A testament to the digging/hunting wasp's capabilities to amaze. I found this colony of what I presume is Ammophila procera or kennedyi (I am not sure of the species except by size and habitat) at Bell Slough not far from my home. I believe from the ridging on the pronotum these are all procera. They were in an area near a slate dig and in open rocky and somewhat wasted landscape. Vegetation was sparse near the rough road that they were concentrating their nests along. There were areas where four or five nest holes were active within ten yards of each other. I watched several wasps reopening nest holes as this digger is doing. The dirt would fly. Note the dust on the long abdomen. And those excellent eyes, those dusted antennae curved back for the dirty work.

A small pond to the north was surrounded by plants and a large Eupatorium where many wasps were taking breaks for nectar. One other species of long-waisted wasp was there and a large Promachus robber trying to take a wasp for a snack.

The first wasps I saw were buzzing each other and then going over to some low Liatris plants. I soon spotted the drama unfolding because I found two large caterpillars lodged in the upper reaches of the Liatris stems. By chance alone, I assume the cats were stored so close to each other. These hunting wasps often tuck away their captures in vegetation while they open their nest holes and prepare the area for food caching. Henri Fabre, the little bug-chasing and mischievous Frenchman, who loved these creatures used this stash period to substitute live cats for paralyzed cats in order to watch the surprised wasps grab a suddenly reanimated, wriggling cat and do their intricate stinging maneuvers.

This Ammophila is one of the two wasps involved in the Liatris dispute. And this is a new placement after I followed this wasp as it made a long circular walk down the road and across to the other side to this unimpressive grassy perch where I presume it felt its caterpillar prize was safer. I did not witness the stinging of any of the cats. Unfortunately for this wasp, soon after this picture another wasp placed an almost identical cat on a rock nearby. Ah, the populous earth.

The caterpillar, by the way, is Nadata gibbosa (Green Oak Caterpillar --thanks Bob B.). And every wasp I saw with a cat that morning carried the same species. This wasp is sizing up the load, an event which was always followed by the forward grasp (with those impressive mandibles) near the head end and the clutch of the body beneath the wasp.

The cats were so big they did not fly with them. They walked everywhere, tails held high. It is a scrabbling wide-legged gait with such a green tuber between their legs.

The scene of the most remarkable event. One wasp took a cat down its tunnel, leaving another cat outside. Then the same wasp came out and left (who knows what it had to do elsewhere, although these gals often took pauses to go clean up or to nectar because hauling fat cats is apparently exhausting). While it was gone (and strangely it left its hole wide open except for a rock that lodged in the mouth by happenstance) a second wasp came over and actually went down in the tunnel and pulled the first cat back out! The invader (or the rightful owner) then proceeded to walk out and away with it, making a long trail over to another nest hole about seven or eight feet away. In route, it had to battle another wasp that it crossed paths with. And several times it became clear that I as the crouching photographer, was also the best prominence for hauling a cat upon. I kept having to discourage my shoe and leg as a caterpillar tower.

I was right on the spot where the battle ensued and the fight quickly slammed to the ground. I had been leaning close for another wasp-enters-hole entrance shot. When they hit, I just turned and fired. The fight only lasted a few very buzzy seconds. I believe the one on the bottom has a leg in its mouth.

Once the battles are over and the load has been lugged to the appropriate spot and the hole reopened then there is a lot of repositioning and hole clearing to be done before the final tug is completed. I did not see any parasitic flies in this area but that is another item to contend with among many wasp colonies.

The nearly final step is to place the load right on the lip. And then the wasp backs down the tunnel and drags the cat in behind it out of sight.

The sealing and camouflaging of the nest is quite an intricate dance. It was almost my favorite part of the whole matter. Many stones are lifted and rejected or almost lifted and placed and then placed again. Turning, searching, choosing, this looked like true motherly concern. This is a different wasp from the one pictured above but you can see the stone pile at the bottom left that the wasp created with much heavy lifting. Lovely animals all around.

Back to the colony site in 2005 and it was active again. Found several more females, again with the exclusive prey choice of the Green Oak Caterpillar. This one was marching down the rough path with this large cat. She dropped it at one point and I had to hand it back to her. She went right on her way to the pre-prepared entrance. Note again the dot dash dash silver markings on the thorax. And the strong tarsal rake bristles on the foreleg.

I also found several actively digging. They would make frequent sorties out and in a short loop to drop the dirt away from the entrance to the nest. Appeared to carry it in the mandibles and forelegs. Very fast motion however.

Close up of the face and the impressive mandibles, those industrious and alert eyes. Note the distinct ridging on the pronotum (the collar behind the neck). This may be characteristic for species A. procera.