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Meanderings of a Flower Wasp - Campsomeris Ephippium

Updated on December 30, 2014

A Photo Encounter with A Wasp

While hiking with my wife, daughter and some friends along the Mt. Lemon hiking trail in the Santa Catalina mountains, which hug the northern edge of Tucson, Arizona, I came across what was for me an unusual looking wasp. While bugs generally aren’t my thing, good photo opportunities are and this wasp was very photogenic.

This wasp was larger than most wasps I have seen. It appeared to be almost two inches in length and its body appeared wider and thicker than that of most wasps I was familiar with.

But what caught my eye was not its size but the two bright orange rings on its abdomen. In fact the rings, which were separated by a narrower and hairy black ring, dominated the flower upon which it was perched. The top of the abdomen was black as was the bottom but the orange rings are what made the wasp stand out.

Hiking on Mt. Lemon Hiking Trail

Hiking along a trail on Mt. Lemon above Tucson, AZ
Hiking along a trail on Mt. Lemon above Tucson, AZ | Source

Our trail was on Mt. Lemon which overlooks Tucson and is a part of the Coronado National Forest which encompasses a large area of mountains in this part of Southern Arizona. The altitude was about 9,000 feet above sea level leaving us well above the sweltering summer heat in the desert below. In fact the temperature, vegetation and environment in this area is more like that found in hill country in northern states than what one expects in southern Arizona.

The area along the trail was lush, green and dotted with blooming wild flowers. And it was on the large, purple thistles in full bloom where I began noticing the occasional wasp with the orange rings on their abdomens.

After passing a couple of these colorful wasps atop a thistle, I stopped to take a picture. As I went on I began to stop and take more pictures and videos with both my camera and iPhone. Everyone in the group was impressed with the wasps but none had ever seen such a wasp. All in all I probably encountered about ten of these wasps.

Flower Wasp Feasting on a Thistle

A Flower Wasp (Campsomeris Ephippium) dining on a Thistle's nectar  (Photo taken on Mt. Lemon, AZ)
A Flower Wasp (Campsomeris Ephippium) dining on a Thistle's nectar (Photo taken on Mt. Lemon, AZ) | Source

A Need to Find Name of Wasp Before Publishing a Hub About It

As I took the pictures my thoughts turned to writing a Hub about the unusual wasp. However, before I could write a Hub I needed to know more about this species of wasp and the first thing I needed to know the name of this wasp.

A couple of weeks after the hike I posted a picture on WebAnswers.com, a site on which I periodically submit posts, asking if anyone could identify this bug. I received three answers the same day.

They identified the wasp as a Flower Wasp and noted that it was also called a Scarab Hunter Wasp by some. One of the postings included a link to page on a website called whatsthatbug.com. That page had a picture of a wasp similar to the ones I photographed along with some additional information about the wasp including its scientific name, Campsomeris Ephippium, and name of the family, Scoliidae, it belonged to.

Flower Wasp on a Thistle

Flower Wasp with wings closed straddles a thistle flower (Photo location Santa Catalina Mts, AZ)
Flower Wasp with wings closed straddles a thistle flower (Photo location Santa Catalina Mts, AZ) | Source

Flower Wasps are Newcomers to the United States

Flower wasps are found mainly in Central America as well as Mexico and northern South America. Reports indicate that they can be found as far south as Ecuador and as far north as Mexico. However, in recent years they have been showing up in Texas and Arizona.

Most of the information I found was on sites describing sightings of the wasps in Texas and Arizona with the earliest sightings beginning in 2009. Flower Wasps appear to be a relative newcomers to the United States.

According to Wikipedia, the scoliid family, to which the Flower Wasps are a member, consists of about 560 different species of wasps that are found throughout the world. The Flower Wasp and the other 559 species are loners who operate alone rather than collectively like bees and other species of wasps that live in colonies and work as a group.

Armed with this information, I began a search to learn more information about this wasp. Unfortunately, I discovered that there is not a lot of information about flower wasps on the Internet.

I did find three or four sites with a page devoted to flower wasps. Most of these postings had been published within the past 4 years or so and basically described recent sightings of these wasps along with some information about the wasps.

Unidentified Wasp and Smaller Bugs Feeding on Wildflowers

Wasp on Wildflowers - photo taken in Santa Catalina Mountains of Southern AZ
Wasp on Wildflowers - photo taken in Santa Catalina Mountains of Southern AZ | Source

Flower Wasps are Parasitoids

All members of the scoliid family are parasitoids, a term that refers to organisms that spend a significant part of their lives attached to another organism which it lives off of and usually ends up killing.

In the case of the scoliid family of wasps, their mission in life appears to be helping to keep the numbers of the Scarabaeidae family in check. The Scarabaeidae family consists of the world’s 30,000 or so species of beetles.

Like other members of the Scoliidae family of wasps, the Flower Wasp begins life attached to the outer skin of a scarab (beetle) larvae. A female Flower Wasp walks along the ground seeking out scarab larvae living underground. Some theorize that the antennae of the wasp contains chemical sensors that enable the female to detect larvae in the ground.

One Beetle Not Killed as a Grub by a Flower Wasp

Pleasing Fungus Beetle (Gibbifer californicus) photographed on Mt Lemon Hiking Trail in Arizona
Pleasing Fungus Beetle (Gibbifer californicus) photographed on Mt Lemon Hiking Trail in Arizona | Source

Once a scarab larvae is detected, the female Flower Wasp uses her legs to dig down to the larvae which she temporarily immobilizes with a sting. Once the larvae is immobilized, the wasp lays a single egg on the outside of the larvae and then digs deeper and places the larvae or grub in the cavern she has dug.

Sometimes the female Flower Wasp changes her mind after stinging the grub and, rather than laying an egg on it she simply leaves. Like those that have an egg laid on them, the grub recovers but generally fails to develop and ends up dying before morphing into an adult beetle.

As adults Flower Wasps appear to obtain their nourishment from the nectar in flowers. As they travel from flower to flower seeking nourishment they help in the pollination process although compared to bees and other pollinators, Flower Wasps are just minor players.

Identifying Male from Female

Both male and female Flower Wasps have corrugated (as opposed to smooth) wings. Males have a more slender body than do females. They also have longer antennae and skinnier legs than do females.

Females have a retractable stinger on their posterior which they use to disable beetle grubs. Males have pseudo stinger - an appendage on their posterior that looks like a stinger but is apparently not operational. This makes sense because it is only the female that has a need for the stinger.

While information on the Internet about Flower Wasps is sketchy with few sites containing more than a picture and minimal text, there are a number of pictures of the Flower Wasp, including one on eBay that showed a Flower Wasp specimen captured in Panama and which was sold to a collector for $12 in November 2014.

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) Butterfly on Thistle in Santa Catalina Mts of Arizona
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) Butterfly on Thistle in Santa Catalina Mts of Arizona | Source

Scanty Information but Web has Many Pictures of Flower Wasp

While the Flower Wasp or Campsomeris ephippium may be recent immigrant to the United States, it has been known to American naturalists and insect enthusiasts for almost two centuries.

While researching the Flower Wasp I came across a number of sites with pictures of this wasp. On many of these sites the only text accompanying the photo was Species Campsomeris ephippium (Say, 1837).

Area along Trail Was Site of Forest Fire a Few Years Ago

Blackened Tree Trunks from forest fire a few years ago.  Mt Lemon Hiking Trail, Santa Catalina Mts, Arizona
Blackened Tree Trunks from forest fire a few years ago. Mt Lemon Hiking Trail, Santa Catalina Mts, Arizona | Source

Thomas & Lucy Say - Early American Naturalists

Additional research led me to Thomas Say (1787 - 1834) an early 19th century, self taught American naturalist. Like John James Audubon, Say was an artist who traveled extensively in the America of the early 1800s making sketches and drawings of the local fauna especially insects.

WikiPedia describes Say as an American naturalist, entomologist (biologist who studies insects), malacologist (biologist who studies mollusks), herpetologist (biologist who studies reptiles and amphibians) and carcinologist (biologist who studies crustaceans). A taxonomist (a biologist who groups organisms into categories), he is widely considered the father of descriptive entomology (the science of insects).

Among other things, Thomas Say was one of the founders of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in 1812 (now known as The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University). This is the oldest natural science museum and research institution in the Western Hemisphere.

One problem with Thomas Say is that he died in 1834 while the attribution accompanying Campsomeris ephippium is dated 1837. However, Thomas Say’s wife, Lucy Way Sistare Say (1801 - 1886) was also an artist and naturalist who made significant contributions to nineteenth century natural history.

Female Flower Wasp

Close-up of Female Flower Wasp - note wider body and shorter antennae. (Photographed in Santa Catalina Mts, AZ)
Close-up of Female Flower Wasp - note wider body and shorter antennae. (Photographed in Santa Catalina Mts, AZ) | Source

Thomas & Lucy Say and the Flower Wasp

Since, neither Say traveled outside the United States, one or both of them was probably responsible for being the first to at least catalog Campsomeris ephippium if not also the first to classify and/or assign its scientific name.

Tree Stump with a Happy Face

Weird Looking Tree Stump along hiking trail on Mt. Lemon, AZ
Weird Looking Tree Stump along hiking trail on Mt. Lemon, AZ | Source

Mt. Lemon Area where Flower Wasps Were Sighted

A
Mt Lemon, Arizona:
Mount Lemmon, AZ 85619, USA

get directions

Mt. Lemon in Santa Catalina Mountains above Tucson, Arizona. This is where I saw and photographed the Flower Wasps.

B
Mt Olympus, Greece:
Mount Olympus, Olimpos 402 00, Greece

get directions

© 2014 Chuck Nugent

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    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      3 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      SusanDeppner - thank you for your kind comments. I too wouldn't be surprised if you eventually see these wasps in Arkansas and other parts of the southern half of the U.S.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      3 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      MarleneB - glad you enjoyed my Hub. I was surprised when the wasps hung around long enough to get some interesting videos although I did take a number of short videos which I then had to edit and combine into one video. The wasp in the video is actually 3 or 4 different wasps with some of the video being taken with my iPhone and other video segments taken with my camera.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      3 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      RTalloni - thanks for your comments. As to selling one of these wasps on eBay I think you would have to kill and mount it first - the one I saw on eBay was mounted. Thanks again for your comments.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      3 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      mySuccess8 - thanks for your comments. While it took some time it was interesting researching this topic. I also enjoyed taking the pictures and observing these wasps closely.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      3 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for sharing this with us, I have never seen a wasp so big, it's pretty but I wonder what kind of a sting it can give.

      We have enough problems in New Zealand with the ordinary wasp killing out the bees in the hives, so I hope we never see them monsters here.

      Congratulations for HOTD.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 

      3 years ago from Minnesota

      What an interesting topic to read. I was not familiar with the Flower Wasps until now. They are beautiful little creatures.

      Congrats on HotD!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      3 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Your pictures and video are outstanding, Chuck. So glad you tracked down all the information you did about this wasp. I suppose eventually we might see them here in Arkansas. In the meantime, I learned a lot. Congratulations to you on an interesting and well-deserved Hub of the Day!

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 years ago from USA

      This is probably the most intriguing hubs I have read. The video is amazing. I just kept watching to see what the wasp would do. It's interesting how it moved among the foliage. I was surprised to see that the wasp did not attack the bee. Anyway, I enjoyed the video and found the information about these wasps fascinating. Congratulations on receiving the Hub of the Day award.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      3 years ago from the short journey

      Interesting--thanks. An entomologist friend who studied in the gulf coast area might want to see this. Glad to know what I'm looking at should one show up here. Maybe I'll capture it live and sell it on ebay--ha, not a chance would I try. Congrats on Hub of the Day for this neat post.

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 

      3 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      Chuck, I love the photos. So vibrant.

    • mySuccess8 profile image

      mySuccess8 

      3 years ago

      A very interesting and well-researched personal account of the Flower Wasp, supported by great photos and videos which you have taken yourself. A lot can be learned from this concise Hub, especially when you said information in the internet about this is sketchy and few. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      3 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Marcy Goodfleisch - Thank you for your comment. I am glad you enjoyed this Hub.

      The thing that attracted me about this wasp was its beauty which caused me to take a number of pictures and some video of it. Having taken the pictures I needed to find its name so I could label the pictures. Having its name and learning that it was a relative newcomer to the U.S. aroused my curiosity to learn more about it.

      One of the attractions of outdoor hiking is the opportunity to encounter numerous types of beautiful flowers, insects and animals as well as interesting landscapes all of which pose a challenge in trying to capture that beauty with a camera.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      3 years ago from Planet Earth

      Wow - this is like attending a grad course or seminar! It's super interesting, and (for me, at least) it's new information. I haven't heard of this type of wasp before - I guess I tend to be afraid of them more than curious. Lesson learned - I need to appreciate the diverse forms of life on our planet!

      Voted up and Interesting!

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