Solitary Wasps (Aculeata) & Kin: Identification and Behavior

Solitary wasps offer the naturalist an ideal introduction to insects in the field. Many species are common and relatively easy to find. The wasp's "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 employed by the adult female to protect her offspring. The species videos offer a sampling of these behaviors as well as a look at solitary wasps' kin including social wasps (the insects most people think of when they hear the word "wasp") such as yellow jackets, paper wasps, and hornets as well as the ancestors of solitary wasps including sawflies and horntails.

General Comments: some solitary wasps are generalists with respect to prey while others hunt only a single species

Species Identification: abdominal bands, femur, facial areas, and mandibles bright yellow

Species Behavior: adult female provisions her burrow exclusively with winged Formica queens

General Comments: adult female sand wasps carry out all rearing tasks including hunting and anesthetizing prey

Species Identification: five pairs of silver abdominal bands, yellow legs, green eyes (see similar Bicyrtes)

Species Behavior: Bembix wasps provide various fly species as larval food on an "as-needed" basis, much like nestling birds

General Comments: kleptoparasites such as the miltogrammine fly seen in the video place their larvae on the wasp's prey

Species Identification: four bold, ivory-colored abdominal bands (see somewhat similar Bembix)

Species Behavior: nest aggregations may occur; prey includes leaf-footed bugs (Coreidae) and stink bugs (Pentatomidae)

General Comments: some solitary wasps are hunted by others and Gorytes may fall prey to the beewolf wasp (Philanthus)

Species Identification: bright yellow abdominal bands; prey species may aid in field identification

Species Behavior: leafhoppers (Cicadellidae) including sharpshooters (Cicadellinae) are prey species for Gorytes

General Comments: most Microbembex occur west of the continental divide; M. monodonata is the eastern representative

Species Identification: white (yellow) abdominal bands, white "shoulder" (thoracic) marks, coastal and inland dunes

Species Behavior: unique for their scavanging life style, nests provisioned with a diversity of arthropod parts

General Comments: these large, noisy wasps form semi-permanent colonies ideal for observation and study

Species Identification: large size (3 - 5cm), reddish-brown thoracic marks, three pale yellow, broken abdominal bands

Species Behavior: competing males may form aggregations, females capture cicadas and may rob other females of prey

General Comments: many female sand wasps (Crabronidae) excavate burrows in sand or sandy soil for rearing young

Species Identification: large green eyes, abdomen with silvery bands

Species Behavior: larvae feed on anesthetized grasshoppers captured and placed in burrow by adult

General Comments: most N.A. Cerceris wasps are beetle hunters; C. fumipennis may find Emerald Ash Borer (EAB)

Species Identification: a relatively thick, single cream to yellowish abdominal band; Buprestids around nest site

Species Behavior: hunts metallic wood-boring beetles (Buprestids) and prey may signal the presence of the destructive EAB

General Comments: many Cerceris wasps are beetle hunters (see, C. fumipennis) and C. halone takes weevils (Curculio)

Species Identification: bold yellow bands and constricted abdominal segments

Species Behavior: note C. halone carries prey with her legs; other solitary wasps use their jaws to transport prey

General Comments: Philanthus wasps have drawn the attention of such notables as J. Fabre, N. Tinbergen, and H. E. Evans

Species Identification: numerous puncture marks on both thorax and abdomen; sweat bee (Halictid) prey

Species Behavior: often nest in loose aggregations; males and females may share burrows

General Comments: P. lepidus is a locally common Eastern species emerging late in the season

Species Identification: note the smooth rather than sculpted or punctulate (compare with P. gibbosus) body surfaces

Species Behavior: to deter parasites nest entrances are closed before foraging and "false" burrows are constructed

General Comments: occurs east of the Rocky Mts.; late June through July flight period

Species Identification: note the convergence of the eyes at the to of the head

Species Behavior: In a study of prey choices P. sanbornii was shown to take over 100 different species of bees and wasps

General Comments: Philanthus males including this species often defend mating territories from a conspicuous perch

Species Identification: dorsal surface of pronotum flat; bold facial and abdominal marks

Species Behavior: sweat bee (Halictid) prey; typically a solitary nester

General Comments: Ammophila is an extremely diverse genus whose members are wide spread and many well studied

Species Identification: large size, red segment of abdpmen, thorax black with two white stripes

Species Behavior: prominent moth (Notodontidae) larval prey often poached by kleptoparasitic flies (see video)

General Comments: a so-called mass provisioner, Chlorion constucts a many-celled burrow with up to 20 crickets

Species Identification: large size and metallic blue highlights but similar to other large black wasps

Species Behavior: field cricket (Gryllus) prey both adults and nymphs

General Comments: our single representative of a neotropical genus and unlike most N.A. wasps associated with woodlands

Species Identification: similar in size and shape to A. procera but overall black with golden face and silver thoracic marks

Species Behavior: like other apoid wasps Eremnophila is often besieged by Sarcophagid brood parasites.

General Comments: many solitary wasps nest in underground burrows (fossorial) others like Isodontia are cavity nesters

Species Identification: all 3 speceis are black, thread-waisted wasps and superficially similar; see below

Species Behavior: these wasps are often noted as they transport nesting material from the source to their nest site

General Comments: the Great Golden Digger is well-studied and widespread across much of N.A. south to the neotropics

Species Identification: a large wasp with golden scales on the head and thorax and an orange abdomen tipped with black

Species Behavior: orthopteran prey such as katydids or coneheaded grasshoppers; displays many fixed action patterns

General Comments: John Bartram's studies of the Great Black Wasp were presented to the Royal Society in 1749

Species Identification: similar to C. aerarium but less iridescence (limited to wings) and frequently seen at flowers

Species Behavior: forages in meadows for katydids; less common than S. ichneumoneus

General Comments: 48 species make Anoplius (aka Blue-black Spider Wasps) the largest genus of Pompillids in N.A.

Species Identification: the two species seen here are typical of the all black species (but see A. semicinctus)

Species Behavior: both wing flicking and regular periods of grooming are characteristic behaviors of spider wasps

General Comments: wolf and funnel web spiders are typical prey of Pompillids

Species Identification: the presence or absence of red abdominal marking may be helpful but not sufficient for identification

Species Behavior: while some spider wasps construct their own natal burrow others use the prey's nest to raise young

General Comments: A. tenebrosus females overwinter as adults and emerge earlier that most Pompillids

Species Identification: seasonality and habitat may be useful ID aids for those dicinclined to examine bristles and spurs

Species Behavior: some spider wasp females successfully usurp suitable prey from other wasps

General Comments: A. architectus amputates her prey's legs which may facilitate transport (but see, Behavior)

Species Identification: look-alike females of three Auplopus species are all small, metallic green Pompillids with dark legs

Species Behavior: leg amputation may have more to do with accomodating the unusual small mud nest built by the wasp

General Comments: Entypus wasps specialize on wolf spiders many of which are free roaming hunters themselves

Species Identification: yellow antennae and entirely black wing separate this species from E. unifasciatus

Species Behavior: in an abundance of caution the solitary wasp's initial sting is often directed at the prey's jaw muscles

General Comments: P. minorata is active early in the season hunting spiders that have overwintered as adults

Species Identification: sesonality may be the best clue; a very common species active as early as March

Species Behavior: rapid movements with sudden and numerous changes in direction are characteristic of foraging Pompillid

General Comments: mutillids (close relatives of spider wasps) are parasitoid wasps aka velvet ants or "cow killers"

Species Identification: wingless females resemble large red ants with abdominal banding; males wasp-like and black

Species Behavior: females invade active nest sites and lay their eggs on the developing young of other wasps and bees

General Comments: many of the potter or mason wasps (close relatives of social wasps) construct mud nests

Species Identification: E. fraternus is a relatively large, black wasp with white bands and oval-shaped markings

Species Behavior: gathers mud from wet areas adjacent to nest construction site

General Comments: many Chrysis species are cleptoparasites and lay their eggs on the provisioned prey of their host

Species Identification: small, iridescent green or greenish-blue bodies peppered with tiny pits

Species Behavior: often seen nectaring, note the defensive "curled" posture assumed when threatened

General Comments: Scoliid females dig in ground to locate scarab beetle grubs to sting and lay their eggs on

Species Identification: large, hairy species, the rust-red portion of the abdomen shows two bright yellow spots

Species Behavior: small groups of males are sometimes found sleeping at the tips of flowering plants

General Comments: Myzinum wasps parasitize the May beetle (Phyllophaga) scarab

Species Identification: video shows male, females stout with short antennae and overall dark with yellow bands (2nd broken)

Species Behavior: frequently seen nactaring, large aggregations of males may be found sleeping together

General Comments: this is the common aerial (as contrasted with ground nesting) yellowjacket of eastern North America

Species Identification: black with yellow abdominal bands; note that the first and second bands are interrupted by black

Species Behavior: their paper nest is constructed in and on man-made structures as well as on or in trees and shrubs

General Comments: the yellowjackets (although called hornet) that often build their large, oval nest in a tree

Species Identification: stout-bodied black wasps marked with white; male and female marks differ (dimorphic)

Species Behavior: adults are often found nectaring but also capture insect prey to feed pre-chewed to larvae

General Comments: introduced European species recorded in the late 1970s (Massachusetts) now occurring across N.A.

Species Identification: resembling a yellowjacket but note its thin "waist" typical of all paper wasps (Polistes spp.)

Species Behavior: lack of native predators may have accelerated its success; a threat to native wasps, perhaps butterflies

General Comments: adults take nectar and prey on larvae of various moths and butterflies to feed developing young

Species Identification: large, yellow mark on side of thorax, often brick red color throughout, and dark segments of antennae

Species Behavior: males are territorial (unusual in social wasps); nests characteristically built in sheltered locales

General Comments: common native paper wasp abundant and widespread in N.A.; often nests around human habitations

Species Identification: an extremely variable species with numerous forms with diverse colors and patterns

Species Behavior: emerging from hibernation a solitary queen establishes and dominates her colony of 200 or so workers

General Comments: queen V. flavopilosa may usurp the "starter colony" of a closely related species (social parasitism)

Species Identification: thoracic area with pairs of bold, yellow marks; v-shaped pattern of tergum #1

Species Behavior: while most nest sites are subterranean some, as in the video, are aerial

General Comments: the term "pest" reflects a human perspective and this wasp may be the pest at your picnic

Species Identification: tergum (a dorsal segment of abdomen) #1 shows a black triangle within the yellow at center line

Species Behavior: subterranean nests typical but nests may also occur in enclosed areas of various man-made structures

General Comments: wood wasps are symbiotic with a fungus with which they innoculate trees and on which larvae feed

Species Identification: female with two white head spots, white antennal segments, white banded legs

Species Behavior: hosts include a variety of conifers and cedars

General Comments: braconid wasps are parasatoids that often prey on the larvae of beetles, flies, and moths

Species Identification: braconid identification is a matter for experts but see references for useful sources

Species Behavior: many adult braconids transfer immunosuppressants to host larvae as a means to weaken their prey

General Comments: ichneumon wasps may comprise the largest animal family (60,000 - 100,00 species worldwide)

Species Identification: white bands on the apical edge of the abdominal segments - Andy Bennett; common in N.A.

Species Behavior: females typically prey on moth larvae

General Comments: the giant ichneumon wasp, aka "stump stabber," has an ovipositor nearly 4" long

Species Identification: there are four N.A. species of Megarhyssa, M. macrurus and M. greeni are similar

Species Behavior: this and 2 other N.A. Megarhyssa lay their eggs on the larvae of the pigeon horntail (Tremex columba)

General Comments: Ophion spp. are among the common ichneumon wasps of N. A.

Species Identification: pale yellow to reddish-brown with relative long antennae and legs and clear wings

Species Behavior: many are noctunal fliers and often come to artificial lights