Clitemnestra guttatulus, copyright Jean and Fred Hort.

Belongs within: Bembicidae.

Clitemnestra is a genus of smaller wasps found in Australia and South America, members of which provision their nests (when known) with Auchenorrhyncha (Bohart & Menke 1976).

A skinny waist is not that important
Published 9 December 2014
Female Clitemnestra bipunctata carrying prey back to its nest, copyright Bill Johnson.

It’s time for another post on crabronid wasps! The hard-working individual in the photo above is Clitemnestra bipunctata, a species found in the United States of North America. This is the only species of this genus found north of Mexico; other species are found in South America and in Australasia (Australia, New Guinea and New Caledonia). Clitemnestra belongs to the Gorytini, a closely related tribe to the sand wasps of the Bembicini, though C. bipunctata is smaller than the average bembicin. You can find a good description of the biology of C. bipunctata at Bug Eric‘s website.

When Bohart & Menke (1976) prepared their revision of the Sphecidae (which then included the current Crabronidae), they included Clitemnestra in the genus Ochleroptera. Ochleroptera was recognised as closely related to Clitemnestra, but the two genera were distinguished by the shape of the metasoma (the effective abdomen). In Ochleroptera, the first segment of the metasoma is relatively long and narrow, and there is a distinct constriction between it and the remainder of the metasoma (you can see this clearly in the picture above). In Clitemnestra, this segment is shorter and broader, and it is not so divided from the other segments. Because the latter arrangement is the more primitive, Bohart & Menke suggested that Ochleroptera was descended from Clitemnestra, and because both genera were found in both South America and Australasia, they suggested that the two genera had both originated in Australasia and dispersed independently to South America.

Habitus of Clitemnestra noumeae, from Ohl (2002).

However, it was soon realised that the distinction between the two genera was not as clear as had been thought. A number of species were identified in South America in which the segment shape was intermediate: a bit long and narrow for ‘Clitemnestra‘, but not narrow enough for ‘Ochleroptera‘. As there were no other significant features distinguishing the genera, they were eventually synonymised. Subsequently, Ohl (2002) described another species, Clitemnestra noumeae, from New Caledonia that also has an intermediate metasomal form. Though no formal analysis has yet been done to confirm things one way or another, it seems likely that ‘Clitemnestra‘ and ‘Ochleroptera‘ do not represent independent dispersals between Australasia and the Americas. Instead, ‘Ocheroptera‘ species have probably arisen independently within Clitemnestra on more than one occasion.

To date, Clitemnestra bipunctata is the best studied species in the genus natural history-wise; other species have only been described on sporadic occasions. Clitemnestra species nest in burrows in vertical banks, which they primarily stock with various species of leafhoppers. In the case of one Australian species, C. plomleyi, it was suggested that the burrows it was seen using were not dug by the wasp itself, but had been left behind by beetles or other wasps (Evans & O’Neill 2007). It remains to be seen whether this is typical behaviour for the species, or it may have represented opportunistic behaviour by one enterprising individual.

Systematics of Clitemnestra

Characters (from Bohart & Menke 1976): Medium small to small wasps; frons broad to narrow, sometimes broader below than above, least interocular distance usually a little above antennal sockets, width of frons as great or greater at level of mid-cellus as a little below, inner eye margins rather strongly convex; last four male flagellomeres not specially modified; mandible with an inner subtooth; labrum normally visible; frons with a distinctly impressed line from midocellus to interantennal area; pronotal collar elevated, distinct from scutum; prescutellar sulcus efoveate; females of some species without a foretarsal rake; female arolia nearly equal in size; no posterolateral oblique scutal carina; episternal sulcus curving forward to upper end of omaulus, scrobal sulcus ending on episternal sulcus at a right angle; no acetabular carina nor sternaulus; midtibia with two apical spurs; tarsomere V curved beneath and more than twice as long as IV; forewing margin nearly straight near base of costa, media diverging at or slightly beyond cu-a, stigma moderate, one recurrent vein ending at submarginal cell I and one at cell II or both at II, veinlet between ends of recurrent veins about two-sevenths as long as posterior veinlet of submarginal cell I; jugal lobe somewhat larger than tegula but less than twice as long, hindwing media diverging well beyond cu-a; no spiracular groove; gaster not pedunculate; male with seven visible terga, sterna without fimbriae, sternum VIII simple and not unusually narrowed distally; female pygidial plate densely bristly.

<==Clitemnestra Spinola 1851C85 (see below for synonymy)
    |--*C. gayi (Spinola 1851) [=Arpactus (*Clitemnestra) gayi]C85
    |--C. chilensis (Saussure 1867) [=Harpactus chilensis]BM76
    |--C. duboulayi (Turner 1908) [=Gorytes duboulayi]C85
    |--C. guttatulus (Turner 1936) [=Arpactus (Miscothyris) guttatulus]C85
    |--C. lucidulus (Turner 1908) [=Gorytes lucidulus]C85
    |--C. megalophthalmus (Handlirsch 1895) [=Gorytes (Miscothyris) megalophthalmus]C85
    |--C. mimetica (Cockerell 1915)C85 [=Miscothyris lucidulus mimeticusC85, Gorytes mimeticusBM76]
    |--C. multistrigosa Reed 1894BM76
    |--C. perlucidus (Turner 1916)C85 [=Miscothyris perlucidusC85, Gorytes perlucidusBM76]
    |--C. plomleyi (Turner 1940) [=Arpactus (Miscothyris) plomleyi; incl. *Astaurus hylaeoides Rayment 1955]C85
    |--C. sanguinolentus (Turner 1908) [=Gorytes sanguinolentus]C85
    |--C. tenuicornis (Rayment 1955) [=Astaurus tenuicornis]C85
    `--C. thoracicus (Smith 1869) [=*Miscothyris thoracicus]C85

Clitemnestra Spinola 1851C85 [=Clytaemnestra Handlirsch 1895BM76, Clytemnestra Saussure 1867 non Dana 1847BM76; incl. Astaurus Rayment 1955C85, Miscothyris Smith 1869C85]

*Type species of generic name indicated


[BM76] Bohart, R. M., & A. S. Menke. 1976. Sphecid Wasps of the World. University of California Press: Berkeley.

[C85] Cardale, J. C. 1985. Vespoidea and Sphecoidea. In: Walton, D. W. (ed.) Zoological Catalogue of Australia vol. 2. Hymenoptera: Formicoidea, Vespoidea and Sphecoidea pp. 150–303. Australian Government Publishing Service: Canberra.

Evans, H. E., & K. M. O’Neill. 2007. Sand Wasps: Natural History and Behavior. Harvard University Press.

Ohl, M. 2002. A new species of the wasp genus Clitemnestra Spinola, 1851 from New Caledonia (Hymenoptera, Apoidea, Crabronidae, Bembicinae). Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift 49 (2): 275–278.

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