A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

Who Dug This Hole?

We’re getting ready to plant native grass seed in the side yard next to our patio. Pete dug up the last of the crabgrass and weeds last weekend and three cubic yards of leaf compost are being delivered on Saturday.

Over the past couple of days, we’ve noticed several holes in this area which have been dug up by something. This one shows it best:

2008073101.jpg

Isn’t that weird? It’s about 1-2″ round and right next to the sidewalk. At first I thought: “Snake?” But wouldn’t it be in a more concealed place, like the grass? Pete wondered if it was from a cicada. The yearly cicadas are in full force right now in the neighborhood, but wouldn’t they be near a tree?

This morning we noticed a very large, wasp-like insect hovering around it, and then Pete said it went into the hole.

We think it may be a parasitic wasp, and if so, ew. Eww. Eeeewwww!!

I found this very eloquent passage from Wasps and Their Ways, written in 1900:

One of the largest in this country is a black creature with bands of yellow on the abdomen, the Sphecius speciosus. It digs burrows two feet or more long, and provisions them with the “dog-day locust,” or cicada. When her tunnel is ready, Madam Sphecius sallies forth, seeking whom she can conquer. Sitting on the branch of a tree the happy cicada fills the air with its shrill and continuous song, unsuspecting the awful fate that is to bring the unmelodious performance to an unnatural end. Suddenly the wasp pounces upon the singer, the song stops short, there is a tussle, in which both sometimes fall to the ground, but during which the poor cicada receives the fatal thrust. It is now the property of the wasp, who proceeds to bear home the booty.

What happens is that the wasp’s sting merely paralyzes the cicada. When she gets it to her lair, she lays her eggs on the insect, which, mind you, is still very much alive. The larvae hatch and then feed on the fresh cicada right there and then. Talk about breakfast in bed! Ick.

This hole is nowhere near a tree, however I’ve definitely seen crickets around. So if this is the work of a parasitic wasp, then I think some poor cricket is down there.

I don’t understand what purpose a parasitic insect would serve, other than to really gross me out. Does anyone out there know?

7 Comments

  1. casacaudill on July 31, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Ewwww, now I’m freaking out about all the wasps we have flying around in our backyard.

  2. HPH on July 31, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    Cycle of life. There are many parasitic types in nature (my boss is one). You did note that this wasp does not sting humans; they pretty much totally ignore people. Something has to keep the cicadas in check. I do not really care for the cicada’s extremely loud “singing”.

  3. southsideandy on August 1, 2008 at 12:09 am

    My friend in Evanston had a “cicada killer” wasp in her home, actually…can’t find the picture of it though…bet it was about the same thing as what you saw. Just guessing though…

  4. Josh on August 1, 2008 at 10:08 am

    I had never heard of a wasp that feed cicadas to its young. However, just a couple days ago I saw some grown wasps feeding on the carcass of a juvenile field mouse in my backyard– I had no idea wasps ate flesh. Eeewwww, indeed!

  5. Derek on August 1, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    I don’t think we have those kind of wasps here. We have mud wasps and yellowjackets. I was working under the soffit of the house the other day, and there was a small wasp’s nest, looked like they were just starting it, there were only 4 of them on the outside, and it was the size of a golf ball. I just took the prybar and pryed it right off. I expected them to try and attack me or something, nothing. We had them under our back porch last year.

  6. denise on August 1, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Yes, HPH is right — the good thing (for us) about these wasps is that they rarely, if ever, sting humans because they need to save their stinger for their host victim.
    I really hadn’t heard of them before either, although I did witness one paralyzing a cicada a couple years ago. These wasps are much bigger than mud wasps and yellowjackets too; I’d suspect that they’re all over North America, but I don’t think they run around in groups like the others so that could be why you weren’t aware of them.
    Cycle of life, yes. Mother Nature is indeed cruel—this is why I can’t watch Nature shows either—I know it happens, and has to happen, but that doesn’t mean that I need to watch it! (And sorry about your boss HPH. I’ve been there, for sure.)

  7. Kim on August 5, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Yuu—uuuck.

Leave a Comment