Karl Foord - Extension Educator, Horticulture
Photo 4: Great black wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus) and golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) on Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
I am not sure what I expected when I created this pollinator garden (photo 1), but I have certainly gotten a whole new perspective on what happens in a flower garden. I have encountered so many different species that I will create a series of pollinator garden observations. I will begin with wasps and follow up with many types of flies and bees.
The garden has been continually patrolled by a great black wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus). This wasp is perceived as a black streak that weaves its way around the different plants in the garden searching for prey (photos 2 & 3). It only rarely lands to fuel up on nectar at a Culver's Root plant (Veronicastrum virginicum) seen here with a golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) (photo 4). It sometimes hassles other residents. I have seen it touch the back of bumblebees who fly in response but are not harmed. It had an encounter with a hummingbird but both went their separate ways.
I encountered a bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) gathering nectar on Summer Beauty Onion (Allium lusitanicum 'Summer Beauty'). It looked to have enough hairs to actually be accomplishing some transfer of pollen.
Another interesting character was this Thick-headed Fly (family Conopidae) whose thread-waist mimics that of the Sphecid wasps. The thick-headed fly was on Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta).
Lastly we have a iridescent well armored Cuckoo wasp (Family Chrysididae) (photo 7). This wasp is parasitic on other wasps, laying its eggs in the already provisioned nests of other wasps.
A well camouflaged female Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia ) was quite tentative around this customer. I have seen crab spiders with captured flower flies and butterflies, but this wasp may have been too well armored to warrant an attack.
The other interesting thing is that I am sure there are at least 10 other species of wasps in the garden that I have observed but not yet identified. To be continued...
Editor's note: The primary reference for this article was Jeff Hahn's book Insects of the North Woods. The spider was identified through Larry Weber's book Spiders of the North Woods. Thanks to both of these authors.