Sunday, August 25, 2013

The mammoth wasp

Mammoth wasp Megascolia flavifrons
The mammoth wasp is the largest wasp you will encounter in Malta or for that matter anywhere in Europe. It is also known as the large yellow-banded scolid wasp or just as the scolid wasp.

It belongs to a family of wasps known as scolid wasps. About 200 species are known to exist in the world. Most are predators of beetle larvae and some are important biocontrol agents.

The female mammoth wasp can grow up to 40 or 45 mm long. Males are smaller, reaching a maximum of 30 mm.

It is a very conspicuous insect. It is seen from late spring to early autumn especially in valleys and garigue areas with wild artichoke (qaqoċċ tax-xewk) plants growing in the vicinity. I have also seen on the large pink flowers of the kaffir fig (xuxet San Ġwann).
In spite of its large size and warning colours it is not dangerous and does not pose any threat to humans

Only females have stings. The sting is used mainly to paralyse the white larvae of Europe’s largest beetle; the rhinoceros beetle. She then lays a single egg in the larva’s body. When the egg hatches, the wasp larva starts to feed on the larva’s internal tissues. It eventually kills it and continues eating it until nothing is left but an empty skin. When fully grown the larva forms a cocoon and emerges in spring when the air has warmed up sufficiently.

In Maltese the mammoth wasp is known as qerd iż-żaqquq. Qerd is Maltese for destroyer but I could not find the meaning of żaqquq. I assume that as this wasp kills the larvae of the rhinoceros beetle żaqquq could be a lost name for this insect which nowadays is known as buqarn kbir

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 12 June 2013 

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