I always thought wasps were the bad guys growing up. But smokey-winged beetle bandit wasps (Cerceris fumipennis) are actually the good guys – used to kill off an invasive species. This specific type of wasp (that does not sting) catches Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), a type of beetle and feeds them to their young. So what’s the big deal? These EABs are the invasive species killing ash trees. With this in mind, I headed out to Carlisle with the Massachusetts Wasp Watchers Program to learn more about these wasps and how to prevent this invasive species from killing ash trees.
Live near a ball field? Have some time on your hands during July and August? Maybe have a kid who loves insects? Then the Massachusetts Wasp Watchers is just the job for you. This program is a citizen scientist project that uses native non-stinging wasps to monitor for invasive beetles like the EAB. These wasps live in tube-like nests dug into compacted sand, such as a ball field or a sandy road. These nests look like a mound of sand with a hole in the center that is a little wider than a pencil.
Cerceris wasps spend July and part of August hunting beetles in the Jewel Beetle family and bringing them back to their nest. Massachusetts Wasp Watchers monitors the nests by netting the wasps carrying beetles and collecting discarded beetles left on the ground by the nest. Separating the beetles into netted and grounded, the Wasp Watcher will then send their beetles to their supervisor for analysis.
The use of Cerceris wasps is important in early detection of the EABs, which were found in Massachusetts in 2012 and have most recently been seen Essex County. The threat of losing ash trees is real and an important consideration in the health of our communities and state. During this time of year is when wasps are out and most active, so it is important that we get as many volunteers for Massachusetts Wasp Watchers as possible. A note from Jennifer Forman Orth, contact for Massachusetts Wasp Watchers, “smoky-winged beetle bandits are really good hunters, so if EAB, gold-spotted oak borer, or other invasive Jewel Beetles are in the area, these little wasps are an excellent early detection tool. That will help us to inform communities about these pests early and give them time to prepare and to protect their trees.”
Sign up to become a Wasp Watcher and read more about the program here.
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