Always take a camera…

The digger wasps are back nesting in the log (see House-hunting in Peckham). Looking at the size of the pile of sawdust gathered outside they have excavated a much bigger burrow in the side of the log compared to last year. I have been watching them as they bring in their hoard of insect prey – this year they have a taste for bluebottle flies. Photographing them has not been easy as the position of the nest hole is obscured by blades of grass which really interfere with focussing, and the wasps disappear pretty quickly down that hole! Several attempts over a couple of days and I have one measly ‘just about in focus’ image of a wasp emerging out of her burrow.

Digger wasp burrow, and emerging wasp

Digger wasp burrow, and emerging wasp

I was booked to play at Bestival which meant no wasp-watching for a few days. My fellow DJ friend Fábio was over from Lisbon and having witnessed me photographing Portuguese bees, wanted to see Warwick Gardens so we made a quick detour on the way to the station. I don’t take my camera to festivals so didn’t have it with me as I showed him around, pointing with pride to our wasp spider, our array of shield bugs, and the digger wasp burrow. We plonked ourselves by the logs, amongst the mother and baby circle who were completely oblivious to all the action taking place around them, and I explained digger wasps to Fábio. Then it appeared: a female with a pair of copulating bluebottle flies firmly in her grasp. And she sat there for a couple of minutes on top of the log in the perfect position for a photograph. I was mortified as I had been waiting for this moment for days and there I was with no camera. It was if she was saying “Ok, so here I am with not one but TWO flies, which I know you would be impressed to see as I have been watching you watching me hoping for a good photo, so now I will just sit here and taunt you as I see you have no camera. Pff!”. She eventually flew off, circling us, then dropped the flies into the grass – the male still attached to his female and rather bewildered to discover she was paralysed. And I was left rueing the missed opportunity for my wasp-action photograph of the year.

Lesson learned: always take a camera when looking for insects!


House-hunting in Peckham

People are queueing up to live in Peckham as it has become so damn trendy. House prices have rocketed and everyday there is a letter through my door from some unscrupulous estate agent urging me to sell my house as ‘you live in a highly desirable location and we have a long waiting-list of people wanting to live in your street’. Tough, I ain’t going nowhere!

Ectemnius cephalotes out hunting and in her tunnel

Ectemnius cephalotes out hunting and in the entrance to her tunnel

The digger wasp Ectemnius cephalotes is also house-hunting. Her requirements for the perfect nesting place is an old log, tree stump or timber stack. She is even happy to share with other females. There is a good choice of possible apartments in Warwick Gardens as there are nine large logs used as seating at the top end of the park. These double up as housing estates for various species of insect. Earwigs, woodlice, centipedes, solitary bees and wasps, beetles and spiders all find living here a ‘desirable location’. For the past couple of days our wasp has been scouring two particular logs, checking every nook and cranny for a suitable place to lay her eggs. Although willing to renovate an old nest, these digger wasps are super confident at DIY and will dig holes in the wood with their large jaws to create cavernous tunnels with separate cells for storing prey items.

Ectemnius cephalotes with hoverfly Syrphus ribesii, and pulling it into her tunnel

Ectemnius cephalotes catching a hoverfly Syrphus ribesii, and pulling it into her tunnel

Once the wasp has excavated her tunnel and constructed her cells she needs to stock up on food for her larvae to feed on. Ours favours large hoverflies, in particular Syrphus ribesii, which look very similar to her. She will catch them in flight and with supreme dexterity pull them into her tunnel. I was surprised at how quickly this happens and just managed to photograph it! They will be stored in the cells. When her cells are full she will seal up the entrance to the tunnel and lay her eggs. Each cell will have one egg and the larva will have up to 12 flies to feed on. The adult wasps emerge in early summer.