Every August, as winter closes, the first insects to appear in our house are orange, very thin, elongated wasps. They arrive when it is still cold out there, as a surprise package. Always unexpected at first spotting, then downgraded to “Oh, it’s you.” status after the first fly by. Constantly seeking the windows during the day, and lighting during the night, they seem intent on getting busy whereever you are in the house. Kind of intimidating in appearance, they never quite make it to threatening status. They hang around in modest numbers for two to three weeks before unexpectedly disappearing again. I have always wondered about them.
So, with my new macro capable mini Nikon compact (don’t you love the three eyes?), I set about finding out. It turns out they are a pretty treacherous, but useful wasp. They lay a single egg on an unsuspecting, grain munching Helicoverpa or armyworm caterpillar, just behind the head. The caterpillar tunnels into the soil to construct a pupation chamber. Here the parasitoid wasp lava feeds on and consequently kills its host. That is one less butterfly spreading caterpillar eggs across a crop next season.
Needless to say, the name of this wasp is the orange caterpillar parasite wasp (netelia producta to the entomologists amongst you).