Hairy Flower Wasps are native to Australia. They belong to the wasp family Scoliidae and occur throughout most parts of Australia. They are large wasps with body lengths that usually measure from 1 to 3 cm although some can reach almost 4 cm in length – and that is large for an Australian wasp.
There are two main groups of Hairy Flower Wasps that occur within Victoria.
Scolia soror Source: Museum Victoria
Campsomeris Flower WaspSource: Museum Victoria
Like most insects that visit flowers, Hairy Flower Wasps drink nectar. Nectar provides them with food energy in the form of sugars that they use to power their wing muscles.
Flower wasps are frequent visitors to flowers and due to their size and colour, are extremely obvious when sitting on a flower.
Adult female flower wasps are designed to dig. They are large and powerful wasps. The female wasps are often seen visiting compost heaps or wood piles or flying around the dead stump of a tree. They are searching for scarab beetle grubs (such as the Christmas beetle group) in the ground and are quite capable of digging into compost heaps or saw-dust of a tree stump to find beetle grubs.
A Flower Wasp visiting a flower Photographer: Otto Rogge. Source: Otto Rogge Photography
Most wasps feed on other insects. Some, like the paper wasps catch their prey and kill it immediately to feed their young. However, many wasps have developed the technique of paralysing their prey and laying an egg inside the host. The hatched larva then feed inside the living host. Flower wasps are one such group of wasps.
Having located a beetle grub, the female stings and lays an egg inside it. The sting from the wasp does not kill the beetle grub but only paralyses it. There is a good reason why the female wasp does not kill the beetle grub. If the sting were to kill the beetle grub, then its tissue would immediately start to rot and decompose. When the wasp egg hatches inside the paralysed beetle grub it is surrounded by living tissue – the food that it needs to eat. The developing wasp larva knows which parts of the beetle grub to eat first to prolong the grub’s life for as long as possible; thus maximizing the chances of complete development of the wasp larva.
An insect that slowly kills its host, usually near the end of the larval development is called a Parasitoid. This contrasts to the term Parasite in which the host usually is not killed.
Parasitoids are important natural population regulators in the insect world.
No – flower wasps are solitary and do not make a nest or form a colony. If you see several flying around a compost heap or tree stump it simply means that several wasps have found the area.
Yes – flower wasps do have a well developed sting. However, unlike a honey bee or a paper wasp, flower wasps do not have a nest or colony to protect, and therefore are not aggressive.
Importantly, they will not attack people for just being near where they are searching for food.
The only way you could get stung by a flower wasp is to accidentally stand or sit on it. This can occur as the flower wasps fly at ground level looking for beetle grubs.
To our knowledge, no one has ever had a problem with the sting of a flower wasp other than the pain of the sting itself. Usually the application of a water-ice pack placed on the sting site will quickly reduce the pain and swelling. Unlike the honey bee, the barb of the sting will not remain in the victim’s skin.
To discourage the flower wasp, you would need to remove it’s habitat from your area. However, there are a number of good reasons to leave it be.
Enjoy your local fauna!
Hi Heather, thanks for the comment. Museum Victoria offers a free identification service, you can find details here: http://museumvictoria.com.au/discoverycentre/ask-us-a-question/identifications/
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Thank you for a very informative article. I always had a problem to advice restaurants the right way - now I understand their confusing