If I say the word “wasp” or “bee” what do you instantly imagine? An annoying wasp buzzing round your burger at a BBQ? a hairy bumble-bee bumping it’s way round your garden flowers? What about this beauty below? a bee, wasp or ant?
Female Velvet Ant
This is a female Velvet Ant Mutilla europaea a type of parasitic wasp. The females are wingless and can apparently pack a powerful sting (so beware!). So why the hell am I telling you about strange looking wingless wasps? Answer: because they are completely and totally fascinating!
On Tuesday I spent the day on Upton Heath (on the edge of Corfe Mullen) with a guy called Stuart Roberts (I hope he doesn’t mind me mentioning his name – I’m sure he will tell me if he does). He’s chairman of the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) and some time ago he foolishly agreed to spend the day with me looking for “stuff” (my words not his) on Upton Heath.
A Cinnabar Caterpillar – OK not a wasp but great to see on it’s favourite food Ragwort
I’m a total novice when it comes to entomology (the scientific study of insects) and know even less about Hymenoptera (an order of insects including bees; wasps; ants; ichneumons; sawflies; gall wasps; etc).
Walking around the heath listening to Stuart as he spotted, caught and recorded different wasps and bees, it was like the lid had been lifted off a jar of sweets – suddenly I was being propelled into a different world full of names I didn’t know; Jewel wasp, Beewolf, Mottled Bee-fly…
The burrow of a Purbeck Mason-wasp
However, there was one name that I had heard before – the Purbeck Mason-wasp. It’s recently been included on a set of stamps issued by the Royal Mail of endangered UK insects – and we were on the hunt for it. It deserves a post all to itself, so for now I’m just going to leave you with a picture of it’s burrow.
A library picture or one I took earlier? Wait and see…