Who is ruining one of Lydford Gorge’s gate posts?

When I was over at Lydford Gorge on Tuesday this week one of our Rangers – Steve Phillips showed me a gate post in the car park and asked what was responsible for the rather large pile of sawdust that was building up.

Digger wasp postSo here is the post and the pile of sawdust – right by the back entrance into the cafe

Digger wasp post coinI placed a £2 coin to give a sense of scale – that’s rather a lot of sawdust!

Digger waspI then stood around for 5 minutes to wait for the culprit to emerge – eventually I managed to get this photo of this small wasp

Wasps are in an order called the Hymenoptera and there are rather a lot of different species and its not a group that I would consider myself very expert in so I sent the pictures to my friend John Walter who is much more expert with wasps than I am – John is also the author of the excellent must have book The Wildlife of Dartmoor which he co-authored with Norman Baldock – see here for details.

The wasp it turns out is a digger wasp in the genus Ectemnius – from the photo it is not possible to be exact about the species but John reckons it is probably Ectemnius lituratus – see the link here to get an idea about its lifecycle, status, distribution and habitats. The link also contains some much better photos of the wasp than mine above – I only had a compact camera with me – not ideal for macro photography!

 In essence Ectemnius is a solitary wasp – so unlike the ‘wasps’ we are all familiar with which are social wasps i.e. dozens of wasps live in the nest – it lives on its own – one female looks after her brood and catches prey on her own to feed them. She catches little flies which she brings back to feed her larvae in the nest.

The thing that is so striking about this, is how industrious this little wasp is – the animal is small – less than 1/2″ yet is has excavated the rotten post and produced quite a pile of sawdust as well as nipping in and out of the nest all summer long catching prey for her offspring.

For me this little digger wasp story exemplifies what I love about nature – there is always something new to find out,  usually the stories are pretty amazing and show what Herculean efforts animals go to in order to live and prosper on the earth.

We will leave Ectemnius to finish her lifecycle this year but I fear we have a rotten post which will need replacing over the winter!



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