If you’re anything like this journalist was up until last week, you’ll think all wasps are bad, when in fact, we have some pretty likeable - and non-aggressive - species native to this country.
Wasps that build nests out of mud - which form the set of native species most commonly seen around our homes in the Hawkesbury - are solitary folk, meaning they don’t form colonies and therefore (for the most part) they don’t attack humans to defend their nests (they still can sting though, so best to keep a few metres away).
When a wasp turned up on our balcony in Bowen Mountain and began building a mud nest, we assumed it was nasty and we’d have to don protective gear and get rid of it in the dead of night. However an online search revealed it was probably a native, and therefore could live in relative harmony with us (as long as we didn’t try to pick it up).
Richmond resident Scott Nacko, an insect enthusiast and PhD student at the Western Sydney University Hawkesbury campus, identified our wasp as an Abispa splendida (and a female at that, since the ladies are in charge of the nest-building).
Being an unsociable breed, the life cycle of these mud wasps is much different from the communal wasps - most notably the European paper wasp - we often get attacked by, he said.
And, with their funny-looking nests built from balls of mud that they gather by collecting water in their mandibles (lower jaws) and using this to moisten dirt, there’s a lot about which to be fascinated in these wasps.
The one on our balcony began by building under the eaves a half-dome structure measuring around 2.5 centimetres deep, before moving on to building a new, better nest around five centimetres to the left of the ‘practice’ nest (you’ll often see these wasps building numerous nests side by side while they perfect their skills, according to the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife.)
The new and improved nest measures about 10 centimeters long and includes a carefully-constructed, downward facing spout which, it turns out, is the entrance way.
Mr Nacko said that after mud wasp females have constructed the nest they will go out hunting for prey to paralyse and bring back inside the nest - usually caterpillars or spiders.
“Then she lays eggs inside the nest and seals it up, the eggs will hatch and feed on the stocks of prey, pupate, and emerge next summer to fly off and start their own nests elsewhere,” he said.
Adult mud wasps feed on nectar, and you may see them visiting flowers or hunting for caterpillars, pest moths or larvae that you don’t want in your garden. Plus, they are pollinators - though not quite as efficient in this service as bees are.
“Because there is no ‘colony’ as in social species, you need not worry about these mud nests growing huge and becoming aggressive as you might with a paper wasp nest,” said Mr Nacko.
“All that being said, the wasp does still possess a sting, and it is best to always keep a respectful distance and refrain from touching or grabbing these wasps. With these practices you can live in harmony with and even enjoy the mud wasps around your home.”
During the week she constructed her nest, our wasp in Bowen Mountain had numerous suitors drop by attempting (and sometimes succeeding) to mate with her.
In a few weeks, we’ll watch out for her babies, of which Mr Nacko said there could be up to twelve. He recommended we also keep an eye out for little green metallic home intruders, known as ‘cuckoo wasps’, that infiltrate the nest and try to make use of the food resources inside.
“The nest can become host to a range of different solitary wasps that will invade like parasites do,” Mr Nacko said.
What’s his message to those of you who see a mud wasp nest developing at your house? He said you can leave it be - unless it’s built somewhere inconvenient (like on a door handle, which they have been known to do).
Mr Nacko is based at WSU’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, where he is examining the pollinating efficiency of native Australian stingless bees as possible alternatives to honey bees, the latter of which are facing threats from parasites and viruses.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.