Ammophila procera

Geographic Range

Ammophila procera, a species of sand wasp, can be found across a wide range in the Nearctic region, including the southern areas of Canada and the entire United States. ("Species Ammophila procera", 2011; Watson, 2011)

Habitat

Ammophila procera lives in open areas such as plains or beaches. Since these wasps are known for digging, soft soils are ideal habitats for their burrows. They inhabit areas that have this soft soil, such as beaches, prairies, and sand dunes. As nectar is a significant portion of their diet, suitable habitats must have flowers for collecting nectar in close proximity to the burrows. ("Species Ammophila procera", 2011; Evans, 1959; Watson, 2011)

Physical Description

The most apparent feature of Ammophila procera is the abdomen, which is long, slender, and black with a central red-orange band. It has a sleek, black thorax with accenting silver bars. These silver bars allow researchers to discern Ammophila procera from close relatives. Ammophila procera can reach up to 35 mm in length, with females longer in length than males. Females average 29 mm, while males average 22 mm in length, and females may also have a larger wingspan. This species has elongated antenna with 13 segments. Their wings are mostly clear with black venation. Many local variations in coloration have been described. This includes local variants where male color is primarily black, areas in the eastern United States to the Rocky Mountains with various degrees of reddening, and populations from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast where the red segments are broken up with black spots. Females also may have more red coloration than males. ("Species Ammophila procera", 2011; Brockmann, 1985; Tucker, et al., 2013)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range length
    15 to 35 mm
    0.59 to 1.38 in
  • Average length
    22 (males), 29 (females) mm
    in

Development

After mating, Ammophila procera females dig burrows in soft sediment and then lay a single egg on top of a caterpillar or other insect within the burrow. Ammophila procera only supplies its burrow with food once, as opposed to other wasp species that will continually stock the burrow and then reseal the entrance. When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the insect the female has collected. The larva matures and then pupates within the burrow. Upon reaching adulthood, Ammophila procera leaves the burrow with fully developed wings. (Brockmann, 1985; Evans, 1959; Field, 1989; Wong, et al., 2013)

Reproduction

Mating habits of Ammophila procera can be aggressive. A male wasp will use his mandibles to grasp behind the female's head while holding onto her body with his legs. Typically, the male mates with the female while she is collecting nectar. Ammophila procera is polygynandrous, with both males and females mating multiple times with different mates throughout their adult lives. (Brockmann, 1985; Field, 1989; Watson, 2011)

After mating, females of Ammophila procera dig a burrow, and supply the burrow with a paralyzed insect, usually a caterpillar. Only one caterpillar and a single egg have been observed per burrow, though one female usually creates multiple burrows to increase the chances of offspring survival. The 3.5 mm egg is then laid on the side of the paralyzed caterpillar within the burrow. The female seals the egg into the burrow, and eggs generally hatch within two days. The larva will consume nearly the entire caterpillar during the 5 day development period. There is some evidence that the wasps will steal burrows and provisions of other Ammophila females. Reproductive behavior in Ammophila procera is determined by resource availability and temperature. Ammophila procera reproduces more frequently when resources are high and weather is warm. If there is a lower amount of nectar, females will not reproduce as many times. Colder weather in early fall will also lead to decreased reproduction and fewer offspring. (Brockmann, 1985; Evans, 1959; Field, 1989; Wong, et al., 2013)

  • Breeding interval
    Ammophila procera mates multiple times during its life.
  • Average time to independence
    5 days

Most of the parental involvement in Ammophila procera is undertaken by the female. Before oviposition, she digs a burrow where the young will develop. Females hunt and provision their burrows with soft-bodied invertebrates, such as caterpillars, and can capture and carry caterpillars that exceed their own mass. The female lays a single egg in the burrow with the paralyzed insect, and then seals the egg safely into the burrow with dirt and debris. The female will start a new burrow and repeat the process. There is no further parental care, as larvae are left on their own to develop, relying on the insect provided for their food source. (Brockmann, 1985; Evans, 1959; Field, 1989; Wong, et al., 2013)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

While the exact lifespan for this species is not reported, a key factor in the lifespan of Ammophila procera is the region where it lives. This wasp inhabits a large assortment of climates and a wide range of potential habitats. Where the climate is harsher, the lifespan of A. procera will be shortened. Wasps living in higher latitudes have harsher winters than those living in closer proximity to the equator, which affects their ability to find food and provision burrows. (Duffield, et al., 1981; Evans, 1959)

Behavior

Ammophila procera has many notable behaviors. This wasp is timid and if threatened, it will first attempt to flee from danger. When the wasp is not able to flee, it can administer a painful, venomous sting. The sting is not used primarily for protection, but as a tool in everyday life. The wasp's venom acts as a paralyzing agent, which allows females to harvest caterpillars and other small, soft-bodied invertebrates. After paralyzing the insect, the female will fly with it to one of her burrows. After a burrow has been dug, stocked, and the egg laid, the female will seal the burrow entrance. To seal the burrow, the female will put rocks, twigs, and other small materials in the entrance to keep predators out and prevent the escape of prey. When these burrows are left by the mother, other females may steal the burrow and the provisions. This is accomplished by unsealing the burrow and replacing the egg with their own. (Field, et al., 2011)

Home Range

Little is known about the home range of Ammophila procera.

Communication and Perception

Female wasps of Ammophila procera have been noted to make a chirping noise. This action is not completely understood, but researchers believe that these calls may involve attracting a mate. It is thought that a female will start to chirp when she is ready for mating, but little research has been done on communication in this species. Wasps visually view their environment, and can also detect UV light. (Brockmann, 1985; Wong, et al., 2013)

Food Habits

Food habits of Ammophila procera are dependent on the stage of development. Larvae feed on soft-bodied invertebrates, typically Lepidoptera larvae, though they also feed on other insects, terrestrial arthropods, and terrestrial worms. After the wasps have matured into adults, they then feed primarily on nectar. (Evans, 1959; Field, et al., 2011; Wong, et al., 2013)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • nectar
  • pollen

Predation

Birds will prey on these wasps. They are also preyed upon by Hemipterans, such as Red bee-eater assassin bugs. These assassin bugs are known to prey upon Ammophila by camouflaging themselves and then attacking unwary wasps. The venomous sting of Ammophila procera, while not used primarily for protection, can be used as defense against predators. Their contrasting bright red and black color patterns likely function as aposematic warning coloration. (Wong, et al., 2013)

Ecosystem Roles

Ammophila procera is a significant parasitoid of soft-bodied invertebrates, particularly Lepidoptera larvae, as it catches these insects and places them in burrows for its offspring to feed upon. Some of the most commonly harvested caterpillars include rough prominent moths, variable oakleaf caterpillars, false unicorn caterpillars, and Symmerista moths. Ammophila procera serves as prey to birds and other insects, and a fly species, Senotainia vigilans, has been observed parasitizing the wasp burrows.

Wasps of the genus Ammophila play a crucial role in sandy beach habitats. Their burrows help with nutrient cycling and also keep the sand and vegetation in place and aerate the soils. Ammophila procera is also a pollinator of many different plant species. (Brockmann, 1985; Field, 1989)

Species Used as Host
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Ammophila procera benefits humans by keeping beaches in stationary positions through soil aeration, and pollinating plants. Ammophila procera does not specialize on a specific plant, but is seen in high volumes on high nectar flowers, such as rabbitbrush. They also attack caterpillars, some of which may be pest species. (Brockmann, 1985)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pollinates crops
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

When disturbed or threatened, these wasps will sting humans. (Brockmann, 1985; Watson, 2011)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

Ammophila procera populations are not recognized as threatened or endangered. One of the biggest threats to these wasps are humans, who will destroy the wasps nests and kill the wasps.

Contributors

Chase Pickett (author), University of Wyoming, Hayley Lanier (editor), University of Wyoming - Casper, Angela Miner (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

aposematic

having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

metamorphosis

A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nectarivore

an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

parasite

an organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms in a harmful way that doesn't cause immediate death

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in

solitary

lives alone

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5? N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

venomous

an animal which has an organ capable of injecting a poisonous substance into a wound (for example, scorpions, jellyfish, and rattlesnakes).

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

2011. "Species Ammophila procera" (On-line). Bugguide. Accessed November 08, 2013 at http://bugguide.net/node/view/11119.

Brockmann, J. 1985. Tool use in digger wasps (Hymenoptera: Sphecinae). A Journal of Entomology, 92: 309-330.

Duffield, , Shamim, Wheeler, Menke. 1981. Alkylpyrazines in the mandibular gland secretions of Ammophila wasps (Hymenoptera: Sphecidae). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B: Comparative Biochemistry, Volume 70, Issue 2: 317–318.

Evans, H. 1959. Observations on the nesting behavior of digger wasps of the genus Ammophila. American Midland Naturalist, 62/2: 449-473.

Field, J. 1989. Intraspecific parasitism and nesting success in the solitary wasp Ammophila sabulosa. Behaviour, 110/1/4: 23-46.

Field, J., M. Ohl, M. Kennedy. 2011. A molecular phylogeny for digger wasps in the tribe Ammophilini (Hymenoptera, Apoidea, Sphecidae). Systematic Entomology, 36/4: 732–740.

Tucker, E., I. Montie, S. Droege. 2013. "Draft guide to the Sphecidae of North America, east of the Mississippi River" (On-line). Discover Life. Accessed December 12, 2013 at http://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q?guide=Sphecidae.

Watson, J. 2011. "Thread Waisted Wasps" (On-line). Critters 360. Accessed November 08, 2013 at http://www.critters360.com/index.php/thread-waisted-wasps-6183/.

Wong, J., J. Meunier, M. Kölliker. 2013. The evolution of parental care in insects: the roles of ecology, life history and the social environment. Ecological Entomology, 38/2: 123–137.