it, and then takes it back to the hole in the ground she dug earlier.
After the spider is shoved into the hole, she lays an egg on it. In order to keep the egg and spider safe, she covers the hole with dirt, rocks, sticks, really whatever is around. In the top picture she is moving a rock to cover up a hole.
When the egg hatches, it will use the spider as food to complete its juvenile stage. The wasp larva will then spin a cocoon and later emerge as an adult, which will dig its way out. I’ve been kind of waiting for some to start coming out of the ground where she is always digging holes, but it would be pretty lucky to actually be looking at the ground when one emerged!
Although they attack spiders to provision their young, they themselves eat nectar, highlighting again that it’s important to have a variety of flowers if you want to see a variety of insects.
The spider wasp living in my yard is medium sized, about 3cm long. Some species, however, can get huge and even attack tarantulas. This video from National Geographic captures it pretty well. In the US, these wasps are common in Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern California. To the left is a picture of one from Tucson last year, feeding on nectar. They can be almost as big as your hand. And these ladies have plenty of bark to go with the bite! The are ranked very high up on the Schmidt sting pain index. So don’t try to catch them! But I would recommend following them around for a while because seeing one take down a tarantula would be awesome.