Crawlies with Cri: Tiphiid wasp

Tiphiid wasp (Family Tiphiidae; pictured Subfamily Tiphiinae)
(Photo by Christy Solo for the Illinois Valley News)

This week’s crawly is another fabulously funky wasp. Meet the tiphiid wasp (Family Tiphiidae; pictured Subfamily Tiphiinae).
While there are 200 species of tiphiid wasp in North America, there have been only a handful (well, two handfuls) of sightings here in our area. Those found in our area (so far) have all been in the Tiphiinae subfamily.
Like our pictured fuzzy friend, most of our local tiphiids look more bee-like than waspish.
Even if we had scads of tiphiids here, they’d be tricky to spot because they look quite similar to our local halictid bees.
Many other tiphiid species, however, have that “sleek” wasp look. Several species are a racy red orange in color and a few species are black with yellow or white stripes or spots – a more traditionally waspish look.
Whether fuzzy or sleek, all tiphiids have two things in common: their larvae are all parasitoids of ground dwelling beetle larvae and all the adults drink nectar. So, the adults are pollinators. Some species are especially important for orchid pollination. They are so enamored by nectar, that some people call them “flower wasps.”
Tiphiids will parasitize any ground-dwelling beetle, but especially go in for scarab, darkling and tiger beetles. A few beetles in those families can be pests, so tiphiids serve double beneficial duty.
Some species of tiphiids have even been imported to combat pretty but pesty non-native Japanese scarab beetles (Popillia japonica).
Most tiphiids are small wasps, about one-quarter of an inch in size. They are solitary wasps, buzzing about leading independent lives, meeting briefly to mate, then going their separate ways.
After mating, the female tiphiid gets to work finding the perfect spot to lay her eggs. That spot is near, or sometimes even on, beetle larvae. Because they favor ground-dwelling larvae, some females will dig right into the soil until they find beetle grubs. They can use their antennae to sniff out a likely spot prior to digging.
They’ll deposit their eggs singly around a grub-populated area, then zip off to finish off their adult days drinking nectar and leaving the larvae to their own devices.
The larvae are tough little critters. As mentioned above, some will even eat tiger beetle larvae, who are fierce predators in their own right. When the larvae have munched down enough food to grow to their full size, they’ll morph into their final juvenile stage called “pupa.” They’ll spend the winter underground and hatch out the following summer.
As solitary nectar drinkers, the adult tiphiids are in the “chill wasp” category. They have no colony, hive or young to protect. They just want to be left alone to suck up sugar water and pollinate.
Females do produce venom and will sting if handled roughly or squished up against you. Ironically, the females appear not to have ovipositors (stingers), but the males have a hook at the end of their abdomens that looks like the ovipositor opening on a typical wasp.
Nature never runs out of creativity.