Dance Of The Ichneumon

The long-tailed red wasp wandered all over an old log laying in the woods. Her antenna tapped the gray wood constantly as she wandered across the surface. Suddenly, she stopped, arched her abdomen and began a slow circular dance.

She rocked back and forth, spinning in slow circles to a rhythm only she could hear. It was like she was listening to trance dance music and slowly hypnotizing herself to the groove. I only learned what she was really doing when I got home and looked at my photos. She wasn’t dancing she was using her tail to drill a hole into the wood of the log. What looked like dancing in a circle was really the wasp drilling a hole into the wood with a long skinny thread-thin part that wasn’t obvious to the naked eye.

This drilling part was most likely an ovipositor, which is just a fancy word for an egg-laying tube. Nature is full of oddities, and this wasp is one of them. The female sniffs across a log with her antenna searching for wood boring beetle babies. When she finds them, she drills down to their tunnels and lays an egg.

The young hatch and follow the tunnel until they find a beetle larva, which they then eat. The wasp is known as an ichneumon (as in Ick New Man) wasp. They can often be found on dead trees and logs in the area. If you stop and watch them for a few minutes, you can even watch the ichneumon dance their dance of death for the wood boring beetles that their babies will soon be devouring deep in the log.

Jeff Tome, senior naturalist at Jamestown Audubon Society, is a long-time volunteer for the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy who has watched with wonder the ichneumons at the CWC’s Dobbin’s Wood preserve, amongst others.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit or