Fly's Enemy - a Fearsome Digger Wasp

02nd July 2012
Imagine what it must be like living with someone who is a dedicated insect photographer. You'll be sitting, chatting in the garden but the photographer's eyes will be constantly drawn away to potential photographic subjects. My wife has to put up with this, but knowing my interest (obsession!), she will often alert me to interesting insects. After opening her garden coldframe yesterday morning at 7.30 am, she announced, "There's a creature that might interest you here".

What she had spotted was this Ectemnius Digger Wasp, which had spent the night on a potted plant leaf. Being a cool morning, the wasp was inactive and offered excellent opportunity for photography. The previous day, I had spent a considerable time attempting (unsuccessfully), to photograph very active and "flighty" solitary wasps. This one allowed a dozen or so shots before slowly awakening and finally flying off.

What is immediately apparent about this wasp is its very large eyes and jaws. Good eyesight is essential for this wasp's hunting strategy; catching flies, including hoverflies, on the wing. Captured prey are subdued with a sting and then used to provision the wasp's nests. Nest tunnels are excavated (using those powerful jaws), in fairly large pieces of dead wood such as stumps, fallen tree trunks, rotting logs and occasionally building timbers. The developing larvae feed on the flies.

There are around ten species of Ectemnius wasps in the UK and getting a reliable species identification from photographs can be difficult. After reviewing lots of online resources though, I'm thinking with its size (around 12mm), silvery hairs on the clypeus (lower face), solid yellow bar on the rear thorax and entire yellow bands on the abdomen; it might be Ectemnius cephalotes. Whatever, this is a fine-looking wasp and was a great photographic subject.

Click on any of the three images above for a larger version.


Photo comment By Africa Gomez: I love these wasps, I often watch them hunting hoverflies, although I havent seen any this year. Great photos.
Photo comment By Nikki: So pleased to find your site as I too am an avid photo-hunter of all bees and insects in my garden that is created to encourage all wild life! Only today I saw the Ectemnius and thanks to you have identified him! He sits near the large bee and insect house I created, so I think he shares with the plentiful leafcutter bees who have been this year's real excitement for me. My husband is also used to me abandoning a conversation and stealthily creeping after a new sighting. I have albums full of my pics...not as good as yours, but I try to improve year by year. It is my impression that wasps in general are much more visibly prevalent at this time of the you think so? Another of my favourite websites is Pencil and Leaf by Val Littlewood. She paints bee portraits and is wonderfully observant. I am so encouraged by you gifted folks. I too am a keen amateur with no entemology training. I seem to virtually live in my garden which, after twenty years of care is bringing in so many species. Heaven in Hull. LOL
Photo comment By Emma Price: Great post - I've just had a shock watching one of these grab a hoverfly and didn't know what it was till I found this site. Thankyou! They are odd little things, it really seemed to be looking at me.
Photo comment By Julian Wallond: Thanks for your superb post. I've just found a nest in my garden, and have been watching them bring in all kinds of flies. Your pictures are fantastic - put mine to shame (taken on a small camera). Might have to get the SLR out later with a proper macro lens to see if I can do better.

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