Like all insects, Ammophila procera has a head, the middle thorax where the legs and wings attach, and the abdomen. The most distinctive feature of Ammophila procera is the abdomen, which is long, and very skinny until the end where it enlarges into a round bulb. This species is usually black, with a red-orange band on the abdomen. It has a sleek, black thorax with silver bars on the sides. These silver bars allow researchers to identify Ammophila procera from close relatives. Ammophila procera can reach up to 35 mm in length, with females longer in length than males. Females average 29 mm, while males average 22 mm in length, and females may also have longer wings. This species has antenna with 13 segments. Their wings are mostly clear with black veins. Colors may be slightly different depending on the area. This includes local variations where male color is primarily black, areas in the eastern United States to the Rocky Mountains with different amounts of red, and populations from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast where the red segments are broken up with black spots. Females also may have more red coloration than males. ("Species Ammophila procera", 2011; Brockmann, 1985; Tucker, et al., 2013)
Ammophila procera, a species of sand wasp, can be found across a wide range in the Nearctic region, including the southern areas of Canada and the entire United States. ("Species Ammophila procera", 2011; Watson, 2011)
Ammophila procera lives in open areas such as plains or beaches. Since these wasps are known for digging, soft soils are needed for their burrows. They live in areas that have this soft soil, such as beaches, prairies, and sand dunes. Since adults eat nectar, their habitats must have flowers near their burrow from which to collect nectar. ("Species Ammophila procera", 2011; Evans, 1959; Watson, 2011)
Ammophila procera undergoes complete metamorphosis, with life stages of egg, larva, pupa, and adult. After mating, Ammophila procera females dig burrows in soft soil and lay a single egg on top of a caterpillar or other insect within the burrow. Ammophila procera only puts a food item in its burrows once, as opposed to other wasp species that will repeatedly stock the burrow and then reseal the entrance. When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the insect the female caught. The larva matures and then develops into a pupa within the burrow. Upon reaching adulthood, Ammophila procera leaves the burrow with fully developed wings. (Brockmann, 1985; Evans, 1959; Field, 1989; Wong, et al., 2013)
Mating habits of Ammophila procera can be aggressive. A male wasp will use his mandibles to grasp behind the female's head while holding onto her body with his legs. Typically, the male mates with the female while she is collecting nectar. Both males and females mate many times with different mates throughout their adult lives. (Brockmann, 1985; Field, 1989; Watson, 2011)
After mating, females of Ammophila procera dig a burrow, and put in the burrow a paralyzed insect, usually a caterpillar. Only one caterpillar and a single egg have been observed per burrow, though one female usually digs multiple burrows, each with one egg, to increase that chances that at least some of her offspring will survive. The 3.5 mm egg is then laid on the side of the paralyzed caterpillar within the burrow. The female seals the egg into the burrow, and eggs generally hatch within two days. The larva will eat nearly the entire caterpillar during the 5 day development period. There is some evidence that females will steal burrows and prey of other Ammophila females. Ammophila procera reproduces more frequently when weather is warm and there is more food available. (Brockmann, 1985; Evans, 1959; Field, 1989; Wong, et al., 2013)
Most of the parental care in Ammophila procera is done by the female. Before laying her eggs, she digs a burrow where the young will develop. Females hunt and provide their burrows with insects such as caterpillars, and can capture and carry caterpillars much larger than themselves. The female lays a single egg in the burrow with the paralyzed insect, and then seals the egg safely into the burrow with dirt and debris. The female will start a new burrow and repeat the process. There is no more parental care, as larvae are left on their own to develop, eating the insect that the female left behind. (Brockmann, 1985; Evans, 1959; Field, 1989; Wong, et al., 2013)
While the exact lifespan for this species is not know, the lifespan of Ammophila procera often depends on where it lives. This wasp species is found in a large variety of habitats throughout its range. Wasps that live in colder regions tend to live for shorter periods of time than those living in warmer regions. Wasps living farther north have harsher winters, which affects their ability to find food for themselves and for their offspring. (Duffield, et al., 1981; Evans, 1959)
Ammophila procera has many notable behaviors. This wasp is timid and if threatened, it will first attempt to flee from danger. When the wasp is not able to escape, it uses its painful, venomous sting to defend itself. The sting is not typically used for protection, but as a tool in everyday life. The wasp's venom paralyzes prey that it stings, which allows females to catch caterpillars and other small, soft-bodied invertebrates. After paralyzing the insect, the female will fly with it to one of her burrows. After a burrow has been dug, the insect placed inside, and the egg laid, the female will seal the burrow entrance. To close the burrow, the female will put rocks, twigs, and other small materials in the entrance to keep predators out and the caterpillar in. When these burrows are left by the mother, other females may steal the burrow and the prey item. This is done by opening up the burrow and replacing the egg with their own. (Field, et al., 2011)
Little is known about the home range of Ammophila procera.
Female wasps of Ammophila procera make a chirping noise. This noise is not completely understood, but researchers think that they make these calls to attract a male mate. It is thought that a female will start to chirp when she is ready for mating, but researchers are not sure. Wasps visually view their environment, and can also see UV light. (Brockmann, 1985; Wong, et al., 2013)
Food habits of Ammophila procera are different depending on the stage of development. Larvae feed on soft-bodied invertebrates, typically caterpillars, though they also feed on other insects, arthropods, and worms. After the wasps have matured into adults, they then feed primarily on nectar. (Evans, 1959; Field, et al., 2011; Wong, et al., 2013)
Birds will prey on these wasps. They are also preyed upon by Hemipterans, such as Red bee-eater assassin bugs. These assassin bugs are known to prey upon Ammophila by camouflaging themselves and then attacking the wasps. The venomous sting of Ammophila procera, while not typically used for protection, can be used as defense against predators. Their contrasting bright red and black color patterns likely acts as warning coloration. Bright colors like this in nature are often found on poisonous or venomous animals, as a warning to predators to stay away. (Wong, et al., 2013)
Ammophila procera is a significant predator of soft-bodied insects and other arthropods, especially caterpillars, as it catches these insects and places them in burrows for its offspring to eat after hatching. Some of the most common caterpillars it catches include rough prominent moths, variable oakleaf caterpillars, false unicorn caterpillars, and Symmerista moths. Ammophila procera is prey to birds and other insects, and a fly species, Senotainia vigilans, is a recorded parasite of this wasp.
Wasps of the genus Ammophila are important in sandy beach habitats. Their burrows help with nutrient cycling and also keep the sand and vegetation in place and get air into the soil. Ammophila procera also pollinates many different plant species. (Brockmann, 1985; Field, 1989)
Ammophila procera benefits humans because its burrows help beaches by getting air into the soil. The wasps also pollinate plants that they visit for nectar. They also attack caterpillars, some of which may be pest species. By using so many caterpillars to feed their offspring, they decrease the amount of plant damage these caterpillars would otherwise cause. (Brockmann, 1985)
Ammophila procera is not an endangered species. One of the biggest threats to these wasps are humans, who will destroy the wasps nests and kill the wasps.
Chase Pickett (author), University of Wyoming, Hayley Lanier (editor), University of Wyoming - Casper, Angela Miner (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.
Brockmann, J. 1985. Tool use in digger wasps (Hymenoptera: Sphecinae). A Journal of Entomology, 92: 309-330.
Duffield, , Shamim, Wheeler, Menke. 1981. Alkylpyrazines in the mandibular gland secretions of Ammophila wasps (Hymenoptera: Sphecidae). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B: Comparative Biochemistry, Volume 70, Issue 2: 317–318.
Evans, H. 1959. Observations on the nesting behavior of digger wasps of the genus Ammophila. American Midland Naturalist, 62/2: 449-473.
Field, J. 1989. Intraspecific parasitism and nesting success in the solitary wasp Ammophila sabulosa. Behaviour, 110/1/4: 23-46.
Tucker, E., I. Montie, S. Droege. 2013. "Draft guide to the Sphecidae of North America, east of the Mississippi River" (On-line). Discover Life. Accessed December 12, 2013 at http://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q?guide=Sphecidae.
Watson, J. 2011. "Thread Waisted Wasps" (On-line). Critters 360. Accessed November 08, 2013 at http://www.critters360.com/index.php/thread-waisted-wasps-6183/.
Wong, J., J. Meunier, M. Kölliker. 2013. The evolution of parental care in insects: the roles of ecology, life history and the social environment. Ecological Entomology, 38/2: 123–137.