Anoplius viaticus is one of the largest (14mm) and most spectacular spider-hunting wasps, with striking red and black bands on the abdomen. They are found entirely in sandy habitats and overwinter as adults, resulting in their being active from March onwards. This is much earlier than the vast majority of Pompilidae - the only others around in early spring are similarly overwintering species Priocnemis coriacea, Priocnemis perturbator and Priocnemis susterai. The hibernation occurs in deep burrows.
Prey is varied but consists principally of Lycosidae. The pictured female caught a Trochosa terricola in heather at Thursley National Nature Reserve, hid the spider among the heather while she took 20 minutes excavating a shortish burrow, then returned to transport the prey back. Checking the diameter of the burrow entrance invariably occurs before interment.
Anoplius infuscatus (10mm) is from the same subgenus as viaticus (Arachnophroctonus) but rather commoner and does not overwinter as an adult. They look similar to the Arachnospila species with which they are often found, and behave in a similar fashion by storing prey (Lycosidae mainly) on low vegetation while the nest is excavated. However, their colouring is more orange than red and the wing venation also differs from all the Arachnospila group.
The pictured female dug her burrow in fairly compacted sand, taking a quarter of an hour before speedily going to collect the prey, which was smaller than is frequently seen, from its perch 30cm away.
Images © Jeremy Early. All rights reserved.
In 2013 I published My Side of the Fence - the Natural History of a Surrey Garden. Details may be found, and orders placed, via this hyperlink My Side of the Fence. In November 2015 Surrey Wildlife Trust published the atlas Soldierflies, their allies and Conopidae of Surrey, jointly written by David Baldock and me. Details are on this web page: Atlas.