I wish I had a smartphone. Then I would have been able to get a quick ID on the dozens of these guys tearing up my mint flowers, which would have led me to read quotes like, "should not be handled at any time," and "among the most painful wasp stings," and "complex venom with a long half-life." Luckily, I didn't get stung.
Meet Scolia dubia, the two-spotted digger wasp, a close cousin of the gnar-rad Cicada Killer. The digger wasp is an aggressive pollinator of mint species (as you can see from these pictures) and prefers to lay its eggs on the larvae (grubs) of small beetles like junebugs and Japanese beetles. Which I am totally down with, since beetles are not good friends of my garden. Plus, this wasp is gigantic, so I'm going to not bother it, ever. Let's take a look at how this all plays out:
|photo from hivemind.net|
The eggs mature and then the wasp larvae eat the still living grub. That'll teach you to be a beetle. Note to God: please don't send me back to earth as a beetle.
As I've written before about other native solitary bees and wasps (who pollinate our food!!), there are a few things you can do around your garden to help these fellas out.
1. Plant pollinator-friendly flowers and herbs in your garden. Don't cut all of the blooms.
2. Don't use ridiculous amounts of pesticides on beetles. If, hypothetically, all the beetles were gone for two years, this species might become extinct. Which might be fine except that the beetles will return.
3. Don't try to eliminate the wasps by spraying your lawn or their burrows. That's just ignorant. In the case of the larger and ever-so-slightly aggressive cicada killer, I think a protective sign or fence or a warning to the kids might be warranted, but let the wasps work!