Top Photo: A mating pair of insects
The pair drifted down to the ground from a nearby shrub. Superficially, they looked like wasps, paper wasps. But I could see right away there was something different about them which wasn’t quite wasp-like. But as it so often happens when you’re trying to capture a fleeting moment on camera, the eye stays on the viewfinder, positive IDs can wait till later.
The two were locked into mating and appeared to be trying to fly, each trying to fly in the direction it was facing and making little headway, in either direction.
The pair were clearwing moths which mimic paper wasps, and as you see in the images, they do a very good job of it. The main difference visible to the observant naturalist is the lack of a slender wasp “waist” or petiole, and a much narrower head.
Below are photos of two locally common Polistes paper wasps for comparison.
The moths appear to be grape root borers (Vitacea polistiformis). According to the references I’ve looked at they occur in our area and are listed as being seen during July, August and September. The species is reported to be highly variable in coloration.
As it’s name implies, this moth attacks grape vines. The adult female moth, after mating, apparently deposits eggs on weeds below the vine or directly on the soil. When the larvae hatch they burrow into the ground and feed on the roots and or crown of the vine (that part of the trunk which is just above and below the ground). The larvae may feed on the roots for nearly two years before pupating just below the soil’s surface and finally emerge as adults to begin the process over again (some studies suggest a three year cycle).
Eventually, one of the moths was able to win the tug of war (at least temporarily) and take flight into the surrounding shrubbery, dragging the other with it until, presumably, mating was successful.