In the heartland of the District of Columbia, a most unusual wildlife refuge has emerged. The preserve, dubbed the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, has fostered a uniquely urban jungle environment for over half a century. Within its walls, a delightful assortment of creature are housed, ranging from insects and interns to small mammals and journalists. One may even find the occasional footballer on its grassy fields. Come, let us look at some of RFK’s wild inhabitants.
Black and Yellow Mud Dauber Wasp
First Observed: July, 2013
The press box at RFK stadium is filled with many things: journalists, team employees, wi-fi signals which seem to drift away with the cold autumn air, and - most recently - wasps. The above nest was photographed in mid October, long after it’s residents had taken their leave. A few moments spent in OWFSS’ research archives (in the basement of soccer) has led us to conclude that it belongs to a Black and Yellow Mud Dauber.
The breeding habits of the mud dauber may seem cruel, even downright blackhearted to the casual observer. The female crafts an elegant, multi-cylindrical nest out of mud, which it fetches and then compacts with its mandibles. It then sets out in search of its prey - almost always an arachnid - and paralyzes it with its venom. The unlucky spider is then spirited back to the nest, where it is carefully placed inside one of the tubes. The mother deposits a single egg directly on top of the dead spider, and seals up the nest with a bit of mud.
In the same way a reveler might awake on a Saturday morning - drunk, bleary-eyed and possibly halfway rolled over on a pizza box - the baby Daubers hatch directly on top of their first meal. After feasting on their mother’s final gift, they break through the sealed-off entrance to their nest, ready to terrify a prey much larger: the DC United press corps.
The path of destruction caused by this unassuming wasp gets even more sinister when one looks back in history. Mud daubers have been responsible for a number of airline crashes - including the downing of a commuter plane in D.C. in the early 80’s. They sometimes choose to craft a nest in the pitot tube of an airliner - the orifice in the front of the aircraft that measures air speed - which leaves the pilot with no indication of how fast he’s actually going. Between their kleptoparasitic breeding habits and penchant for large-scale air disasters, Scelliphron Caementarium is perhaps the most sinister of all of RFK’s inhabitants.