Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ichneumon Wasp's Winter Nightmare

Back in November, an inquisitive ichneumon wasp came by while I was stacking wood. 
Ichneumon wasp
   Now, at the time, I assumed she was hunting for something to parasitize.  But, the other day we encountered an identical Ichneumon wasp that was hibernating. Then I realized the woodpile-exploring wasp could have been searching for a place to spend the long, cold winter.  In hind sight, I suspect I disturbed her chosen hibernation site, or, the moist wood I was stacking may have been of interest to her in her search of a suitable hibernaculum.
   I believe this wasp might be Ichneumon ultimus

Now, for the story of our discovery of a wasp's nightmarish winter abode... 
We were out on a mountain top exploring a rock city and admiring the cross-bedded sandstone cliffs.
 In some places this sandstone has a prolific growth of moss and lichens.
   My son was fascinated by the overhanging moss and lichens.  Out of curiosity, he lifted some moss. There, under his first handful of very wet moss, he found these two hibernating ichneumon wasps.   Two different species at that!
The ichneumon wasp in the foreground is identical to the one that came to visit me on the woodpile.
The other hibernating wasp (pictured below) is perhaps an Ichneumon mendax.
Ichneumon wasp found hibernating under moss on a rock
  Here is a photo of that small wasp crawling on my hand.  It's body measures about three-eights of an inch long.
   These female ichneumon wasps will spend the winter in a dormant state.  The males have already died.  After winter is past and hibernation is over, the wasps will go about the business of hunting and parasitizing a host (probably moth or butterfly pupae).  That's about their life story.  Basically, most of their short life the female ichneumons spend under a clump of moss awaiting spring.
We found the ichneumon wasp's hibernating site just to the right of the "cave" pictured below.
   Holding out for the winter under the wet moss on the rocks beside the "cave" seems nightmarish to me.  Probably because I can't hibernate.  Additionally, one night in that cave on the windy mountaintop with knee deep snow on the ground on a cold January night was enough for me!  Brrrr....and that was almost 20 years ago.  I don't envy those wasps one bit...and they are planning on spending the whole winter there in that damp moss!
    I think I'll prop my feet up by the woodstove... and think of other ichneumon wasps... on warmer days... scurrying around.... busily working their antennae....

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