Pest Profile- The Cuckoo Wasp: A Beautiful Parasite (Chrysididae: Chrysis spp.)

Upon hearing the word “wasp,” many tremble in fear and imagine an angry creature chasing after them. However, this is not the case with the cuckoo wasp. These solitary wasps are brightly colored and found in metallic green, blue or purple hues. Their bodies are full of small pits which give them an almost glittery appearance. At about half of an inch in length, they are small wasps with almost 3,000 known species throughout the world, including 230 species found in the United States and Canada. The cuckoo wasp is also known as the ruby wasp, jewel wasp and gold wasp. They are active during the summer and can be found in a variety of habitats. Normally these wasps can be seen visiting flowers for a drink of nectar. When invading another insect’s nest, they will curl up like armadillos if they are unable to escape the nest’s resident(s). The concave nature of their underside allows them to perform this defensive maneuver. Their stingers are very small, and it is believed that these beautiful little gems do not even sting.

Don’t let this beautiful wasp’s colors deceive you. She is other wasps’ worst nightmare: a thief. The cuckoo wasp is in the family Chrysididae, whose members include various forms of parasites. Unlike others in this family, she is the only one with such vibrant colors. Despite those brilliant colors, she spends her days seeking out the nests of other wasps and bees. Females will lay their eggs in an unfamiliar host’s nest, where their young will eventually emerge. The cuckoo wasp’s larva will either eat the other larva or starve them to death by eating all of the available food. This is similar to the behavior of the animal for which this wasp is named, the cuckoo bird, who also lays its eggs in another’s nest. But how do these wasps enter their victims’ nests unnoticed with that brilliant color? While these wasps may be easily seen and brilliantly recognized in the daylight, they are rather inconspicuous to their insect host. Cuckoo wasps can mimic the smells of their hosts, which gives them the perfect camouflage for lurking in another insect’s nest. While the cuckoo wasp is a master of disguise around other insects, they are likely to catch your eye on a sunny summer day.

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