Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Truly Wasp-waisted

It is said of some women that they are wasp-waisted. This, generally, is a good thing, I suppose. And probably a goal to attain for some. But I wonder if many coveters of the wasp-waisted physique know where the term is derived, beyond a very general sense.

Let's have a look. I had the good fortune to stumble upon one of our most beautiful wasps yesterday, and this one could be the originator of the term.
The aptly named Yellow-and-black Mud Dauber, a real beauty. Most wasps are visually striking, if one can get over the fact that a lot of them can give a gnarly sting. Fortunately for us, few if any are adapted to kill people, and for the most part are quite docile to humankind. I had my macro lens within inches of this guy. He was still in a bit of an early morning torpor, but quickly came to and set about hunting spiders.

Some arbiter of fashion and style must have seen a wasp like this when he/she coined the wasp-waisted term. That is one threadlike abdomen, so small one wonders how this animal even functions. Sure creates a neat look, though.

Yellow-and-black Mud Daubers have an apropos scientific name: Sceliphron caementarium. You've probably seen their nests. Little bungalows of plastered mud tucked under bridges or building eaves, they are engineering marvels. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to make one of these adobes of death. The wasp makes repeated trips with tiny glomerules of sticky mud, cementing each perfectly into place.

And death adobes they are. The above shot shows the inner chambers; final resting places for unfortunate spiders. The adult mud dauber captures and paralyzes its archnid prey, and somehow lugs it up to the nest. The victim is then sealed into the chamber along with a wasp egg. Upon hatching, the wasp larva has a fresh meal.

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