Wasp and leaf-hopper

Black wasp on the ground
Black wasp, just landed

This wasp landed on the paver near a large plant pot and sat there buzzing its wings for a moment, as shown here, and then crawled to a drainage hole in its base and walked inside:

Wasp crawling into the base of a large flower pot
Crawling into the base of the pot (how does it keep its wings clean, I wonder?)

A week or two back, I saw a similar wasp carry prey to a hole in the top surface of the dirt. Together with the one entering the bottom of the pot, it had me wondering whether the whole pot was tunnelled and whether the roots of the plant (actually the Desert Rose which the Sunbird was raiding for nesting material) were being eaten by wasp larvae. The answer to the second question should, I realised, be ‘no’: bugs which carry other bugs home as food were not likely to be root-eaters.

Wasp in flight with prey
Carrying prey towards her nesting site

Here we go again … carrying a leafhopper towards the drainage hole in the bottom of the plant pot. What she didn’t know was that we had re-potted the plant, because it had been looking sickly, since she dug a tunnel there. In the process we saw quite a lot of white Leaf-hoppers in the dirt (maybe a dozen) but no network of tunnels, no colony of wasps and no root-eating grubs.

Finally, here she is trying to re-dig her tunnel while still holding the prey. It didn’t work very well and she flew off again with her load. I saw her fly to a nearby plant and stop for a rest but didn’t see what happened after that.

Wasp trying to tunnel into the pot with a leaf-hopper between her back legs.
Now, where's my hole?

One of the experts on the Flickr Field Guide to Australian Insects kindly identified the wasp for me as ‘a Gorytini wasp, perhaps Austrogorytes sp., Crabronidae’. All Crabronidae are solitary wasps which provision nests with paralysed prey as food for their larvae. The biggest of them take cicadas – they must be a lot bigger than my wasp here which is only about 10 mm long and preys (exclusively, going by what we saw in the dirt) on Flatid leaf-hoppers like these.


Small bird perched on seed-pod.
Female Sunbird perched on an unopened seed-pod of the Desert Rose

Sunbirds are pretty little birds very like Australian honeyeaters or American hummingbirds in size and form, although the resemblance is due to similar lifestyles and convergent evolution, not to close family relationships. They feed on nectar, supplemented with insects and spiders. Their nests are little hanging baskets, and the one in my pictures was engaged in collecting construction material.

Sunbird grabbing fluffy seeds from pod
Collecting fluffy seeds from an open pod.

The one I photographed is a female, though you would hardly know from the first photo: the males are distinguished by a gorgeous iridescent bib (follow the link below, to Ian’s site, to see one).

Wikipedia tells us there are 132 species of sunbirds ranging from Africa through southern Asia and just into Australia. The only Australian species is the one pictured here, Nectarinia jugularis, and it is restricted to coastal Queensland. It is usually known in Australia as the Yellow-Bellied Sunbird, although Ian Montgomery notes on Birdway that ‘Olive-backed’ is used by both Birdlife International and Christidis & Boles to avoid confusion with the Variable Sunbird (N. venusta) which is also called the ‘Yellow-bellied’.