A few weekends ago, I was out mucking about in what I loosely call a garden and noticed an odd thing. I had let the weeding go for quite a while and then we had buckets of rain, so the weeds were towering over my sad, rabbit eaten hostas. It was a bit overwhelming, so I just tucked in and started on a pulling rampage (yeah, I was in the zone!).
Suddenly, I notice what I think are yellow jackets hovering around where I’m weeding. Having been stung a number of times in the past and not particularly enjoying it, I backed off right away and thought maybe I had disturbed a nest. But, no, there were only two randomly buzzing around. So, I switched to the opposite side of the garden to get away from where they were.
In a few minutes, there were the wasps again! OK, this time I looked a little more closely and discovered they were not yellow jackets after all. But what were they?! They were not aggressive, but clearly followed right along where I was weeding. Then I realized: they were watching where I pulled the weeds and hunting for any stray insect I stirred up with my efforts. How cool is that!
A little searching has revealed that they may be (again, didn’t get close enough to take pictures!) sand wasps. According to the Missouri DOC website on bees and wasps:
Adults often catch flies on the wing and are remarkably fast and agile. Their habit of hovering uncomfortably close to a person for the purpose of catching flies attracted to that individual is often mistaken for aggression. But they are even-tempered wasps, and it is possible to feed them out of your hand by presenting them with a living fly not quite capable of flight. Sand wasps are occasionally mistaken for hornets or yellowjackets because of their banded color pattern.
Hmmmn, yeah, I think I might skip the feeding them out of my hand part….There is a great photo at this website (along with tons of other very nice insect photos).
So, how did they learn to hang around stinky, sweaty fly-attracting people? Intriguing!
I’m wondering if this description of bees may be similar in how they find food/prey:
The small hairs lining a bee, which it uses to collect pollen, picks up chemical traces and biological particles as well. Bees also inhale and consume large quantities of air and water for their size, picking up chemical traces in that manner too.
That article was about using bees to locate land mines, which is pretty interesting, too. But, maybe wasps are more sight/vision hunters instead, as they have to catch insects on the wing?
Other interesting wasp miscellany I found:
And here’s a clear runner up in the Darwin Awards: http://sify.com/news/offbeat/fullstory.php?id=13234894