Great Black Wasp (Family Sphecidae)

The Great Black Wasp (GBW) is decorated at one end by heavy-duty mandibles that allow her to hang onto her prey and, toward the other end, by a narrow constriction/stalk at the top of a stinger-tipped abdomen. GBWs appear in mid-to-late summer, in fields and meadows throughout the U.S. except the Pacific Northwest. The wasp is also called the Katydid Hunter and Steel-blue Cricket Hunter.

Tiphiid Wasp (Family Tiphiidae)

These lovely Tiphiid wasps sipping nectar on goldenrods and other prairie wildflowers and doing a bit of pollinating on the side. Some species of tiphiids have been imported to combat Japanese beetles and other pest scarabs. The female doesn’t bring food to her egg; she brings her egg to food. When the female wasp locates a grub in the ground, she lays an egg on/near it. Some smaller tiphiids actually crawl underground to accomplish this. Although the adults are vegetarians, their offspring are confirmed carnivores.

American Pelecinid Wasp (Family Pelecinidae)

American Pelecinid Wasps are relatively common from Argentina through Canada, in woodlands, grasslands and gardens, from mid-summer to early fall. APWs are whip-thin, shiny, and black, with extra long antennae. A female may measure almost 2 ½ inches long, and her abdomen is five times the length of the rest of her body; males are only about an inch long. The diet of adult APWs is nectar, perhaps supplemented by some pollen and water. Their larvae follow the parasitoid path.

Cuckoo Wasp (Family Chrysididae)

Cuckoo Wasps are found worldwide except in Antarctica. There are about 230 species north of the Rio Grande, and California is especially cuckoo-wasp-rich. The name refers to their habit of depositing their eggs in other insects’ nests; a strategy practiced by birds like the Old World Cuckoos. The larvae of some species of cuckoo wasps feed on the larvae of the nest-builder, usually another wasp, a bee, a silk moth or a walking stick.

Pigeon Horntail (Family Siricidae)

Horntails are often called “wood wasps,” probably because their eggs are laid in wood, and their young spend both their larval and pupal stages there. Horntails practice “complete metamorphosis,” going through an egg stage, a larval (eating) stage and a pupal (resting/changing) stage before emerging as a very different-looking adult.

German Yellowjacket (Family Vespidae)

German Yellowjackets (GYJs) are European wasps that arrived in the northeastern U.S. in the early 1970’s and in Wisconsin a few years later and are clearly marked by nature’s warning colors, yellow and black. Their nests are started in spring by a queen who has spent the winter sheltered in a crevice, leaf pile, or building. She chews plant material, mixes this cellulose with saliva, forms it into nest and nursery, and starts laying eggs. When the first workers emerge, they enlarge the nest, care for the larvae and queen.

Potter/Jug-builder Wasp (Family Vespidae)

Most wasps live solitary lives, and when the time comes to lay eggs, they build a variety of types of nursery chambers, provision them with food for their potential young. This small, black mud dauber, also called the Jug Builder Wasp, throws a pot the shape of a small (about ½ inch) jug. She commonly builds several jugs in a row on a small branch, finding and transporting, one by one, small globs of mud.

Great Golden Digger Wasp (Family Sphecidae)

Great Golden Diggers Wasps are identified by the golden pubescence on its head and thorax, its reddish orange legs, and partly reddish orange body. GGDWs make vertical tunnels, constructing several cells at the end of each tunnel. Then they go hunting—katydids and crickets are favorite prey; a wasp that is big enough to hunt, sting and paralyze, and fly off with a katydid is a sizeable wasp.

Ichneumon Wasp (Family Ichneumonidae)

Ichneumon wasps are members of a large and very confusing family with over 3,000 species north of Mexico. Ichneumons frequently have a white or yellow band on their antennae and they may be “twitchy.” Some ichneumons have impressive-looking “stingers,” which are actually ovipositers. Ichneumons lay their eggs on moth or butterfly caterpillars or in the larvae of their distant relatives. The adults drink nectar and water.

Paper Wasps and Hornets (Family Vespidae)

Paper wasps chew on pieces of cellulose (bark, paper, etc), mix them with saliva, and spit out paper. The queen starts the nest, laying down the first cells and caring for the first brood of workers. When they mature, the queen retires to a life of egg-laying leisure, and the workers care for her, make hive cells, maintain the inner and outer walls of the nest, and forage for insects and pollen.