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Potter Wasp

Srinivasan Balakrishnan

As I was sipping water from the bottle (summer is already on right from March itself; besides, every year they warn that current summer would be severe than the previous year’s.  Oh, Sun God, be merciful!), I heard a buzzing sound.  To my horror I saw a wasp buzzing around closely. I distanced myself but kept a watchful eye on the insect.  By then it was busy constructing a mud nest in a chosen corner; indeed a very safe & secured corner in the window sill, away from sun & rain. How clever of it! As an afterthought I clicked a snap or two and also took a short video of its activity on my mobile camera. This was for my neighbour’s kid, a smart little curious fellow of 2 ½ years.  This was around 11.30 AM. As I got immersed in office work (Oh, what a nuisance!), I forgot all about it. When I lifted the bottle for another drink by 1.20 PM, I remembered and had a look at the corner of the window. Lo! The nest was complete & ready! In less than two hours the wasp had created a wonderful structure resembling a lovely mini mud pot! A single room apartment! I cursed myself for having missed recording the wasp shaping the smooth nest. Curious, I clicked the net and found this variety of wasp is appropriately called Potter Wasp!

I understood that it must be an adult female wasp building a nest after mating, for its offspring. This Potter Wasp / Mud Dauber are one among the multitude of species that lead a solitary life. Of course, there are a few solitary species that nest in mini groups of their own group, but still strictly taking care of each one’s offspring only. Interestingly, there are also a few solitary wasp species that do build societal nest but here again each has its own separate cell and cares only for its own offspring. This is in complete variance to the complex eusocial (nesting together headed by an egg-laying queen served by non-reproducing workers) living style with specific division of labour and behavioural patterns.

Though wasps resemble bees and ants, they are classified separately as wasp family.  The sting of a wasp is generally not life-threatening to humans except in rare cases. Nevertheless the sting could be really painful. Hence it is said ‘don’t sting like a wasp’. But even they have an enemy in the shape of Bee-eater birds! There are thousands and thousands of wasp species in our world, with many more yet to be found and classified.

Because of their solitary nature these wasps are forced to spend much of their time in building nests or in search of food - insects and spiders - for their little ones, while the adults themselves mostly live on nectar. But they are not very good pollinators as bees are because of their body nature. But wasps do play their own ecological role by preying on insects that damage crops. This ability of wasps is being cleverly used by humans in biological control of pests that damage sugarcane, tomato, etc. Predatory wasps sting their prey to immobilize them; the wasp then either lays its egg on the immobilized prey to leave it there itself or carries it back to the mud nest for laying an egg. As the offspring comes out, it has a ready feast, with which energy it comes out breaking the sealed nest. Besides this maternal care no other step is taken by the mother wasp. Caterpillar is a preferred mother-care food for the wasp’s larva.

Despite being stung by a wasp in my childhood I have sung paeans to the wasp family. Hope they will remember this gratefully ever and never sting me in the rest of my life. Of course, it is a different matter that my wife keeps stinging me and neither do I lag behind in stinging her back; you see, she is ‘Simha’ (Lion) raashi and I am a ‘Vrishika” (Scorpio)! Maybe we were wasps in the previous life.  Whereas Ms. JK Rowling wove a magical Potter (Harry) story, I could only write about the Potter Wasp!

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