On that Sunday I was looking out for critters in my garden. I found this black bee like insect with deep bluish iridescent wings (similar to carpenter bee but far slimmer and smaller than them) on an Indian almond (Terminalia catappa) flowers. On a closer inspection it turned out to be a wasp than a bee.
Wasp or Bee?
You might be curious how to make out a bee from an wasp in the field. Here are few pointers.
Watch the insect exactly as you ogle at the opposite sex of human being. If you are attentive to the curve of its waist or the shape of its legs, you’d notice some key characteristics to help you identify it. Bees possess robust, stout and hairy bodies with flat rear legs. Wasps’ bodies are slender with a narrow waist connecting the thorax and abdomen. Wasps appear smooth and shiny and have slender legs shaped like cylinders.
Bees being pollinators, spending much of their lives visiting various plants and flowers to gather and distribute pollen. They also feed nectar and pollen to their developing young. Their hairy bodies and flat legs are ideal for holding on to the pollen as they carry it from one area to another. Wasps, however, are predators. While adults may occasionally feed on nectar or pollen, they feed insects, arthropods, flies and even caterpillars to their young. Their bodies are sleeker and more streamlined for hunting.
Most honeybee nests are manufactured using wax, but other bees make their homes in tree cavities, buildings or even holes in the ground. A wasp’s nest consists of one or more rounded combs made of a papery pulp. The wasp makes this pulp out of chewed-up fibers and its own saliva.
It may be difficult to distinguish a bee or a wasp when it is stinging you. Both bees and wasps inject their venom with a stinger attached to their bodies. Wasps and most bees can pump the venom into your skin, remove the stinger and then fly away. The honeybee’s stinger, however, is barbed and it sticks in your flesh. When the honeybee tries to fly away, her stinger won’t budge. Instead, it rips from her body. Since the stinger is attached to the honeybee’s digestive system, she eventually dies from the trauma.
That wasp I found was sucking nectar out of the freshly blossomed Indian Almond flowers. I was using my Canon EOS 5D mark II with Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM and Canon Speedlite 580EX II on a Rayflash ring flash adaptor. The wasp was flying at around 7-8 feet from the ground. I had extend my hands fully to get close to the wasp and use live view at the back of the camera to compose and capture the picture. After few of these shots i went and brought a stool to raise my height to reach for the wasp for a closer shot. Unfortunately by that time wasp had flown away.
I was unable to identify the wasp as it was not fitting into any description of what I knew. I posted the pictures on Insect India Forum on Yahoo Groups for identification help. My good friend Geetha Iyer helped me to narrow it down to Potter wasp family. It either belongs to family Rhynchium or family Crabornidae.
Many potter wasps can easily be recognized by their distinctive shape. They are generally long and thin, even more so than the Polistine (paper wasps). Many also have a generally long petiole (waist), linking the thorax and abdomen. This applies especially to members of genera such as Eumenes, Delta, Phimenes and several others. However, some species of lesser-known genera such as Abispa, Rhynchium, Allorhynchium, Odynerus and others display a less typical body shape more typical of Vespid wasps. Another thing to note about potter wasps is that when at rest, their wings are usually held at an angle, similar to the Vespid wasps, instead of folded over their backs at a very narrow or overlapping angle like other solitary wasps such as the Sphecids or Pompillids.
After few day of photographing I had another glimpse of the same wasp. It was leaving a freshly made nest nest in a bamboo chime (one of those Feng Shui bamboo chimes somebody gifted and hanging at our front porch, It had worked as nest for Bulbuls, Potter wasps, ensign Wasps 😉 ). Nest was exactly like other mud wasps. It was build using moist soft clay like Laterite stone powder. I did not see it building the nest, but saw the nest only after it was complete. It prooves that it is a type of Potter (mud) wasp. I was not able to see any emergence of the young ones from the nest nor any other visit from the parent wasp. So as of now its real identity remains a secret. If any of you can help me in identifying I would be grateful.