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A Book of Natural History

Urnaria Cresson and gracilis Cresson






[6] Reprinted by permission from Bulletin No. 2, Series I, of The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, 1898.


Most graceful and attractive of all the wasps--as Fabre describes them, the Ammophiles, of all the inhabitants of the garden, hold the first place in our affections. Not so beautiful as the blue _Pelopaeus_ nor so industrious as the little red-girdled _Trypoxylon_, their intelligence, their distinct individuality, and their obliging tolerance of our society make them an unfailing source of interest. They are, moreover, the most remarkable of all genera in their stinging habits, and few things have given us deeper pleasure than our success in following the activities and penetrating the secrets of their lives. In our neighborhood we have but two species of _Ammophila_, _urnaria_ Cresson and _gracilis_ Cresson, both of them being very slender bodied wasps of about an inch in length, _gracilis_ all black, and _urnaria_ with a red band around the front end of the abdomen. With two exceptions our observations relate to _urnaria_.

During the

earlier part of the summer we had often seen these wasps feeding upon the nectar of flowers, especially upon that of the sorrel of which they are particularly fond, but at that time we gave them but passing notice. One bright morning in the middle of July, however, we came upon one that was so evidently hunting, and hunting in earnest, that we gave up everything else to follow her. The ground was covered, more or less thickly, with patches of purslane, and it was under these weeds that our _Ammophila_ was eagerly searching for her prey. After thoroughly investigating one plant she would pass to another, running three or four steps and then bounding as though she were made of thistledown and were too light to remain upon the ground. We followed her easily, and as she was in full view nearly all of the time we had every hope of witnessing the capture, but in this we were destined to disappointment. We had been in attendance on her for about a quarter of an hour when, after disappearing for a few moments under the thick purslane leaves, she came out with a green caterpillar. We had missed the wonderful sight of the paralyzer at work, but we had no time to bemoan our loss for she was making off at so rapid a pace that we were well occupied in keeping up with her. She hurried along with the same motion as before, unembarrassed by the weight of her victim. Twice she dropped it and circled over it a moment before taking it again. For sixty feet she kept to open ground, passing between two rows of bushes, but at the end of this division of the garden, she plunged, very much to our dismay, into a field of standing corn. Here we had great difficulty in following her, since far from keeping to her former orderly course, she zigzagged among the plants in the most bewildering fashion, although keeping a general direction of northeast. It seemed quite impossible that she could know where she was going. The corn rose to a height of six feet all around us; the ground was uniform in appearance, and, to our eyes, each group of corn stalks was just like every other group, and yet, without pause or hesitation, the little creature passed quickly along, as we might through the familiar streets of our native town.

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