Sceliphron spirifex, copyright Muhammad Mahdi Karim.

Belongs within: Sphecidae.

Sceliphron, the mud daubers, is a genus of mostly black-and-yellow wasps that build free-standing mud nests in sheltered locations. They have been divided between subgenera Sceliphron and Prosceliphron with the latter characterised by the presence of cerci and a short hypostomal carina (Bohart & Menke 1976).

The misplaced mud-dauber
Published 9 August 2023

Wasps of the genus Sceliphron will be familiar to many inhabitants of warmer regions of the world. Most species of this widespread genus can be easily recognized by their extremely long, narrow petiole and striking coloration of black and yellow. Other significant features include a broad furrow demarcating a U-shaped dorsal enclosure on the propodeum, plantulae (fleshy protrusions at the end of each segment) on the underside of the tarsi, and a ventral tooth on the tarsal claws (Bohart & Menke 1976). One widespread species of this genus goes by the name S. asiaticum.

Sceliphron asiaticum, copyright David F. Belmonte.

Any reasonable human being presented with the name ‘Sceliphron asiaticum’ would immediately assume it to be an inhabitant of Asia. However, this assumption would be incorrect. This species is in fact an inhabitant of South America, being found over much of the continent as far south as northern Argentina and Chile. So how did S. asiaticum receive its inappropriate moniker? When it was first named by Linnaeus in 1758 (as Sphex asiatica), he described its origin as “Habitat in Indiis”. One can only presume that Carl was mistaken about which Indies were involved.

The features distinguishing Sceliphron asiaticum from its closest relatives in the genus are somewhat fine (van der Vecht & van Breugel 1968) but it can mostly be distinguished by its range. Only one other species is native to continental South America, S. fistularium, and this is a generally glossier species than S. asiaticum. Sceliphron asiaticum has the sides of the mesosoma fairly uniformly dull and punctate, whereas they are shinier in S. fistularium with no punctures on the mesopleuron and a pattern of minute ridges on the propodeum. Sceliphron fistularium has two longitudinal streaks of yellow dorsally on the metapostnotum whereas in S. asiaticum this is all black. Though the species’ ranges appear at first glance to be largely contiguous, S. asiaticum shows a definite preference for drier habitats than S. fistularium (Freeman 1982). A third species, S. curvatum, has recently become established in northern Argentina as an invasive from Asia. This species can be distinguished by the presence of a yellow dot at the centre of the clypeus (all black in S. asiaticum) and its dusky rather than yellowish wings (Compagnucci & Roig Alsina 2008).

Sceliphron asiaticum constructing its nest, copyright Claudio Maureira.

Like other species of Sceliphron, S. asiaticum is a predator of spiders which it paralyses and stocks as food for its larvae in multi-celled nests constructed of mud. The natural site for constructing such nests is in crevices among rocks. However, one might observe that human houses are essentially piles of rocks, and the wasps have made that exact same observation. As a result, S. asiaticum may often be found constructing its nests on the sides of buildings, enjoying the benefits that civilization has brought.

Systematics of Sceliphron

Characters (from Bohart & Menke 1976): Inner orbits bowed out or lower three-fifths essentially straight, orbits converging above or parallel in female, variable in male, vertex not elevated above eyes, sometimes depressed below them; postocular area not elongate; head with much erect hair; flagellomere I usually longer than II; male flagellum without placoids; sockets separated from frontoclypeal suture by at least 0.5 times socket diameter; clypeus 0.5–0.75 times as long as wide, disk slightly to strongly convex, free margin in female sharp edged and with a pair of broad, flat lobes separated by a slit-like excision, lobes often delimited laterally by a similar excision; male clypeus with two sinuations or lobes, or rarely with a single median lobe; mandible simple except with inner subapical tooth in some females; mouthparts short, third maxillary palpal segment expanded on one side; hypostomal carina ending near mandible socket or evanescent about halfway to socket; occipital carina ending just short of hypostomal carina; collar short, disk usually indented mesally; propodeum moderately long, with U-shaped dorsal enclosure defined at least apically by a broad furrow; propodeal side without spiracular groove; epistemal sulcus extending to anteroventral margin pleuron, but often interrupted at level of pronotal lobe by an angular pleural bulge, scrobal sulcus present or absent; metapleural sulcus sometimes present between upper and lower metapleural pits, lower metapleural area otherwise often differentiated from propodeum by sculpture; marginal cell rounded or acuminate apically, submarginal cell II broader than long and receiving both recurrent veins; third anal vein of hindwing well separated from wing margin; midcoxae essentially contiguous, outer surface of hindcoxa sometimes with angular bulge; tibiae not spinose; female without foretarsal rake; apicoventral, terminal, blade-like setae of hindtarsomere V narrow, separated by four or more times a setal width; claw tooth rarely subbasal or subapical, claws exceptionally simple; petiole length 2.5–3.6 times hindcoxal length, and 1.5–2.2 times length of hindbasitarsus; male tergum VIII with cerci in subgenus Prosceliphron; female sterna without hairmats; male sterna without or with weakly formed bands of velvety micropubescence; male sternum VIII broadly triangular; head of digitus variable, penis valve head with teeth on ventral margin, apex of head sometimes with lateral acuminate process.

<==Sceliphron Klug 1801C85 [=Pelopaeus Latreille 1804BM76, Pelopoeus Latreille 1802-1803BM76, Sceliphrum Schulz 1906BM76]
    |  i. s.: S. brevior Cockerell 1921BM76
    |         S. tertiarium Meunier 1915BM76
    |--S. (Sceliphron)C85
    |    |--*S. (S.) spirifex (Linnaeus 1758)C85 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |--S. (S.) annulatum (Cresson 1865)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |    |--S. a. annulatumBM76
    |    |    `--S. a. lucae (Saussure 1867) [=Pelopeus lucae]BM76
    |    |--S. (S.) arabs (Lepeletier 1845)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |--S. (S.) argentifrons (Cresson 1865) [=Pelopoeus argentifrons]BM76
    |    |--S. (S.) asiaticum (Linnaeus 1758)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |    |--S. a. asiaticumBM76
    |    |    `--S. a. chilense (Spinola 1851)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |--S. (S.) assimile (Dahlbom 1843)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |--S. (S.) caementarium (Drury 1770)C85 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |--S. (S.) destillatorium (Illiger 1807)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |--S. (S.) fasciatum (Lepeletier 1845)BM76 [=Pelopoeus fasciatusK18]
    |    |--S. (S.) fistularium (Dahlbom 1843) (see below for synonymy)K18
    |    |--S. (S.) fossuliferum (Gribodo 1895) [=Pelopoeus fossuliferus; incl. S. decipiens Arnold 1952]BM76
    |    |    |--S. f. fossuliferumBM76
    |    |    |--S. f. complex Kohl 1918BM76 [=S. (Pelopoeus) complexK18]
    |    |    `--S. f. voeltzkowii Kohl 1909 [=S. voeltzkovii Kohl 1918; incl. S. masaicum Turner 1919]BM76
    |    |--S. (S.) fuscum Klug 1801BM76 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |--S. (S.) intrudens (Smith 1859)BM76 [=Pelopoeus intrudensK18]
    |    |--S. (S.) javanum (Lepeletier 1845)BM76 [=Pelopoeus javanusK18]
    |    |    |--S. j. javanumBM76
    |    |    |--S. j. aemulum Kohl 1918BM76 [=S. (Pelopoeus) aemulumK18; incl. S. luzonense Rohwer 1922BM76]
    |    |    |--S. j. benignum (Smith 1859) [=Pelopaeus benignus; incl. S. sintangense Strand 1915]BM76
    |    |    |--S. j. chinense van Breugel 1968BM76
    |    |    |--S. j. laboriosum (Smith 1859)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |    |--S. j. nalandicum Strand 1915BM76 [=S. javanum var. nalandicaK18, S. (Pelopoeus) javanum var. nalandicumK18]
    |    |    |--S. j. petiolare Kohl 1918BM76 [=S. (Pelopoeus) petiolareK18]
    |    |    |--S. j. tenggarae van der Vecht 1957BM76
    |    |    `--S. j. timorense van der Vecht 1957BM76
    |    |--S. (S.) laetum (Smith 1856) [=Pelopoeus laetus]C85
    |    |    |--S. l. laetum [incl. S. laetum cygnorum Turner 1910]C85
    |    |    `--S. l. maindroni van der Vecht 1968BM76
    |    |--S. (S.) leptogaster Cameron 1905BM76
    |    |--S. (S.) madraspatanum (Fabricius 1781)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |    |--S. m. madraspatanumBM76
    |    |    |--S. m. andamanicum Kohl 1918BM76 [=S. (Pelopoeus) madraspatanum var. andemanicaK18]
    |    |    |--S. m. conspicillatum (Costa 1864) [=Pelopoeus conspicillatus]BM76
    |    |    |--S. m. formosanum van der Vecht 1968BM76
    |    |    |--S. m. kohli Sickmann 1894BM76 [=S. (Pelopoeus) kohliK18]
    |    |    |--S. m. pictum (Smith 1856) [=Pelopoeus pictus]BM76
    |    |    |--S. m. sutteri van der Vecht 1957BM76
    |    |    `--S. m. tubifex (Latreille 1809)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |--S. (S.) papuanum Cameron 1906 [=S. (Pelopoeus) papuanum]K18
    |    |--S. (S.) pietschmanni Kohl 1918BM76 [=S. (Pelopoeus) pietschmanniK18]
    |    `--S. (S.) quartinae (Gribodo 1884) [=Pelopoeus quartinae; incl. S. fulvohirtum Arnold 1928]BM76
    `--S. (Prosceliphron van der Vecht 1968)C85
         |--S. (*P.) coromandelicum (Lepeletier 1845)C85 [=Pelopoeus coromandelicusK18]
         |--S. (P.) bruinjnii (Maindron 1878)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
         |--S. (P.) curvatum (Smith 1870) [=Pelopoeus curvatus]BM76
         |--S. (P.) deforme (Smith 1856) [=Pelopoeus deformis]BM76
         |    |--S. d. deformeBM76
         |    |--S. d. atripes (Morawitz 1888) [=Pelopoeus atripes]BM76
         |    |--S. d. bicinctum van der Vecht 1957BM76
         |    |--S. d. koreanum Uchida 1925BM76
         |    |--S. d. nipponicum Tsuneki 1972BM76
         |    |--S. d. rufopictum (Smith 1856)BM76 [=Pelopoeus rufopictusBM76; incl. P. flavofasciatus Smith 1859K18]
         |    |--S. d. taiwanum Tsuneki 1971BM76
         |    |--S. d. tibiale Cameron 1899 (see below for synonymy)BM76
         |    `--S. d. unifasciatum (Smith 1860)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
         |--S. (P.) fervens (Smith 1858) [=Pelopoeus fervens]BM76
         |    |--S. f. fervensBM76
         |    `--S. f. murarium (Smith 1864)BM76 (see below for synonymy)
         |--S. (P.) formosum (Smith 1856) [=Pelopoeus formosus]C85
         |--S. (P.) funestum Kohl 1918BM76 [=S. (Pelopoeus) funestumK18]
         |--S. (P.) ocellare Kohl 1918BM76 [=S. (Pelopoeus) ocellareK18]
         |--S. (P.) pulchellum Gussakovskij 1933BM76
         |--S. (P.) rectum Kohl 1918BM76 [=S. (Pelopoeus) rectumK18]
         `--S. (P.) shestakovi Gussakovskij 1928BM76

Sceliphron (Prosceliphron) bruinjnii (Maindron 1878)BM76 [=Pelopoeus bruinjniiK18, S. bruynii Cameron 1906BM76; incl. S. (Pelopoeus) fallax Kohl 1918K18, BM76]

Sceliphron (Prosceliphron) deforme tibiale Cameron 1899 non Sphex tibialis Fabricius 1781 (not preoc. if in dif. gen.) [incl. S. lineatipes Cameron 1900]BM76

Sceliphron (Prosceliphron) deforme unifasciatum (Smith 1860)BM76 [=Pelopoeus unifasciatusBM76; incl. P. affinis Maindron 1878 non Sphex affinis Fabricius 1793K18, BM76, Sceliphron (Pelopoeus) affine non Trigonopsis affinis Smith 1851K18]

Sceliphron (Prosceliphron) fervens murarium (Smith 1864)BM76 [=Pelopoeus murariusBM76; incl. S. mocsaryi Dalla Torre 1897BM76, P. rufipes Mocsáry 1883 non Podium rufipes Fabricius 1804BM76, S. (Pelopoeus) rufipesK18]

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) annulatum (Cresson 1865)BM76 [=Pelopoeus annulatusBM76, P. vindex var. annulatusK18; incl. Sphex jamaicensis Fabricius 1775 non Vespa jamaicensis Drury 1773BM76, P. jamaicensisK18, Sceliphron (Pelopoeus) jamaicenseK18]

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) arabs (Lepeletier 1845)BM76 [=Pelopoeus arabsK18; incl. Pelopoeus caucasicus André 1888BM76, Sceliphon (Pelopoeus) caucasicumK18]

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) asiaticum (Linnaeus 1758)BM76 [=Sphex asiaticaBM76; incl. Pelopoeus figulus Dahlbom 1843BM76, Sceliphron (Pelopoeus) figulusK18, Sc. rufescens Strand 1910BM76, Pelopoeus vindex Lepeletier 1845K18]

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) asiaticum chilense (Spinola 1851)BM76 [=Pelopoeus chilensisK18, P. vindex var. chilensisK18, Sceliphron (Pelopoeus) figulus var. chilenseK18]

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) assimile (Dahlbom 1843)BM76 [=Pelopoeus assimilisBM76; incl. S. (Pelopoeus) caementarium var. nicaraguanum Kohl 1918K18, BM76]

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) caementarium (Drury 1770)C85 [=Sphex caementariusC85, Pelopoeus caementariusK18, P. cementariusK18, Sceliphron (Pelopoeus) caementariumK18; incl. Sp. affinis Fabricius 1793BM76, Pelopoeus affinisK18, P. caementarius var. architectus Saussure 1867K18, P. canadensis Smith 1856K18, P. caementarius var. canadensisK18, Sphex economicus Curtiss 1938BM76, Sp. flavipes Fabricius 1781BM76, P. caementarius var. flavipesK18, Sp. flavipunctata Christ 1791K18, P. caementarius var. flavipunctatusK18, Sp. flavomaculata Degeer 1773K18, Sp. lunata Fabricius 1775K18, P. caementarius var. lunatusK18, Sceliphron lunatumK18, P. nigriventris Costa 1864BM76, P. servillei Lepeletier 1845K18, P. solieri Lepeletier 1845K18, P. caementarius var. solieriK18, P. tahitensis Saussure 1867K18]

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) destillatorium (Illiger 1807)BM76 [=Sphex destillatoriaK18, Pelopoeus distillatoriusK18, Sceliphron (Pelopoeus) destillatoriumK18; incl. Sphex flavipes Christ 1791 non Fabricius 1781BM76, Sp. pensilis Illiger 1807BM76, Pelopoeus pensilisK18, Sceliphron (Pelopoeus) destillatorium pensileK18, Pelopaeus sardonius Lepeletier 1845BM76, Pelopoeus sardous Carrucio 1872BM76, Pelopoeus pensilis var. trinacriensis Destefani 1889K18]

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) fistularium (Dahlbom 1843) [=Pelopoeus fistularius, P. fistularis (l. c.), Sceliphron fistulare; incl. P. bimaculatus Lepeletier 1845, P. histrio var. bimaculatus, P. histrio Lepeletier 1845]K18

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) fuscum Klug 1801BM76 [incl. Sphex hemiptera Fabricius 1798 non Scopoli 1772K18, Pelopoeus hemipterusK18, Sceliphron (Pelopoeus) hemipterumK18, Sc. quodi Vachal 1907BM76, Sc. (P.) quodiK18]

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) javanum laboriosum (Smith 1859)BM76 [=Pelopoeus laboriosusBM76; incl. S. lorentzi Cameron 1911BM76, S. (Pelopoeus) lorentzi K18]

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) madraspatanum (Fabricius 1781)BM76 [=Sphex maderospatanumK18, Pelopoeus madraspatanusK18; incl. Pelopoeus bilineatus Smith 1852K18, P. interruptus Palisot-Beauvais 1805K18, Sceliphron interruptumK18, Sphex lugubris Christ 1791 non Villers 1789BM76, Pelopoeus separatus Smith 1852BM76]

Sceliphron (Sceliphron) madraspatanum tubifex (Latreille 1809)BM76 [=Pelopoeus tubifexK18; incl. P. pectoralis Dahlbom 1845BM76, P. transcaspicus Radoszkovsky 1886K18]

*Sceliphron (Sceliphron) spirifex (Linnaeus 1758)C85 [=Sphex spirifexC85, *Pelopoeus spirifexBM76, Sceliphron spinifer (l. c.)BM76; incl. Sc. aegyptiacum Klug 1801BM76, Sphex aegyptia Linnaeus 1758K18, Sp. spirifex atra Scopoli 1786K18]

*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.

Compagnucci, L. A., & A. Roig Alsina. 2008. Sceliphron curvatum, una nueva avispa invasora en la Argentina (Hymenoptera: Sphecidae). Revista de la Sociedad Entomológica Argentina 67 (3–4): 65–70.

Freeman, B. E. 1982. The comparative distribution and population dynamics in Trinidad of Sceliphron fistularium (Dahlbom) and S. asiaticum (L.) (Hymenoptera: Sphecidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 17: 343–360.

[K18] Kohl, F. F. 1918. Die Hautflügergruppe “Sphecinae”. IV. Teil. Die natürliche Gattung Sceliphron Klug (Pelopoeus Latr.). Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museum in Wien 32: 1–171.

van der Vecht, J., & F. M. A. van Breugel. 1968. Revision of the nominate subgenus Sceliphron Latreille (Hym., Sphecidae) (Studies on the Sceliphronini, part I). Tijdschrift voor Entomologie 111 (6): 185–255.

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