Mud Daubers Monday October 1, 2012
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Mud Dauber Architects

Mud daubers, “mud what?”  Mud “d-a-u-b-e-r-s.”  According to Webster, to daub is “to cover or coat with a soft adhesive matter such as plaster or mud.”  Mud dauber female wasp are like miniature architects creating nests out of mud, much like brick-laying, only they  build by scooping mud into their mouths and daubing it in layers until their nests are big enough for larvae to grow.  Ergo – mud daubers.

Mud dauber wasp

Mud dauber wasps hunt spiders to feed to their young.

Black-and-Yellow Mud dauber – Sceliphron caementarium

Beneficial Wasp and Huntress

A solitary wasp and beneficial insect, the predatory black-and-yellow mud dauber feeds spiders to her young, helping to decrease the spider population within an area while providing necessary food for her babies.   If a wasp could be friendly, it would be this one……mud daubers are unlikely to sting (and they don´t contain venom), unless they are feeling very threatened.  Adult mud daubers, both male and female, live mostly on nectar and sap but the larvae can only survive on fresh meat from spiders left by their mother.

Sphecidae - Sceliphron caementarium - Thread-wasted Mud Dauber

Mud daubers have thread-like waists and drink nectar from local flowers.

Blue Mud Dauber – Chalybion californicum AKA Black Widow Killer

Blue Mud Dauber – Remodeler

Providing a natural remedy and pest management service, mud daubers will hunt spiders down and use them for baby food.  If you can tolerate the lemon-sized mud nest around the outside of your home, the blue mud dauber will come along and remodel the nest, filling it up with black widows to feed to her young.

Black Widow Spider
Blue Mud daubers specialize in hunting black widows.

Mating Daubers

Male mud daubers are a little luckier than male bees; they don´t die right after mating and are a bit more helpful on the home front when it comes to guarding the mud nest.  While the female is busy creating the nest, the male mud dauber will stand guard to make sure no flies or other types of wasps try to lay eggs of their own within the nest.  The male will provide protection until the female completes construction, lays her eggs, and seals up the nest.

Black-and-Yellow Mating Mud Daubers
Mating Black-and-Yellow Mud Daubers

The Joys of Mud Dauber Motherhood

The mud dauber nest with cylinder-like cells is carefully constructed by the female in which she lays her eggs.  Mother Mud dauber finds a muddy area, gathers as much mud in her mouth as she can and forms it into a ball, then flies to a sheltered location or structural site (perhaps the eaves of your roof!) where she begins her masonry work.  She continues flying back and forth to the mud puddle until she has enough mud to create several cells for her eggs.  In nature, mud daubers build their nests under rock overhangs, cave entrances, or similar places.

Female mud dauber building her nest
Female Mud daubers use their mandibles to gather mud to create a nest.

Once the cells are made, she hunts for spiders, paralyzes them with her sting, drags the spiders into the cells and lays her eggs on top of them; she then covers the cells with more mud to create a smooth surface, leaving a hole to exit the nest and then seals it up.  Voilà!!!  Motherhood is complete!  Once the eggs are hatched, young mud dauber larvae feed on the spiders, and then nibble their way out into the big, wide world, where they begin life on their own.

Mud Dauber Nest
Mud dauber nest found in attic suitcase.

Social Behaviors – Shared Daycare

Some female sphecid wasps exhibit a form of social behavior related to nest building.  Small groups of females cooperate in constructing a mud nest, each creating cells of their own for laying their eggs and holding the paralyzed spiders for their larvae.  If one is lucky to watch a mud-dauber building her nest, you may be able to hear her “sing” while she works!  Imagine a group of lady mud daubers singing while building the communal nest!  Usually, however, these wasps are solitary in their nest-building.

Mud Dauber Nest with Larvae
Larvae capsules inside mud dauber nest.

Nests are abandoned once the larvae have left but there are other wasps like the blue mud dauber that prefer to let others do the architectural work.  The blue mud dauber female will gather water in her mouth and wet the old nest, remodeling it to her desired design and then lay eggs of her own in the abandoned nest.  She prefers black widow baby food above all other spiders for her young.

Sphecidae - Sceliphron caementarium
Black-and-Yellow Mud daubers are solitary “thread-waisted” wasps.

The Outdoor Privy

American Entomologist and Specialist in wasps, Howard Ensign Evans wrote, “The passing of the outdoor privy was a sad day for mud daubers!”  (In case you are a youngster, an “outdoor privy” is an outhouse, and if you´re not sure what that is either….it´s an outdoor toilet!  Mud daubers were evidently noted for decorating these structures with their architectural skills.  If you see a smooth blob of mud around your home, remember the beneficial pest control agent — the female mud dauber!

Article by Donna Walker

Mud Dauber Photo Credits:

Mud-dauber on leaf by Donna Walker
Blue mud dauber by Callen Harty
Black widow and Mud-dauber on flower-Wikipedia members: Trachemys and Hectonichus
Mud-daubers mating by Valerie Bugh, Larvalbug.com
Mud-dauber creating a nest by Jason M. Hogle –
xenogere.com/tag/black-and-yellow-mud-dauber-sceliphron-caementarium/
Mud-dauber nest and larva by customer Terry Koehl

Spider Wasp
Coming Soon — guess what this is……?!

Mud Dauber References

Imes, Rick, The Practical Entomologist, Simon and Schuster/Fireside, Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y., 1992.

Missouri Department of Conservation

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