- Solitary wasps offer the naturalist an ideal introduction to insects in the field. Many species are common and relatively easy to find. The wasps' "benign" nature (towards humankind) and seemingly total "dedication" to the task at hand, particularly at her nest site, allows close observation of burrow construction, prey selection and interment as well a variety of strategies to protect her offspring. The species videos offer a sampling of these behaviors as well as a look at solitary wasps' kin. Hymenopteran relatives such as yellow jackets, paper wasps, and hornets are the insects most people think of when they hear the word "wasp." Two other well know groups, the ants and the bees, account for a large part of hymenopteran diversity. The ancestors of solitary wasps include sawflies and horntails; these as well as brachonid and ichneumon wasps are also common and widespread.
The Siricidae include horntails, wood wasps, and sawflies. This and a number of other families of ancestral wasps make up the Symphyta, an informal assemblage (paraphyletic) not a discrete taxon. These wasps lack the constricted waist of their more recently evolved kin.
The Parasitica, an informal assemblage (paraphyletic) is not a discrete taxon but traditionally includes the Braconids, Ichneumenoid, and Chalcid wasps.
Each species represents one of four bee families. Bees are closely related to many of our "typical" solitary wasps and the two groups share various characteristics.
The Crabronids and Sphecids include most solitary wasps. These are the Apoid wasps (traditionally grouped as Sphecidae) and they are closely related to bees. Crabronidae young feed on paralyzed insect prey captured and provisioned by the adult female. Commonly referred to as sand wasps.
- Tachytes Sand-loving Wasp
- Bembix americana Sand Wasp
- Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus Sand Wasp
- Gorytes Digger Wasp
- Microbembex monodonta Sand Wasp
- Sphecius speciosus Cicada Killer
- Aphilanthops frigidus Queen Ant Hunter
- Cerceris fumipennis Buprestid Hunter
- Cerceris halone Weevil Hunter
- Philanthus gibbosus Beewolf
- Philanthus lepidus Beewolf
- Philanthus sanbornii Beewolf
- Philanthus ventilabris Beewolf
The Sphecids and Crabronids include most solitary wasps. These are the Apoid wasps (traditionally grouped as Sphecidae) and they are closely related to bees. Most species construct underground burrows where the eggs are laid and the young are raised. Each of these tasks as well as prey capture and provisioning is carried out by the adult females. The Specids are the thread-waisted solitary waps.
- Ammophila procera Thread-waisted Wasp
- Ammophila pictipennis Thread-waisted Wasp
- Chlorion aerarium Steel-blue Cricket Hunter
- Eremnophila aureonotata Thread-waisted Wasp
- Isodontia Grass-carrying Wasp
- Prionyx parkeri Digger Wasp
- Sphex ichneumoneus Great Golden Digger
- Sphex pensylvanicus Great Black Wasp
Chrysidids are nest parasites. Also know as Cuckoo Wasps for their habit of laying eggs in the nests of other species.
Taxonomy Tip - By nearly any measure ants are a dominant life form on our planet. Their extraordinary success is in large part due to their social structure and there are few non-marine habitats where they are not prevalent.
Also known as Velvet Ants, the female is wingless and often "hairy" giving her an ant-like appearance. The name Cow Killer is given to the females of some species and refers to the insect's potent sting .
Spider Wasps are typically black or dark colored and often flick their wings as they patrol the ground hunting for spider prey. When located the prey is stung, paralyzed, and dragged to the wasp's burrow where she provisions cells containing the egg/larvae of her offspring.
Scoliids are heavy bodied wasps often with distinct, bright markings. The adults are regularly seen nectaring. Unlike most solitary wasps, the females are parisitoids. Their eggs are laid directly on scarab beetle larvae which are located by digging in the ground.
Similar to Scoliid wasps, the Tiphids are parasitods on beetle larvae. Females are wingless in some species and in these species the male is significantly larger than the female.
Taxonomy Tip - While this group includes the solitary Potter Wasps, most are social and build group nests where their young are raised in a communal fashion. Unlike solitary wasps, these social insects use their sting for protective purposes and may be aggressive, particularly around their nest site.