While sitting on the deck today, I was visited by a wasp and was meaning to sketch him, but found a far prettier one while researching wasps. So for today’s #NatureDoodlewash I’ve imported this little cuckoo wasp from California. I really hate wasps, but as wasps go, this one is rather pretty with its iridescent glow. The one that visited me was just brownish and terrifying and not as interesting to sketch. Apparently, these little parasites are named after cuckoo birds because they also have a penchant for laying eggs in other’s nests, not because they’re insane. Though one has to wonder with that kind of behavior.

You’d think this level of trickery would have made them evolve to look drab, but scientists are stumped as to why they glow with stunning color like a Gay Pride parade float. It was only discovered in 2009 that the color is actually light refracting through spaces in the layers of cuticle in the wasps’ exoskeletons. Despite their fabulous glow, they have to find a way to sneak into the burrows of other wasps to deposit their eggs. When caught in the act, they roll up like an armadillo leaving the host no other choice then to grab them with their jaws and carry them back outside. Eventually, mom succeeds in abandoning her kids and the newly adopted orphans often eat the other kids in order to survive. Yeah, they might be crazy.

It’s interesting to think about how we’re still discovering things in nature. When you find an odd creature, articles will often have headlines like “Scientists Baffled!” though that’s admittedly often clickbait as most times they’re just “rather uncertain” but that makes for a crummy headline. As much as we learn about nature, there’s still so much we don’t quite understand. I think that’s what makes nature so incredible. It’s constantly changing, evolving, and creating more questions than answers. And sometimes, it takes a wasp and dresses it in glittery drag for no reason whatsoever, except to make humans feel like they may also be a little bit cuckoo.

Join me throughout the month of June on a virtual nature hike! Show everyone what you love most in nature with a watercolor sketch or painting and tag your images #NatureDoodlewash so we can all enjoy it with you! I’ll create a featured artist gallery of our global hike at the end of the month! 

World Watercolor Month is coming in July! Click here to learn more!

About the Doodlewash

M. Graham watercolors: Quinacridone Gold, Azo Orange, Pyrrol Red, Permanent Green Pale, Viridian, Ultramarine Blue and Neutral Tint. Sennelier: Opera Rose. Lamy Safari Al Star pen with Platinum Carbon black ink in a 5″ x 8″ 140 lb. (300 gsm) Pentalic Aqua Journal

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52 thoughts on “A Cuckoo Wasp from Cali

  1. Very cool as far as wasps go! I don’t know of anyone who actually likes wasps but if I have to admit it this one with its funky colors is pleasing to the eye. Trust you to find an attractive wasp Charlie!! 🙂 And marvellously presented to us as well.

  2. WOW – gorgeous rainbow effect on the body Charlie!!! so pretty!
    and what a cunning thing it is too. sneaky. thats life, in nature though. better than the preying mantis!!
    Had to laugh at your ‘Scientists Baffled’ headline. It seems the science and medicine professions are in that ‘predicament’ rather too often… LOL

  3. Heehee…you’ve really got an amazing knack for making pretty much any topic funny and interesting! I don’t know much about wasps (and don’t know know if they’re closely related to the much-hated yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets) but most insects freak me out. I’m glad you chose this pretty thing to doodlewash because it looks much less creepy than most other ones. 😀 <3

  4. Well it’s a lovely doodlewash – I like how you do the wings on these insects, I get the impression they’re harder than you make it look – but yeah, it’s still a wasp. A beautiful rainbow of colour (expertly done!) ain’t gonna win me over, sir or madam… valiant try, though!

    Wasps appear to have a thing for doing that, don’t they – laying eggs where they really shouldn’t, I mean. It’s reminded me of those frightful ‘spider wasps’ that paralyse spiders, drag them into their nest and lay eggs on their bodies 😮 Scary stuff. I don’t have much time for wasps.

  5. The bane of al fresco lunches! And a serial killer to boot. But still pretty. You really do the wings well,Charlie. Btw, a question: can I just post things on Instagram for NatureDoodlewash and Julywatercolor month, or do they have to go on the blog as well?

    1. Thanks, Marina! 😃💕Glad ya liked my little creeper! hehe For #NatureDoodlewash I’m compiling from tags on WordPress or on Instagram so either works! For #WorldWatercolorMonth in July I’ll be linking out to the tag on various social media sites (WordPress, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook). Also, there’s a Facebook group to share and interact with other artists throughout the month at:


  6. If the cuckoo wasp adult is this beautiful, perhaps its babies are too, so that when the surrogate Mom realizes she only has this one adopted child left, it’s so beautiful she can’t be mad at it for killing the other kids.

  7. Another brilliant science lesson dressed up as art – and what gorgeous art it is. I love how you explore the facts behind whatever you choose to paint – makes your posts so interesting – the sign of a great teacher.
    My favorite wasp is the one that lives in your sketchbook. They are mean critters when let out to fly.

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