Pollen wasps (Masarinae) are found on all continents but Antarctica, and those of the genus Pseudomasaris occur in western North America in Arizona, California, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Colorado. Unlike most wasps, which feed other insects to their young, pollen wasps feed pollen and nectar exclusively to their young.
Pollen wasps resemble yellowjackets, except that they have clubbed antennae that are lacking in yellowjackets. Males in the Pseudomasaris genus often have longer antennae than females. Most pollen wasps are black or brown with some yellow, white, or red.
Life History and Behavior
These wasps are solitary; each female creates her own nest made of mud from soil mixed with nectar or water. She attaches her nest to rocks, ledges, and sometimes plant material. Each cell inside of the nest contains an egg and a pollen ball, and is sealed with a mud plug. Pollen wasps are typically active during the early spring through summer.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:69
Specimens with Barcodes:68
Species With Barcodes:24
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
These wasps are known to forage on many plants worldwide and are major pollinators of several of them. Known plants visited by pollen wasps include beardtongues (Penstemon spp.), waterleafs (Boraginaceae), fig-marigolds (Aizoaceae), asters (Asreraceae), doll's roses (Hermannia spp.), bellflowers (Campanulaceae), Zygophyllum spp., members of the Molluginaceae family, and Tylecodon hallii.
Pollen wasps, the Masarinae, are unusual wasps that are typically treated as a subfamily of Vespidae, but have in the past sometimes been recognized as a separate family, "Masaridae", which also included the subfamily Euparagiinae. It is a small subfamily, unique among wasps in feeding their larvae exclusively with pollen and nectar, in a fashion quite similar to many solitary bees. Most species are black or brown, marked with strikingly contrasting patterns of yellow, white, or red (or combinations thereof). They are most diverse and abundant in the desert regions of southern Africa, but also occur in the deserts of North and South America. Some species of Pseudomasaris in California, such as Pseudomasaris vespoides, bear a remarkable resemblance to yellow jackets, but can be recognized by their strongly clubbed antennae, a characteristic feature of the subfamily. Males have greatly elongated antennae, but still ending in a strong club.
They carry pollen in their crops, and regurgitate it along with nectar when provisioning the cells of their nests, and they lay their eggs in the soupy mass before sealing the cell. The nests are often constructed of mud, or burrows in the ground, and these can have one to multiple individual cells. The nests are commonly located in concealed places, such as under rocks or in crevices.
- Richards, O. W. 1962. A revisional study of the masarid wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). British Museum (Natural History), London, England, 302 pp.
- Gess, S.K. 1996. The Pollen Wasps: Ecology and Natural History of the Masarinae . Harvard University Press).
- Carpenter, J.M. 2001. Checklist of species of the subfamily Masarinae (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). American Museum Novitates, 3325: 1-40.
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