Potter and Mason Wasps (Eumeninae), the most diverse of the five vespid subfamilies, receive their name based on their pot shaped mud nests. The approximately two hundred and fifty North America species divide into twenty five genera. Unless one is willing to collect many samples and look under a microscope and/or do DNA sampling, identification at the species level is often speculative rather than definitive for such a large number of similar looking species.
With that stated at the outset, potter and mason wasps often have an appearance that varies slightly from genera to genera. The video shows a pair that have a typical potter wasp look for the Stenodynerus genus. And yes the video is in real time, not sped up. On the other hand, a quick scroll down the page shows that many species of different genera have black bodies with some white or yellow stripes. Species in four different genera Eumenes, Zethus, Minixi, and Zeta have two abdominal segments forming a tapered petiole linking abdomen and thorax, making for easier identification.
Finally, a few quick rules of thumb for identification of potter and mason wasps starts by thinking smiley face wasp and legs. A look at the bottom of the thorax of many wasps on this page show a thorax with two dots with another color line beneath them, resembling a smiley face. Many potter wasps also have bicolor legs with black at the top and yellow at the bottom.
Behaviorally they get described as solitary, predator wasps and beneficial insects because of their use of caterpillars and other insect larvae as their principle larvae hosts. Please press the wasps button to learn about additional wasp species.
With few exception, the species in the Ancistrocerus genera are physically characterized by their black body with a distinct pattern of bands on the abdomen. There are around twenty species, many of them in the Northeast. The picture provides an outline of the typical Ancistrocerus body. The problem with identification starts by recognizing that many other potter wasp species also share those general physical characteristics.
The first example shows the complexity of using only physical features as the field identification clue. A smiley face on the thorax and five bands across the abdomen could indicate the Catskill Potter Wasp or Ancistrocerus albophaleratus, a newly declared species. The Lobed Mason wasp also has five bands on the abdomen but not the smiley face on the thorax, just two spots.
On the other hand, compare that picture with this next picture, the One-banded Mason Wasp (Ancistrocerus unifasciatus). The difference in e in abdominal bands is striking and serves as a good example of why physical characteristic sometimes does help with identification. Helps is the key word. As the picture shows, the specimen has one yellow band on the abdomen. Males also can have a few bands at the bottom of the abdomen.
Six bands and a spot on the abdomen suggests the possibility of a species in the stenodynerus genus.
A final note on using abdominal bands for potter wasp identification. Sometimes, not always two yellow bands on the abdomen identify species in the genus Parancistrocerus.
Euodynerus, another genera with a large number of species (about 25), also have a coast to coast presence. Many, but not all the species break with the traditional black body with white or yellow stripes pattern, adding red patterns and yellow bodies. This picture shows a Euodynerus species from the Southwest with a more colorful pattern on a yellow body.
Moving to the genus Eumenes, identification gets a bit easier. The Fraternal potter wasp is the most widespread of the species with a range the extends east of the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Coast.
Cross Potter wasp, less well known than the fraternal potter wasp have a range on both coasts. There are yellow and white variations of patterns on the otherwise black body. As mentioned earlier, species in the Zethus, Minixi, and Zeta genera have a similar shape to their bodies.
At first glance the Four-toothed Mason Wasp (Monobia quadridens) looks similar to the Bald-faced Hornet. It is common in the East from May through September.
Black body with white markings can be common for some mason wasps. Consider the picture of Pseudodynerus quadrisectus. It looks very similar to the Four-toothed Mason Wasp. However, the two bands on the abdomen help differentiate it. They too are found in most of the Eastern United States.
Guess by now you can see the pattern of mason wasps with black bodies and white stripes. Eudynerus megaera is an Eastern species. It looks very similar to species pictued above and another Eastern species, Euodynerus schwarzi. It highlights the fact that most wasp identification by pictures is tentative. That’s the rational for entamologists collecting them and looking under a miscroscope for physical characteristics and doing DNA sampling.
Euodynerus is a large genus of mason wasps. Here’s another species with a black body and yellow markings. It’s perhaps in the foraminatus group. Their range extends from east to west.