Field of Science

Podagritus in Australia

The digger wasps of the tribe Crabronini are a widespread group distinguished by a boxy head shape and relatively stout mesosoma. They are not dissimilar to hairless bees and indeed are close relatives of that group. There is a wide diversity of crabronins around the world; among their representatives here in Australia are members of the genus Podagritus.

Podagritus cf. tricolor, from Insects of Australia.


Podagritus species are medium-sized, elongate crabronins, generally in the region of a centimetre in length (give or take a few millimetres). The gaster is pedunculate (that is, the first segment of the metasoma is drawn into an elongate peduncle). Other, finer features distinguishing them from related genera of crabronins include a palpal formula of 5-3 (referring to the number of segments in the maxillary and labial palps, respectively; 5-3 indicates that both palps are slightly reduced from the ancestral count for crabronins) and often the presence of a sharp subvertical ridge, the omaulus, near the front of the mesopleuron (the median plate on the side of the mesosoma). If the omaulus is not present as such, there is still a distinct curve where it would have been so the planes of the mesopleuron on either side are more or less perpendicular. Females have a well defined triangular, flat pygidial plate and males often have one as well (Bohart & Menke 1976).

Thirty species of Podagritus were recognised from Australia by Leclercq (1998). Other species of the genus are known from New Zealand and South America. Historically, the Australian species have been treated as a distinct subgenus Echuca from Podagritus elsewhere, based on features such as a well defined, flat prepectus and a weakly sculpted metapleuron. Leclercq, however, questioned the value of this distinction, noting the existence of a couple of Australian species sharing notable features in common with species found elsewhere, and suggested abandoning subgenera until the genus could be revised as a whole.

The natural history of Podagritus species in Australia remains poorly known. One species found in the east of the continent, P. leptospermi, has been found nesting in a sloping gravel bank (Bohart & Menke 1976). Burrows were near vertical and close to a foot deep, and contained two or three cells placed at the ends of lateral galleries (one cell per gallery). Entrances were surrounded by flat mounds of sand six to ten centimetres wide and were not closed while the female was out hunting. Cells were stocked with flies (Tachinidae and Therevidae, so presumably reasonably large) that were initially stored at the bottom of the burrow before being placed in the cell head inwards and belly up, in lots of four to six. The egg was attached to a fly between the head and thorax, so when the larva hatched it would find itself already in place on a welcoming bed of food.

REFERENCES

Bohart, R. M., & A. S. Menke. 1976. Sphecid Wasps of the World. University of California Press: Berkeley.

Leclercq, J. 1998. Hyménoptères sphécides crabroniens d'Australie du genre Podagritus Spinola, 1851 (Hymenoptera, Sphecidae). Entomofauna 19 (18): 285–308.

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