Sand, Sunshine and Waves for this Rare Wasp
Waving in the summer season, the rare antenna-“waving” wasp is busy on the Oak Openings sands this week, preparing for its next generation.
This species works diligently for only about two weeks in June under the heat of the sun, frantically pushing sand around, creating small underground excavations and chasing grasshoppers. Once caught, the grasshopper is then stung and immobilized, and the frozen carcass is quickly dragged away into an underground tomb by its much smaller predetor -- the antenna-waving wasp (Tachysphex pechumani).
Considered an inland dune specialist and an excellent indicator of ancestral oak savanna, this rare wasp may still be found today successfully carrying on its lifecycle in a few sites at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark. The Oak Openings region is just one of a handful of places in the U.S. and Canada where this insect can still be found.
To further the species’ biological success ensuring new individuals each season, specific habitat requirements must be met. Well-maintained grasslands and dune openings with the appropriate species of Melanoplus sp. grasshoppers present, charcoal residue from prescribed fires, appropriate soil temperature and the right amount of sand compaction are crucial for its continued survival. Metroparks routinely works to facilitate prescribed burns and the removal of woody and invasive species throughout this insect’s key habitats.
The specific types of grasshoppers that inhabit these special sites become prey for the wasps and will have their destiny sealed if caught. The dire sting will only paralyze the grasshopper, allowing the wasp to overcome it and drag it into its underground lair that it created by excavating sand with its legs and body. An egg will then be strategically placed on the live grasshopper to sustain the hungry wasp larva as it grows.
This dramatic process hinges on many factors and involves some brazen antics set forth by a small, antenna-waving beast that only lives for about half of a month. As small and unknown as this species is, its continued conservation is important as a component of Oak Openings biodiversity.
While this wasp works hard to ensure the success of future generations, Metroparks will too.
Did You Know?
Seasonal monitoring of rare animals like the antenna-waving wasp is an important part of the continued conservation of species. Numerical data and habitat surveys are essential. Natural Resources Research and Monitoring Interns Ashley Fink and Liz Stahl recently observed five adults at Oak Openings Preserve.
Video by Liz Stahl