Sunday, September 25, 2011

Grasshopper hunter!

Click on the photo above to enlarge it. You will see that the red and black wasp is carrying a grasshopper about twice its size. The wasp seems perfectly built for this job; its mandibles hold the grasshopper's antennae and its two pairs of front legs are wrapped around the grasshopper as if in an embrace. The wasp's rear legs are long enough to straddle the grasshopper and keep walking.

Why would a wasp carry a grasshopper, you might ask? And why is the much larger grasshopper putting up with this? The unfortunate grasshopper is about to become a stored food supply for the wasp's future offspring. Mother wasp has probably already delivered a few paralyzing stings. She will carry the grasshopper to a nice sandy spot, dig a hole, drag the grasshopper underground, lay an egg on it, and then refill the hole. When the egg hatches the newborn wasp larva will be sitting on the delicious grasshopper that its mother caught for it.

It's a Prionyx wasp. They raise their babies on a strict grasshopper-only diet. The drama above occurred last September on a sandy path in the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, New Jersey. This September I saw a lot more of them by a parking lot at the foot of the Verrazano Bridge to Assateague Island, Mayland. The  one pictured below was digging a hole in the sandy soil below a row of bushes at the edge of the parking lot. There were about a dozen wasps nearby, all digging holes or dragging grasshoppers from the leaves under the bushes to the sandy strip of waiting holes.

The bushes above were full of unsuspecting grasshoppers, flying and jumping -- a buffet for Prionyx wasps!


  1. Thank you! I was lucky to see these things and even more to have my camera with me!

  2. Thanks Tyler! It is really awesome to see them at work.

  3. Great pics and article- they helped me solve a mystery. There are many of these wasps flying around a bare area in my garden and I know there are grasshoppers in the strawberry bed next to the bare area. I did notice holes in that area also but I thought they were from deer. Do you know how soon the larvae hatch (spring or fall) because we till the garden under in the fall and I would hate to ruin the wasp nursery!

    1. Hi Lynda, Great! I don't know for sure when they emerge, but I strongly suspect they will spend the winter underground. It was already autumn when I took the photo and the process was just beginning. If I were you I would spare that patch of garden and watch for their emergence. Julie

    2. Thanks for the tip...will tell the hubby to avoid tilling there.