It starts with something like this:
But not always replete with an arachnid hiding behind the nest, an unwise move for any spider trying to remain hidden from a predator that hunts such creatures.
Still, these multicellular constructs rarely elicit more than knowing glances from most humans. They result from the efforts of a female mud wasp; in this case, the black and yellow mud dauber (a.k.a. mud wasp; Sceliphron caementarium).
Ubiquitous in this area and certainly no stranger at the family farm (a massive shared colony exists beneath the side porch), these solitary yet extroverted insects are as docile as they are beautiful.
Thread-waisted wasps such as this species beguile me with their graceful shapes and diligent attention to architecture. The carefully crafted and carried bundles of mud, such as the one clear in this photo, must meet strict guidelines for use before they are manipulated into building materials fit for such a queen.
But daubers do not always dabble in mud. Sometimes their quest to ensure future generations involves the hunt for dry dirt. Such missions result in a very different kind of birthplace.
When first I posted photos of this kind of nest, even xocobra admitted at a later time that he had never seen such a thing. I felt no surprise in that revelation as the wasp responsible for this chamber prefers solitude and stealth over the more conspicuous assemblies of the mud dauber.
Unlike the nest attached to a window screen on the patio, this common potter wasp (a.k.a. dirt dauber; Eumenes fraternus) found a delicate spot hidden in the foliage of the photinia bushes around my patio wherein she might manufacture the artificial womb that her single offspring would inhabit. I watched her for some time as she came and went, fetching more dirt from a place of open earth near the patio fence, then diligently returning to this location time and again until the pot was complete, ready to be fitted with caterpillars meant to feed her child until its maturity.
Yet once complete, she left the shrubs and found a second nesting site at the border of one of my patio windows. Her activities charmed me endlessly as the container grew from thin base to complete jar.
When finished, she began stocking it with small green caterpillars, each one carefully placed inside before she dashed off to find another. And when the whole of the supply order was filled, she tucked her ovipositor inside, laid an egg, then sealed up the container with yet more dirt.
All of these nests save one already has erupted with new life. That’s sixteen cells for the mud dauber and four pots for the dirt dauber, and only one of the potter wasp nests remains sealed, something I expect to change in the next few days.
Watching these magnificent beasts in their painstaking quest to reproduce has given me a profound sense of scale and wonder.