Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mystery insect - friend or foe?

Alright, astute blog readers, I've got a mystery, and I need your help in solving it.  It involves a bug that I have been trying to identify for 2 years, going on 3 years now.  For the first few years I was convinced it was some kind of flying, biting ant, but someone suggested to me that it might actually be a wasp.  Here's a specimen of our mystery insect:

Now that I have my handy-dandy Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, I am ready to make a more educated guess as to just who this might be.  The closest thing I can match it to according to the pictures and size key given in the book is a wasp, species Podium luctuosum (no common name that I can find).  According to the field guide, these are wasps of the woods, and they "scour the ground and logs for prey," their prey being wood roaches.

If my guess is correct, and this is indeed a wasp that should be scouring the ground and logs for roaches, what is it doing flying around in my house (and in my car, even!) and landing in my kitchen and on my furniture? Why must it intercept my arm on its path from the sink to the stove? Why must it dare me to sit down on the couch and rest my back on the spot where it is frantically darting about on the cushion?


The business end

Aside from not having a positive ID for this critter, I have another dilemma.  I am not fond of this wasp, and am leery every time I see one flying around.  I have been stung by them on numerous occasions (although not at all so far this year).  The pain at the time of the sting is sharp and pronounced, and feels like a harsh pinch more than anything (just up until this year I was convinced it was a bite I was receiving, not a sting).  The pain subsides rather quickly, but it leaves a tiny welt, and the whole experience is one that is not easily forgotten.  Leave it to Nature to put me on the investigative trail of something because it has caused me injury.  Is it her sly way of luring me closer, encouraging me to get a better look so that I may, in some way, become more accepting of this creature?

Another view. Look at the colors on that armor-like plating! Such beauty commands respect, don't you think?

When I managed to trap this specimen, I felt bad because I injured it in the process of capturing it, and its death was probably slow and painful.  After it had... "expired"... I took the requisite photos.  The act of holding the wasp in my hand, and of studying the photos up close, certainly pushed me to have a greater respect for this creature, despite the differences we have had in the past.

My relationship with insects has changed over the last few years as I have started to REALLY look at them.  For example, spiders (for the most part, unless they are big and hairy and resemble a Wolf spider) have free reign in our house.  I even found myself in a position one day to be holding a live captive of the mystery wasp, basically grasping it by the antennae, and watching the stinger protrude and retract.  Does this mean I won't kill the next one I see?  No.  However, I am finding that, more and more, my curiosity is starting to take over when normally I would feel fear of some animal that would usually be viewed as intimidating, such as a wasp or a snake (no, I'm not handling snakes... yet!).


Even the antennae are a delicate work of art


Rest in peace, unknown one. May my quest for getting to know you help me to make my peace with you.

If anyone out there can confirm or correct my ID of this wasp, it would be much appreciated.

16 comments:

Warren and Lisa Strobel said...

No clue what it is... but it looks scary. I admire your bravery in actually holding it to inspect. We, too, let the spiders have free reign of the house... but I do try to relocate them every once in while - like when we start feeling spider webs across the stairwell to the lower level....

Steve Willson said...

From your description last year I was thinking you had flying ants, but this isn't an ant. I've never found a good wasp identification book, so my resources are pretty slim on this one. I'll keep the image in my brain until I come across just the right resource.

Ginnymo said...

Yikes! I wouldn't want to touch it. Sure looks like a wasp to me.. Great close ups!!

Tom said...

Heather- I'm going to say wasp too, but that's about it. Have you checked the images on bugguide.net or posted it there? Pretty much every bug pic that I put on my blog I post to bug guide for an ID first. The people there are amazing.

Tom

Heather said...

Warren and Lisa - Keep in mind that the insect in these photos was dead, so there was no risk of being hurt. I'm not brave enough to hold one that is fully capable of stinging me!

Steve - Thanks for taking a look. Guess I was hoping you'd encountered one of these yourself and already had an ID tracked down! ;)

Ginny - Like I told Warren and Lisa, if it's dead I'll hold it all day long... you should have seen me running away from one just this morning that was flying around me while I was trying to dry my hair!

Tom - I took a cursory glance at bugguide.net, but I haven't actually posted the photo there. I'll try putting it up there and see what happens. Thanks for the tip!

Andy said...

Excellent macros!

Heather said...

Andy - Thanks!

Judy said...

Wow! Those macros are lovely, and the insect, whatever it is, is beautiful! I am starting to see insects as more than nuisances, the more I look at macros of them!

KaHolly said...

Like you, Heather, I have been looking at insects and spiders with new eyes these last few years, as long as they aren't on me. And I have been amazed at their sometimes intricate, sometimes heavily armored, beauty. Perhaps you can reach an understanding with these winged creatures to share space without physical contact! ~karen

Heather said...

Judy - Thank you. Isn't it amazing how beautiful these creatures are once we start looking at them up close?

Karen - I know what you mean. I'm still not crazy about having bugs on me, but I'm getting better about it the more I learn about them.

RuthieJ said...

Oh Heather, you're a better woman than I am. I'm definitely not a fan of wasps or hornets (I got stung by a bald-faced hornet the other night while changing hummingbird feeders -- OUCH!). If that wasp was in my house, it would definitely have an unpleasant encounter with the busines end of fly swatter!

Heather said...

Ruthie - I am SO sorry to hear about your sting, that is so not fair! Fear not, I haven't made pacts for a totally peaceful co-existence with these wasps... many of them have endured my fly swatter wrath. But I would like to get to know them better, so I inspect the ones that are already dead!

Anonymous said...

I have been dealing with these a while closest thing i found was parasitic wasp

TeressaNicole said...

If anyone figures out exactly what this is I'd love to know. Had four so far get caught on my fly ribbons.

Anonymous said...

I got stung by one of these two days ago. Then I killed another one this morning. Both were in my house. My finger (where I was stung) reacted the same I do with a regular wasp sting. I am mildly allergic to them. I would love to know what it is too. I believe it is in the wasp family. I have my house treated quarterly, so I'm really hoping these things just flew in while the door was open. The thought of multiple stings doesn't make me a happy lady. It takes me a week or more for the effects to go away.

Unknown said...

My son was just stung by this bug today on vacation in VA beach. Thank you for providing so much detail, even if it does not include a name:)