Tag Archives: parasitoid

Macrosiagon cruenta parasitizing potter wasps at insect hotel

Last year I had a little surprise at my bee and wasp hotel. Although I didn’t know it at the time, some of the wasp larvae I found nesting inside the tubes were harboring parasitoids. The story starts in early March, 2021, when I took my hotel apart for its annual cleaning.

Here’s a photograph of one of the wasp larvae I recovered from the hotel. Each larva was in its own cell, and I simply unwrapped the paper straw and then plopped them all into a container.

Potter wasp larva in nesting tube

I got over two dozen of them, and kept them in my unheated garage.

Potter wasp larvae in container

By mid-May, the wasps were starting to look like wasps. But there was variation in how far along they were, which is probably because the eggs were deposited at different times.

Potter wasp pupae

The surprise

But four of the larvae weren’t progressing onto the next stage, and when I looked closer they each had a smaller larvae attached to the ventral region near the head. Here’s one:

Macrosiagon cruenta parasitizing potter wasp

Here’s a closeup:

Macrosiagon cruenta larva attached to Euodynerus sp. larva

The larvae were clearly sucking fluids out of the wasps, but also retarding their development in some way, which is a nice trick. The wasps below were approximately the same age. The ones with parasitoids attached never progressed to the pupal stage, instead just becoming shriveled bags. I was traveling when most of this happened so I don’t have additional photographs of this process.

Macrosiagon cruenta larva attached to Euodynerus sp. larva (right). Unparasitized wasp on left for comparison.

Luckily, one of the parasitoids survived to adulthood (below) and I was able to identify it as Macrosiagon cruenta, a wedge-shaped beetle.

Macrosiagon cruenta

Here’s a side view. The wings didn’t develop properly, probably because the containers I had them in didn’t have the proper humidity or were kept at the wrong temperature. Or, perhaps, their development suffered from all the fussing I did during the earlier photo shoots. If you’re curious what they should look like, here are images on iNaturalist.

Macrosiagon cruenta

Before this, I didn’t realize there were parasitic beetles that might arrive at insect hotels. But now I’m extremely interested in finding the dispersal phase of this insect, a tiny (less than 1-mm long) mobile larva called a triungulin that lurks on flowers visited by wasps, then jumps on, secures itself, and hitches a ride back to the nest the wasp is making. Here’s a photograph (not mine) of Macrosiagon limbata triungulins lurking on a mint inflorescence:

Macrosiagon limbata triungulins
Image by MJ Hatfield (CC BY-ND-NC 1.0)

Once inside the nest, the triungulin burrows into a developing wasp larva to feed internally for months, only later popping out to complete its development while attached externally. This is why I didn’t initially know the wasp larvae had parasites. The adults live only a few days, with females ovipositing onto plants (here’s one doing that) that are visited by wasps.

I’m not positive who the host was. In fact, it could be the case that the four larvae I found parasitized were different species. My confusion is because all of the unparasitized wasp larvae from the 2020 season turned out to be Euodynerus foraminatus. But one of the parasitized larva survived (because the I accidentally disturbed the parasite), and it was a Euodynerus hidalgo boreoorientalis. So I’m fairly confident that hosts were in the genus Euodynerus. I’m going to sort my wasps more carefully next time so that I can keep track of individual nest tubes.

In case of interest, below is a photograph of my bee and wasp hotel. And my guide to building your own.

Insect hotel

Melittobia staking out a mason bee house

I recently set up a mason bee house, and almost instantly attracted a parasitoid, a female Melittobia. She was so tiny that I first thought it was a thrips. But its behavior was odd and definitely not thripsy. The insect would linger near the holes that were being used by mason bees (Chelostoma philadelphi and Osmia sp.), approach, then scurry away, then repeat. On one occasion it peered down an unoccupied hole and paused for several seconds before walking away. It was covered in wood shavings, too, so I inferred that she’d been inside the holes on at least one occasion. All this activity screamed, “parasitoid”, of course, so I had to get some pictures: 

Female Melittobia sp. at a mason bee house.Female Melittobia sp. at a mason bee house.Female Melittobia sp. at a mason bee house. I’m not sure which species she is (there are 14 according to González et al. 2004), but I gather that all members of the genus can parasitize mason bees. Females spend up to 48 hours lurking around a hole (“assessing” per González article) and then puncture a developing larvae with her ovipositor, drink some of the hemolymph, and deposit eggs. There’s a pause in between the hemolymph-feeding and the egg-laying, presumably to allow some of the nutrients to be allocated to eggs. Females are not at all picky about host larvae. Recorded hosts for M. acasta include honeybees, bumblebees, leafcutting bees, and various wasps, flies, beetles, and butterflies (González et al. 2004).

Things get exciting when the wasps eclose, with the early-emerging male killing the slackers that are still developing. There are two types of females: brachytperous (reduced wings) and macroptyrous (regular wing size). I’m assuming the one(s) I viewed are the regular kind.

I’ll post more photographs if I can get them, but whatever is going on inside the holes is of course hidden. But I’m going to make a few glass-sided mason bee houses in the next few weeks so hopefully I can get some larval pics one of these years. This spotting is a reminder to use paper tube inserts whenever possible so that larvae can be examined at the end of the season for parasites. I’m rather interested in parasites but I’d like to encourage a healthy mason bee population when possible.

Much thanks to Ross Hill for identification, and of course to people behind BugGuide for facilitating such IDs. These observations are also logged into iNaturalist.

Tricrania sanguinipennis, a bee parasitoid

Found this striking, highly punctate beetle in my yard a few days ago and finally figured out what it is: Tricrania sanguinipennis, a blister beetle (Meloidae). Apparently a parasitoid of Colletes spp., ground-nesting bees that are often situated in dense aggregations. I have hundreds of such bees in my front yard each year and I’m guessing they are unequal cellophane bees (C. inaequalis).

Per Parker and Böving 1924, female T. sanguinipennis deposit clumps of eggs near these aggregations and when larvae hatch they seek out adult bees and clamp onto body hairs with specialized mandibles. If the bee happens to be a female, larvae release their grip when she arrives at the brood cell, sometimes up to 2 1/2 feet underground. If the beetle larva has attached to a male bee it will move onto a female while the bees are mating. Once in the nesting chamber the larva will seek out the bee egg, eat it, then set up camp inside the cell (see fig 21, below) that holds the honey and pollen, which it will eat until maturity.

Below is Plate 3 from the Parker and Böving article. If you expand the image you can see that the bee has multiple larvae attached. I think I might need to capture a few of the bees this Spring to see whether I can find some of these hitchhikers. Am also trying to find the egg clumps, which can have thousands of eggs. That’s a lot of eggs for a beetle but the success rate of the larvae must be extremely small so they’ve presumably evolved large brood size to ensure that at least some find their way into a nest.

Tricrania sanguinipennis
Illustrations of Tricrania sanguinipennis larvae from Parker and Böving 1924.

Very cool beetle and just had to share the find. If you’d like to see more photographs, there are currently 27 sightings Tricrania sanguinipennis on iNaturalist. I highly recommend the Parker and Böving article for the biology details but mainly for how they figured out the details; it’s hard to figure these things out when the species spends its life underground. For more information on related beetles this page by Dr E. F. Legner (UC Riverside) is excellent.