Heath Potter Wasp

A master craftsman of the insect world with a macabre secret! The potter wasp is a real grafter, carefully quarrying for its ‘clay’ which it then turns into beautifully crafted, perfectly formed clay pots. The purpose of these pots however, is just a little bit more gruesome…

Fast Facts

Latin name: Eumenes coarctatus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Notable feature: Glossy black with bright yellow markings. A very narrow ‘waist’ (petiole) leading to a more bulbous abdomen which then tapers to a point. Yellow legs.

Rarity in the UK: Rare / Common

Where in the UK: found mainly in the south on heathlands from south Devon to East Sussex. When to see: late April until mid October

(c) S. Falk

The potter wasp as its name suggests is best known for its ability to make beautiful pots or ‘vases’ from mud that it carefully crafts from nearby ‘quarries’ and water sources. After mating the female wasp will choose a nesting site upon a branch of gorse or heather within 120 metres of her quarry and then begins the process of adding water to the soil to enable her to roll balls of mud. She will then clasp these balls of mud between her jaws and forelegs and take them one at a time to her nest site. Here she will use them to construct her pot. It can take up to 25 balls of mud and around 2-3 hours of continuous work to complete the pot. Upon completion of the pot the wasp lays a single egg inside.

After the pot is complete the more gruesome task begins! The wasp will then begin to collect small caterpillars, often pug moth larvae, including the Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata) and the Narrow-winged Pug (Eupithecia nanata). These are then stung several times to paralyse them (but importantly they will remain alive) then deposited inside the pot. Depending upon the size of caterpillars collected it will take anywhere between 10 and 38 caterpillars to fill the pot. Finally the pot is plugged up with more mud, sealing the fate of the caterpillars as firmly as the pot itself.  When the wasp larva emerges it will have a fully provisioned larder of fresh caterpillars upon which to feast before it breaks out from its pot as an adult and the cycle begins again!

Each adult female builds between 10 and 25 pots in her lifetime and will live for about 2-3 months herself.