Tag Archives: metamorphosis

The parasitic wasp

27 Mar

“Look mom, a flying bug!” Hannah said excitedly whilst pointing at the sliding glass door.

“Thanks Hannah.  That’s a crane fly, I’ll get it and put it in the bug cage!”

Crane fly.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Crane fly. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I gently grabbed it by the wings, which were straight up in the air, and flat against each other so there would be no damage. As soon as I grabbed it though, she furiously and repeatedly arched her abdomen towards my fingers, like she was trying to sting me.

Needless to say, I transferred her to the cage as fast as humanely possible.  Just in case.  I don’t think crane flies sting, but hey, this is Australia, and we all know that Australia is out to get you.

As I sat back with the kids to admire our new bug cage addition, I thought about how cool it would be for them to see something that isn’t super tiny flying around in there. Instead, flying around being cool, it headed straight for the bright green caterpillar, ruthlessly attacking it as if the caterpillar had just kidnapped the fly’s babies.

The caterpillar is beloved by the kids.  Every day they want to see it and watch it move around the cage munching on leaves and leaving giant piles of poop.  It’s the easiest thing in the cage to actually see.  It is bright green.  That helps.

I jumped up, grabbed the big plastic bug tweezers and pinched the fly with them before she knew what was happening.  We were not about to let a psychotic fly kill our caterpillar.

Looking back in the cage, the caterpillar was on the ground, lifeless with it’s head hanging motionless over a clump of dirt.  Oh no, I’ve killed their caterpillar!!!!

“Maybe it’s just playing dead so the fly will leave it alone,” I told the kids, clinging to that hope.

Minutes later, it was still looking dead on the bottom of the cage, but when I came back with the tweezers to remove it, it was gone.  The caterpillar was climbing up a branch, off to munch on leaves as if nothing had happened.

A week or two went by and the caterpillar continued getting bigger, eating and pooping more and more each day until it picked a perfect spot right in the corner of the clear cage to make it’s cocoon.  We’ve never been able to see it quite that close up before.  Usually they pick hidden spots on the underside of a leaf or stick.  It spent all day spinning the delicate web cocoon, so we expected to wake up to a pupae in place of the soft green caterpillar the next morning.

Instead, we found this:


There was no pupae, only a limp looking, unmoving caterpillar.  I was hoping it wouldn’t happen, but I knew after the fly incident that it was a distinct possibility.  The crane fly wasn’t a crane fly at all.  I’m not sure if Australia even has crane flies.

You can see why I thought it was though, right (and keep in mind, I haven’t seen a crane fly in about 13 years.  Maybe that should have been my first clue…)?

NOT a crane fly. Image courtesy of Brisbaneinsects.com

NOT a crane fly. I don’t think the one we had was quite so bright though. It was a bit orange, but not overwhelmingly.  Image courtesy of Brisbaneinsects.com

I didn’t know that wasps came in varieties with slender abdomens such as this.  I did know that some of them lay eggs in caterpillars, temporarily and purposely paralysing them at the same time.  I’m pretty sure it didn’t sting or lay eggs in me when I CAUGHT AND CARRIED IT WITH MY BARE HANDS.  I don’t think that’s something I need to be worried about.  I hope. Wikipedia tells me that these wasps are harmless to humans.

The seemingly thousands of wasp larvae inside the caterpillar may not have been obvious the first time I took a photo of the slumped caterpillar in it’s cocoon, but it’s sure obvious now.  I tried to take some close ups to post here, but my camera had trouble focusing on the caterpillar, so here is one from Wikipedia instead (it looks just like this, only ours is slumped in an S shape).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Gross, right?  Only fascinating at the same time.  And hey, they are great for my vegetable garden.  Not that I really have one right now, since the dog digs everything up.  She even started digging all the dirt out of my potted blueberry bush.  Sigh.

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