SEPTEMBER
1988

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

9-09-88

CLAY MASONS

Clay is widely used as a raw material for home construction by insects and people.  Adobe and brick houses have sheltered humans for centuries.  Insects, however, were using clay for homes long before humans abandoned cave dwellings.

Among the finest of the insect clay masons are the wasps.  Two of the most common are the potter wasps and the mud daubers.

Potter wasps, also called mason wasps, are common insects. They construct their nests of mud and attach these jug-like homes to twigs.  The homebuilder provisions the nest with caterpillars.  From an egg attached to the mud home by a string, the newly-hatched larvae descend to feed on the food that mother supplied.

Mud daubers are aptly named.  Their nests are constructed by daubing mud in a somewhat organized fashion in reasonably protected locations.  Wasps of this group can frequently be found along the edges of ponds or streams.  Here the wasps scoop up the mud in their mouths for transporting to the nesting site.  These wasps are frequently blackish-blue in color.

One of the most recognizable of the mud daubers is the pipe-organ mud dauber.  The nests of this wasp are laid end to end in tubes.  Several tubes are constructed side by side in a pattern similar to the pipes of a fine church organ.  Each cell is provisioned with a spider as a food resource for the young wasp.  When the wasp has completed development, it chews a hole through the side of the tube.

Some mud daubers use any available facility for constructing a home.  In fact, old-fashioned outhouses provide ideal nesting sites!  Anyone who has had the occasion to use an outhouse in the summer is well aware of that fact.

The composer of the song “Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back” noted the presence of wasps in such a building.  However, the wasp was misidentified in the phrase “to the yellow jackets' drone.”  That non-human singer was certainly a mud dauber.  And some people would say you haven't lived unless you have used an outhouse – at least used one while being serenaded by a female mud dauber as she fashions her nest.

Of course, a mud nest under construction requires mud.  Mud-laden mud daubers frequently fly from the quarter moon in the door to the nest site.  Such a flight pattern is sometimes over the best “seat” in the house.  For the human occupant of the outhouse, such flights can be exciting.  A little too exciting!  Some folks have been known to leave the facility rather abruptly when faced with a low-flying wasp.

That's the way it is with some humans.  They just don't appreciate insects like mud daubers –- at least when they are sitting in an outhouse reading the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox