I’m stuck on you

Caterpillar-Shady-Grove
Braconid wasp cocoons on a tomato hornworm. © Nan at Shady Grove Farm, Kentucky.

Speaking of wasps, I just received this photo from Nan at Shady Grove Farm in Kentucky. The white things you see attached to a tomato hornworm are the pupae of a braconid wasp.

Using her ovipositor, the female braconid lays her eggs inside the body of the caterpillar. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the insides of their host which, as you might imagine, is not good for the caterpillar. After the larvae mature, they eat through the skin of the caterpillar, attach themselves to the outside, and spin a cocoon. Eventually, the wasps mature and emerge as adults.

The Braconidae family is huge, containing perhaps 1700 species in North America. They are all parasitic on other insects or insect eggs. The adult wasps are small, usually less than a half-inch long.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Anubis Bard
Reply

I had some of these visitors in my own garden a couple of summers ago. I picked off a dozen of the hornworms, but left the ones that had the cocoons. Since then I’ve seen exactly one hornworm on my tomatoes. I really think people who use pesticides miss half the fun of gardening.

(By the way, believe it or not there is a species of parasitic wasp that will lay its eggs in these cocoons in order to parasitize the parasites.)

Rusty
Reply

Andy,

I certainly believe that parasites parasitize the parasites; wasps are way cool.

Nancy
Reply

Anubis,

“miss half the fun of gardening” is absolutely right. Like watching a mantis holding a stinkbug in its forelegs and munching it exactly like a hamburger.

The longer (25 years on this land) without pesticides, the more beneficials there are from year to year.

Nan

Rusty
Reply

Nancy,

I’ve lived on my patch going on 20 years without pesticides, and it is amazing the amount of wildlife etc. that has decided this is a good place to be. What amazes me more, is the balance of living things. For example, mosquitoes have disappeared since the birds increased, my fruit trees produce more and bigger and nicer fruit than ever. It’ amazing what nature will do when you let it.

Anubis Bard
Reply

Wasps are way cool. Speaking of which, check out this photo I took of yellowjacket brood. I had assumed that yellowjackets just burrowed like ants, but they construct a whole nest down there. I also find it fascinating that rather than putting in winter stores like honeybees, they all die off except for a queen – who starts the colony from scratch in the spring. It had always seemed that there were more and more yellowjackets as the summer went along, but I’d never known why.

Rusty
Reply

They also live in trees.

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