With the recent warm weather, the insects of Delaware County are beginning to fly about. Among the many bugs attracted to my back porch light last night, one of the most common and conspicuous was the orange-brown wasp pictured left. This critter may look dangerous because it is a wasp, but it is actually quite harmless to humans and quite probably a garden friend, like most wasps.
Its name is Ophion, and it belongs to a very large group of wasps called ichneumonids, all of which parasitize other insects. Ophion females fly about at night looking for caterpillars hanging out on and munching on the leaves of some plant. When Ophion finds a caterpillar, she will puncture it with a needle-like structure on her butt and lay one egg into the body fluid of the caterpillar. Out of the egg hatches the worm-like baby wasp, which lives and grows inside its caterpillar host as the caterpillar itself continues to feed and grow. When the caterpillar has reached its greatest size and it is ready to become a moth, it spins its cocoon.
The baby wasp now will finish off the caterpillar, digesting just about all of it. Then it spins its own cocoon. When it finally emerges from the cocoon, it is the adult form we see flying about lights at night. The caterpillar however is now just an empty husk.
The second picture shows Ophion in flight with a carpet moth resting in the background.