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Missouri's Mud-daubers

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

there was only empty space. Most species subdivide the nest into individual cells in which food is provided and an individual egg is laid.

The very familiar social wasps (paper wasps, yellow-jackets and bald-faced hornets) create paper nests from chewed-up wood mixed with their saliva. Honeybees and bumblebees secrete wax as their main construction material. Some solitary wasps and bees use plant resins and other plant parts as construction material, but others, notably our mud-daubers, use mud as their material of choice. To an insect, it must seem like concrete.

“Mud-dauber” is a term used by entomologists to refer to several groups of solitary wasps in the family Sphecidae (the family in the order Hymenoptera that includes the cicada killer, sand wasps, and others). The three species of mud-daubers most commonly found in Missouri are the black-and-yellow mud-dauber, the blue mud-dauber (a second species of blue mud-dauber is not as common), and the pipe-organ mud-dauber, which was named by well-known insect observer, Missourian Phil Rau.

These three species of Missouri’s true mud-daubers are large and conspicuous. They are strongly attracted to barns, buildings, bridges and other structures as nest sites. In fact, these are the most dependable spots to find these wasps. Like chimney swifts and a few other animals, these true mud-daubers have adapted to, and seemingly benefit from, the presence of human structures.

Some smaller, less conspicuous Missouri wasps, including potter wasps and their relatives; a few spider wasps and some other sphecids, also use mud to build nests. Several common, widespread solitary bees, such as the blue orchard bee, also build mud nests.

Mud-daubers and their kin obtain mud in two ways. Some shape pellets from a mud source and carry them in their mandibles and forelegs to the nest site, where they work the mud into their nest. This is the method used by black-and-yellow mud-dauber, pipe-organ mud-dauber and several bees, among others.

The alternative method, “water-carrying,” is used by blue mud-daubers, most potter wasps and at least one bee. These species drink water and regurgitate it at a dry site, where they mix it with dirt to make mud. They then fly the mud to their the nest site. Blue mud-daubers actually make the mud at the nest site.

Mud-daubers and their relatives build nests quickly. During warm and sunny conditions, they may build several in a day.

They work the mud with their mandibles, mouth parts and legs. The organ-pipe mud-dauber and

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