In Australia there are many species of wasps that build their nest out of mud. Most belong to the families Vespidae, Sphecidae and Pompilidae, with the greatest number of species belonging to the family Vespidae.

Many of these mud nest builders, are commonly called Mud Daubers or Potter Wasps. They are predatory wasps that build their nests from a mixture of mud/sand/clay and saliva. These are different to the other native wasps that are commonly known as paper wasp, building their nests out of chewed up plants or wood material mixed with saliva. Whilst the paper wasps are social species, mud wasps are usually solitary species.

Nest of the Mud Wasp (Eumenes latreilli)
Nest of the Mud Wasp (Delta latreillei formerly Eumenes latreilli)

The mud nests of the mud daubers and potter wasps vary between species and size. The material that the nest is made from is usually dependent on what is available in the area at the time. The wasp also need access to water, from which they mix with the sand/mud/clay to create their nests.

Potter Wasp (Eumenes latreilli), Kunoth Bore, NT
Potter Wasp (Delta latreillei) collecting water, Kunoth Bore, NT

In the following image, you can see that the Potter Wasp has used different colour sands to plug the cells containing their eggs and food for the young. This mud nest had been visited over a number of seasons, building on top of the existing structure. The final size being that of a tennis ball.

Whilst each mud wasp species uses a slightly different design and shape, this is not necessarily set in mud, as it has been documented that some individual species will build different shape mud nests.

In the following image you can see that the same species of Potter Wasp (Delta latreillei), built a different style of mud nest, using a different coloured sand. How did we know, because this was built at our front door of our home and we only witnessed the one species of Potter Wasp at that time.

Nests of the Mud Wasp (Eumenes latreilli), Alice Springs, NT
Nests of the Mud Wasp (Delta latreillei), Alice Springs, NT

At the time, the mud nest mounted on the wall had been built and added to over a period of nearly two years. After which there was no further activity by the Potter Wasp. We then noticed other insects had started to taken residence in the mud nest, namely the Megachile aurifrons (Golden-browed Resin Bee).

Golden-browed Resin Bee (Megachile aurifrons), Alice Springs, NT
Golden-browed Resin Bee (Megachile aurifrons)

Soon after another mud nest was being constructed on the ground below the other mud nest. This was being built from a different type of sand. We of course naturally assumed it was a different species of Potter Wasp. So it was much to our surprise to see the same species of Potter Wasp (Delta latreillei) creating the cells of this mud nest and then filling it with caterpillars for its larvae.

The following mud nests in Alice Springs were all built by the Potter Wasp species Delta latreillei. Some against walls, window frames, behind concrete blocks, under tables and even just on the ground on concrete and tiles.

Mud nest have been built in a variety of locations and usually where the mud nest structure is protected from elements such as direct sun and rain. Once a nest is completed, the saliva mixed in with the mud, usually makes it resistant to rainfall. Often the location of the mud nest will influence the size and shape of the mud nest.

In the following photo of a mud nest made by the Potter Wasp (Delta latreillei), it is approximately 17 centimetres high. It was built against the shaded western wall of a house.

Mud nest of the Potter Wasp, Alice Springs, NT
Mud nest of the Potter Wasp (height 17 cm), Alice Springs, NT

Just 3 metres further along the same shaded western facing wall was the following mud nest, built by another species of Potter Wasp (most likely Abispa sp). This nest built under a hot water system measured 47 centimetres in length.

Mud nest of the Potter Wasp (height 47 cm), Alice Springs, NT
Mud nest of the Potter Wasp (height 47 cm), Alice Springs, NT

Interestingly both nests having been vacated by the mud wasps, were now being occupied by the Golden-browed Resin Bee (Megachile aurifrons).

In the following image, the Potter Wasp (Delta latreillei) is stuffing a caterpillar into a vase shaped mud nest built against a sheltered rock face.

Potter Wasp (Delta latreillei) with caterpillar at Emily Gap (Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park), East MacDonnell Ranges
Potter Wasp (Delta latreillei) with caterpillar on rock face at Emily Gap, East MacDonnell Ranges

The following are examples of the vase/pot shaped mud nest created by a mud wasp. In a couple of the photos you can see it filled with caterpillars for the larvae.

Whilst some mud wasp may build only a single compartment, most species build a number of compartments placed together or on top of each other. They lay within each compartment a single egg and fill the rest of the compartment with food for the larva to feed on after it hatches from the egg.

Orange-tailed Potter Wasp (Delta latreillei), Alice Springs, NT
Orange-tailed Potter Wasp (Delta latreillei)

Mud Daubers are the species of wasps that usually fill the cells in their mud nest with paralysed spiders, as a food source for their larvae. The Potter Wasps fill their mud nest with paralysed caterpillars for their larvae. Although, common names being what they are, mud daubers and potter wasps are often used interchangeably by many people.

Following is a view of the external and internal empty mud nest of a Potter Wasp (approximately 7 cm long). The young wasps having left the nest.

Check out our following series of photos of the mud nest of the Potter Wasp (Delta latreillei), as it stocks the cell with food for the larvae. As each cell is filled, the entrance is sealed and more mud is added to create another cell to the nest.


Footnote & References

  1. Mud Dauber and Potter wasps, Queensland Museum, https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Explore/Find+out+about/Animals+of+Queensland/Insects/Wasps+and+bees/Common+species/Mud+Dauber+and+Potter+wasps
  2. Slender mud-dauber wasps: genus Sceliphron, Western Australian Museum, https://museum.wa.gov.au/research/collections/terrestrial-zoology/entomology-insect-collection/entomology-factsheets/sceliphron
  3. Wasp season brings native mud wasps into urban Hawkesbury to build nests, by Sarah Falson, 1 March 2019, Hawkesbury Gazette, https://www.hawkesburygazette.com.au/story/5912065/wasp-season-brings-native-mud-wasps-into-urban-hawkesbury/
  4. Subfamily Eumeninae – Potter Wasps and Mud Nesting Wasps, Brisbane Insects and Spiders, https://www.brisbaneinsects.com/brisbane_vespoidwasps/Eumeninae.htm

WaspsAustralian Mud Nest Wasps Bembicinae Bembix Eumeninae Mud Wasp Orange-collared Spider Wasp Potter Wasp Pseudabispa bicolor ssp. nigrocinctoides Yellow and Black Wasp Yellow Hairy Flower Wasp Yellow Hairy Flower Wasp – R tasmaniensis