A Cuckoo Wasp from Cali

A Cuckoo Wasp from California Doodlewash and watercolor sketch of iridescent green blue wasp

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

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in By Charlie
  1. Margaret Parker Brown 7 years ago

    Beautiful little horrific guy that you doodled….I don’t ever recall seeing them. I hate wasps, well, actually who really loves them?

    • Author

      Thanks, Margaret! 😃💕I don’t think anybody is a wasp lover. Hehe…but I couldn’t resist doodlewashing this one!

  2. Tom Merriman 7 years ago

    Nice wasp, Charlie. We just have the yellow-and-black stripy ones here. And they ARE mad! 😯

    • Author

      Thanks, Tom! 😃Yeah…I really don’t like wasps in person, but this kind was shiny and interesting to look at, so I thought what the heck! Lol

  3. There’s a chap who does nature programmes on British TV called Chris Packham who claims to love wasps but the rest of us take a more sensible view. Colourful or not they’re still wasps…(fab painting as always though!).

    • Author

      Thanks so much Michael! 😃 Yeah, I imagine if you’re on a nature show they’d pay you enough to say you liked wasps! Lol You couldn’t, however, pay me enough to mean it! 😉

  4. Susan Feniak 7 years ago

    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.

  5. debiriley 7 years ago

    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

    • Author

      Hehe…thanks so much, Debi! 😃💕 Glad ya liked this. Yeah… I guess science is no match for nature in the end. There’s so weird stuff out there! Lol

  6. Carmel Campbell 7 years ago

    Creepy fellow. Nice work especially on the wings and shadow!

    • Author

      Thanks Carmel! 😃💕No idea why I’m so interested in drawing bugs when I don’t much care for them in real life. 😊hehe

  7. Teri C 7 years ago

    The colors are great, wasps themselves, not so much.

  8. Jodi 7 years ago

    gotta love a wasp that dresses in glittery drag! 🙂 Awesome doodlewash Charlie O!

  9. ybromfield 7 years ago

    I really dislike wasps, but this one is a beauty! I just love the way you made the wings so transparent! Fabulous!

    • Author

      Thanks, Kari! 😃💕 Yeah, I’m totally not a fan of these things in real life, but find them fascinating to sketch! Hehe

  10. Teresa Robeson 7 years ago

    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

    • Author

      Awww thanks, Teresa! 😃💕I imagine in real life it’s just as creepy as the others! Lol I’m with you…not an insect fan, unless I can sketch them from a safe distance!

      • Teresa Robeson 7 years ago

        I tolerate certain ones more than others…butterflies, moths and dragonflies are fine. Cockroaches, centi/millipedes, not so much. 😛 LOL!

  11. DBHargis 7 years ago


  12. Jacob 7 years ago

    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.

    • Author

      Thanks Jacob! 😃Glad you liked the doodlewash version! I’m pretty sure it’s a unanimous distaste for the real thing though. They’re creepy and annoying creatures. But poor little guy…even in his best drag he couldn’t win your heart! Lol

  13. memadtwo 7 years ago

    That’s one beautiful insect. Yes, nature is amazing. (K)

  14. Jill Kuhn 7 years ago

    Ooh, like the glittery rainbow effect but still don’t like this pest! Awesome doodlewash, Charlie! 😄 I see you are back to insects! Lol! 😉🎨💕

    • Author

      Thanks Jill! 😃💕Yeah, one day of flowers and I’m already back to bugs! Lol i just love to sketch them! Can’t stand them in real life, but they’re an interesting subject to doodlewash at least! Hehe😊

      • Jill Kuhn 7 years ago

        And you are so good at them too!! 😃💕

  15. M. L. Kappa 7 years ago

    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?

    • Author

      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:


      • M. L. Kappa 7 years ago

        Lovely, thanks! If it’s for a daily sketch, Instagram is easier than posting each day

  16. Wow what beauty in a…..wasp! I had never heard of these, once again you have educated me well with this superb doodlewash Charlie.

  17. brushparkwatercolors 7 years ago

    What a beauty! I had to google about cuckoo wasps because i did not know them yet. Your portrait is awesome – the colors amazing! And the shadow…man… the shadow is superb! 🙂

    • Author

      Thanks so much, Carsten!! 😃I really appreciate that… I’ve been using this month to practice my shadows so I’m glad you like it!

  18. Cathe 7 years ago

    I concur with everyone here, beautiful pest…love, hate. Super cool doodlewash Charlie!

  19. Seriously, how do you make these things so beautiful?! You ROCK, Charlie O Bro! Truly lovely work!

  20. 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.

  21. Snehal Kank 7 years ago

    Awesome work friend! love the details 😍for sure i’ll be joing you 🙂 🙂

  22. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 7 years ago

    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.

    • Author

      Aww thanks, Sharon! 😃💕I like to explore things I’ve never heard of before! It’s fun to learn new things. Glad you like my posts! Totally agree… wasps should stay inside sketchbooks for sure! lol

  23. Harrison Monahan 7 years ago

    Your wasp is beautiful! Yeah we only have the horrifying drab monsters here 🙁

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