Backyard Buddies
Mud Wasps

Photo: Rosie Nicolai

Mud Wasps

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If you hear a wasp buzzing loudly in your garden or find a wasp's nest under your eaves or attached to your house or shed, don't panic. They may be Mud dauber Wasps which look a bit scary with their bright yellow and dark black colouring, but are actually quite harmless and non-aggressive if you leave them alone. Like all wasps, if they feel threatened, they will give a painful sting, so best to observe them from a distance.

During April, Mud dauber Wasps have finished mating and are preparing to fly off to warmer places to hibernate over the winter. They live all over Australia in forests, woodland and urban gardens and parks.

Unlike social wasps, these large insects are solitary. They come in many colours and sizes but many are black or black and orange. The female alone builds its nest of mud or clay, which looks a little like a swallow's nest with a narrow neck. She emits a high pitched buzz while working the nest, which helps to distribute the mud evenly.

She will often attach it to a tree trunk or a building, wherever it finds shelter from the weather. Some species prefer hollows, just to be safe, and may choose a dry pipe or any hollow gardening tools left around. Occasionally, you might have a wasp building a whole series of nests in a row, and you may see her skills and technique improve from one to the next.

Once the nest is finished, the female Mud dauber hunts out spiders, paralysing them and returning to the nest where she lays an egg on them and seals the entrance. Inside, the egg will hatch and the larvae will eat the food and pupate. When it emerges as an adult wasp, it will chew its way out of the cell.

Mud daubers are great to have around your garden as they will control spider and bug numbers. They are not aggressive and will only sting if handled. So as long as you give them some space and let them go about their business, they won't bother you.

These wasps are good for your plants too. Adult Mud dauber Wasps feed on nectar and pollen from flowers and native plants. In doing so, they are great pollinators.

Breeding season is the only time Mud daubers spend around each other. Unlike other social wasps, bees and ants, Mud daubers live largely solitary lives. If you spot one, relax in the knowledge that you most likely won't be meeting a swarm any time soon.

Even if you don't have a nest in your backyard you can still see mud wasps visiting as they feed on nectar and drink water. You may also see a Spider Wasp dragging a spider much larger than itself back to its underground nest to feed its offspring.

Did you know?

Only female Mud dauber Wasps have stingers. The female's stinger is in the same body part as the ovipositor, which is the needle-like tube they use to lay their eggs.

Tip

Think twice before calling the pest control people if you spot a wasp nest around your place. Do a bit of research first, as you may just find out that your new backyard buddy is actually a harmless native who is very helpful in the garden - like the Mud dauber Wasp.

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Quote

”Birds, bugs, lizards and penguins are my favourite Backyard Buddies – I like to find, watch and learn about what they do and what I can do to help them.“

Gus – 11 year old Backyard Buddy, NSW

Photo: OEH