Gasteruption jaculator


This bizarre creature is called Gasteruption Jaculator. I kid you not! I posted some shots of this strange wasp last month, wrongly identifying it at the time as a type of sand digger wasp. I am grateful to afrenchgarden for the correct i.d.

wasp in flight

They do look strange in flight. Well, I admit it, they look strange all the time! Strange, but harmless, to us. Not so, however, for solitary bees, on whom these wasps are parasitic. That long spike is an ovipositor, with which the female deposits eggs on the larvae of solitary bees. You can guess the rest.

parasitic wasp on fennel

For my earlier post on these weird critters, see here.

Bee fly


The subject of my natural history post for this week is the bee fly or bombylius major. This bee-mimic is common in my part of the world (Southern England) in early spring.


Its rather imposing appearance can lead people to assume that it is dangerous but it cannot harm you: that long proboscis is merely a very efficient nectar guzzler. In fact, I think the bee fly is rather cute. Just me, perhaps.


They certainly look quite cute on the wing, with their spindly legs flying out Superman style from the chubby body. However, while they may not be harmful to humans, they have a sinister life cycle if you happen to be a bee.


This bee mimic lays its eggs by the nests of solitary bees. When the larva hatches, it uses a crown of spines on its head to batter its way into the cell of the bee pupa and slowly sucks the pupa dry.


Afterwards, the gorged larva pupates and finally emerges in its final form by battering its way out of the cell.


Needless to say, I have not been able to take photographs of the full life-cycle, just the disingenuously cute, fluffy fly.


For some more (and frankly better) pictures and two poems (yes!) about bee flies, visit my friend Giles Watson’s Flickr photostream. The second poem (which treats the life cycle) appears in a comment there.

PS Some of the images appear pixelated here.  They do not in the files I uploaded.  If anyone knows what I’m doing wrong, please can you help?  It’s a shame for them not to appear their best.

Feeling waspish


There are many different types of wasp in the UK. The one we all know is the common wasp (above), the ruin of many a barbecue in summer and autumn. I call this shot, “Mirror, mirror on the wall”.


Common wasps are social wasps, living in colonies. There are also many different types of solitary wasp, that dig burrows and, very often, have a parasitic life-cycle, such as the wasp in the next picture.


Your eyes are not deceiving you; this wasp is indeed pulling the legs off a spider! It is a type of spider wasp of the family pompilidae. (Identification for an amateur is not straightforward but I think this is probably pompilus cinereus.) They find a spider, paralyse it with their sting, and drag it back to their burrow. Then they lay an egg inside the spider. Once the egg hatches, the larva eats the spider alive, from the inside out. Sometimes, if the spider is too big for the burrow, the wasp will pull its legs off. The expression, “feeling waspish”, takes on new significance!

Some wasps have an elegance about them, like the slim-waisted society belle below. Hence the expression, “waspish figure”.


I think this is probably a type of digger wasp. This one has a damaged wing, which is why it stuck around long enough for me to get a shot off. Do not be fooled, however, by its stylish gown and slender grace. If my identification is correct, this beguiling debutante is parasitic too; the female lays its eggs in flies. Waspish in appearance and intent.

The shepherds and the wolf

A story in photographs.
(If you don’t like bugs you may want to look away now!)


I took this image in my garden last summer. It is part of a story I told with my camera on Flickr over a few days. Here’s the whole thing:

Some species of ant ‘milk’ aphids by stroking them with their antennae. This encourages the aphids to secrete a sticky substance known as honeydew which the ants eat. Here an ant is caught in the act of doing just that. The ants tend their aphid herds like shepherds, protecting them from predators.

The next day a visitor has appeared. A hungry ladybird (ladybug to my American friends) can think of nothing better than this ready-prepared banquet of its favourite food, aphids. An angry ant-shepherd glares at this wolf in the fold.

A day later and the voracious ladybird is still laying siege to aphid city. The ant shepherd has brought in reinforcements but to no avail. The ladybird is like a Sherman tank and angry looks just aren’t going to work. If you look closely you can see an aphid’s legs sticking out of the ladybird’s mouth.

Another day later and the shepherds appear to have given up and left their flock to their fate. However, that is not the end of the story. The next day, there was no sign of the ladybird and the ants were back tending their flock as if nothing had ever happened.

Of course, really one should not anthropomorphise animals, but sometimes it is just too tempting.