Potter wasp jug

A perfect, tiny mud jug ready to be filled by the potter wasp.

Many people have on occasion found a perfect little clay pot stuck to their lanai screen, outdoor furniture or other hardscapes in the garden.

Was it made a by a garden gnome or fairy? What is this tiny terracotta conundrum? It is the work of the potter wasp.

You may have seen the efforts of mud daubers where they build mud cells to provision with a variety of paralyzed insect larvae for their young. These are large and messy looking and you may have witnessed the construction of these chambers or seen a mud dauber in action collecting mud.

The backside of a potter wasp pot

Above: The backside of a potter wasp pot embedded in a lanai screen.

The potter wasp is similar, a bit more cryptic, but way more artistic.

Black with yellow markings in color and a little over one-half inch in size, the female potter wasp first collects water to mix with soil to make her own mud. Pellets of mud are formed and carried to the nest site for construction of the pot. Reports indicate that it may take hundreds of trips and several hours of work to make one small half-inch pot. Once the pot is made with its characteristic jug-like opening, eggs are deposited in the pot on slender threads. The potter wasp then begins the hunt to fill the empty larder. Some research found that it took more than a week to catch and fill the tiny pot with sufficient sting-paralyzed caterpillars and beetle larvae.

Once filled, the potter wasp seals the top of the pot with a mud plug and goes off to make a another tiny dried-mud wonder. Inside the pot, the wasps eggs hatch and feed on the paralyzed larvae until they mature and pupate. Adult potter wasps chew through the side of the pot and emerge into the world ready to complete their life cycle.

So, what good does this tiny insect do for you or the environment? While the mud pots may serve as an annoying eyesore, the benefits provided by these small biological control agents are many. They collect and parasitize numerous pest larvae. Although these larvae meet a gruesome end thanks to the wasp larvae, this small wasp does work to remove harmful caterpillars and beetle larvae that otherwise may be damaging your landscape plants.

If you need to remove an occasional out-of-place nest, carefully scrape it off and perhaps relocate to another protected area.

So, the mystery of the tiny garden pots is solved.

Not only are they an interesting phenomenon and even a conversation starter, but pay dividends as a biocontrol tool that works without you having to lift a finger. Protect and conserve the insects that work for us sight unseen in the background of nature. For more information on all types of beneficial insects in our area, or to ask a question, please visit www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline.

Ralph E. Mitchell is the director/horticulture agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlotte

countyfl.gov.

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