Giant Ichneumon Wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) Ovipositing

Giant Ichneumon wasp (Megaryssa macrurus, Linneaus 1771) ovipositing.
10th of August 2013, Georgia State Botanical Garden, Athens, GA. 3:47 pm.
This observation has been registered in with ID# 418639.

Oviposition marks the beginning of the life cycle of all insects including parasitoid wasps. Females of Megarryhssa macrurus (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae) are specialized to lay their eggs in the burrows of wood eating Pigeon Tremex Horntail (Tremex columba) larvae between June and September. Only one egg is deposited per host larva buried inside the wood. Eggs act as ectoparasitoids – a parasite that lives externally on another animal and eventually kills it – and are oviposited directly on the host larvae. Upon hatching, the larva begin feeding on the horntail larva throughout the winter. In the spring they pupate within the same burrow and undergo a complete metamorphosis. Between the months of June and September they emerge from their burrows as adults. Once the wasp emerges it lives for up to 27 days until it mates and oviposits.

The details of the oviposition is quite impressive and complex. First photographic documentation of the behavior was done in 1916 by Fyles. In 1999, Canadian researchers have articulated morphology of the ovipositor using electron microscopy. Inspired by the ovipositor of this wasp researchers from Imperial College London are developing a steerable needle technology for difficult medical operations. Biomimicry of the wasp ovipositor may help design of minimally invasive surgical devices for delicate tissues such as the brain.

Oviposition begins after a lengthy search period. The female wasp inspects the drilling location using her sensitive antennae (behavior shown in more detail in the video below). Once the spot is located she marks the position by standing about half centimeter ahead of it with her middle legs (P2 legs). Then she makes a very tall stance lifting her abdomen to bring the tip of the ovipositor (stylus) in the drilling spot and inserts it almost vertically into the wood. This is not an easy task. The tip of the ovipositor almost always gets stuck to tiny irregularities on the wood surface. She also can loose her balance very often and has to start from the beginning since the exact point of drilling is crucial and must be recalculated for accuracy.

An Ichneumon Wasp Searching for an Oviposition Site (and an Attempt for Drilling) from Uzay Sezen on Vimeo.

At first glance, the ovipositor seems like a single filament. If you examine closer (without scaring her of course) you can notice that it actually has three filaments. The middle filament is the ovipositor which drills into wood. The other two side filaments are called valvulae (a cylinder-like sheath supporting ovipositor or sting) and guide the ovipositor into the drilling spot. Although very thin, ovipositor is a tube and the egg moves down the minute channel in its center during egg laying. Two other thin filaments (valvulae) serve as protection for the ovipositor. They arc out to the sides during egg laying. These parts have a cutting edge at the tip. They interlock and slide against each other. Even though the legs and abdomen are fully stretched they only serve to stabilize the extremely long ovipositor. Force required for piercing of the wood comes from a membrane between abdominal segments VII and VIII. A very stretchable membrane between those segments enables a 270 degree unfolding of the last abdominal segment. The illustration above shows the sequential steps in the abdominal segments (a through i). Beginning from step (f) the intersegmentary membrane forms a translucent bag and stretches as it pushes the stylus (f through g). Internal surface of this membrane is made of a single-cell thick layer of secretory epithelium tissue. A pear-shaped diverticulum (c) is probably responsible from secretion of a fluid that helps ovipositor to penetrate wood. Secretion must be containing lytic enzymes that digest wood. Analysis of the wood sections under scanning electron microscope after oviposition clearly shows traces of such enzymatic digestion activity. (Illustration from Le Lannic and Nenon 1999)

Giant Ichneumon Wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) Ovipositing from Uzay Sezen on Vimeo.

Each oviposition event can last more than 40 minutes making the female wasp vulnerable to many threats during that long period of time. Ovipositor is inserted fully and retracted about halfway back a number of times. Oviposition must be energetically very exhausting. Tired individuals can loose their grip and can even injure themselves by twisting the long ovipositor. Site of oviposition is a limited resource and can lead to aggressive competitive behavior among females of the same species attracted to the same spot. The following video shows harassment of an individual by another female attracted to the site. You can see the antennae interaction resembling a fencing competition.

If your coefficient of curiosity hit 1.00 you can read more about parasitic wasps in SciBlog post of Christopher Buddle.

A Giant Ichneumon Wasp Harassed by Another While Ovipositing (Intra-specific Competition) from Uzay Sezen on Vimeo.



  1. Jolien Hazewinkel says:

    Thanks a lot for this beautiful video!!

  2. janice says:

    where do they originate from i seen one here in NB C

  3. carolyn says:

    We have a trunk of maple tree by our deck and noticed these wasps this Spring. Amazing to learn about them but I wondered if they are harmful for the hummingbird feeder and flowers in the vicinity of the tree trunk. The trunk has mush of the bark on it and I know there must be carpenter ants. Is all of this a problem.
    Thank you for any information.

    • Uzay Sezen says:

      These wasps are absolutely harmless to us Humans (and hummingbirds). They are predators of many insects. For this reason they may even be beneficial for reducing insect pest populations. Ichneumon in Greek means “tracker, hunter”. The ichneumon is an animal (possibly a mongoose) worshipped by the ancient Egyptians that tracks and finds reptilian eggs (Nile crocodiles).

  4. Paul says:

    I found one in my living room here in Iowa on September 3rd. I took a picture and got it gently slid into a newspaper and released it outside. Fascinating creature!!!

  5. Harley says:

    I’ve seen this thing in PA. Scared the crap outta me. Thought the long “stinger” was just for stinging. Very informative

  6. A nice presentation. Very informative. Thanking you.

  7. Renee says:

    Amazing. Living. Beauty. Thank you for sharing, Uzay!

    “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. (‭Job‬ ‭12‬:‭7-10‬)

  8. Patrick says:

    I saw one in my backyard in MA. I would like to know if they are harmful to humans or if they are native to my area.

  9. willy p says:

    they are now in laurentian hills of Quebec (north of Montreal)… saw a few on a dead tree up there – some were forming that “pear-shaped diverticulum” to coat their ovipostor with wood decaying enzymes .

    I thought they might be a predatory wasp but really appreciated seeing info and videos on this website!

    • Uzay Sezen says:

      Aren’t they fascinating? The diverticulum you have observed also functions as a pressurizing mechanism driving the drilling action. Enzymes do their job superbly but at the same time the ovipositor needs a gentle push to dig down.

  10. Nomi Kuger-Nash says:

    Thank you so very much for this interesting information. I dreamed this morning of such a creature and wondered what kind of insect it was; then tonight I saw one on the top of my sliding doors onto the deck. I live in a little forest so it must have come from living near or on one of the trees. I took photos, got quite close. She turned her head toward me and “watched”, or so it seemed. As I was searching on the web and gladly found this, she must have flown away for she’s no longer there. I wonder who she’ll survive in my home. Perhaps fly out when again when sliders are open.

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