great black wasps and other fearsome beasts

* Yes, second post for today, but we’ve got a long week-end coming up and I may be skipping out of here quite a bit over the next 3 or 4 days. This will be something to fill the gap ~

A new feature has been added to Pbase, the host where I’ve maintained online galleries of my nature photography since October 2002. It’s now possible to see which of your photos and galleries have been the most popular and received the most views over the previous 30 days. As it turns out, at the moment, my Wasps & Hornets gallery is at the top of the heap. In just the past 3 days, the gallery has received over 650 views. Of individual photos, the most popular of all seems to be this Great Black Wasp (Sphex pennsylvanicus), which generally gets looked at about 20 times a day.

Also of some interest is that the Wasps & Hornet gallery receives quite a few comments compared to most of my other insect galleries. Usually, the comment includes a description of a wasp, bee, or hornet, and a request for a possible identification. Here are a few examples:

* I am trying to ID a wasp or hornet. They are large ( appx. 2 inches ), brilliant yellow, no black, wings are yellow. They constantly land in my pool and fly away. I have viewed many sites with many photos, but none of what I am looking for. Can you point me in the right direction? I live in Phoenix AZ if that helps. – Dwayne

* hi there, im trying to identy a wasp that is deep golden in colr about an inch or longer ugly looking thing, leaves a big red spot where sting is and leaves a very big red area around it , i veiwed your pics but didnt see anything like it,plz e-mail me if u have pics or send me to a site that may have it , ty very much for your time. – Debra

* I am trying to find out about a very large hornet or wasp They are in the Jacksonville Fl. area and are the largest thing I have ever seen They are mostly black with a little brown on the body the heads and stingers are almost the size of a q-tip point. They sting with a lot of intensitiy.. Never saw anything like this. – Carole

* I’ve been havin a heck of a time identifying a colony of wasps that moved into our neighbourhood. These guys are really cool. Thing is that their base of operations seems to be inside a crack in the siding and roof of the house. They are all jet black, approx. 2 – 2.5 cm in length, long segmented bodies and have no hair. Their wings are also black. They are pretty much chasing other yellow and black wasps away from their nests and have a territory spanning at least 3 backyards.

Last night, I received a particularly interesting comment posted beneath the Great Black Wasp photo (go to the page and scroll down to the comment posted by Bonnie). Sounds like this encounter has all the makings of a Hitchcock movie.

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13 Responses to “great black wasps and other fearsome beasts”

  1. Wayne Says:

    Nice Sphex! What long back legs! It really does look like it’s been painted a flat black – very dramatic. Who needs black helicopters when you have this?

    That’s a neat feature of Pbase that you describe, Bev. I should check that out.

  2. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – The legs are extremely long and the wasp was using them almost like grappling hooks as it moved over the flowers. The insect is so heavy that it needs to be fastened to at least two or three different flower clusters or it would flip over.

  3. robin andrea Says:

    I just read that comment from bonnie. Yikes. That is a very scary encounter. Although she wrote about it with such humor, I was laughing out loud.

    What a great looking wasp. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one all black like that. Very cool.

    I’m glad that when I ask you to help us ID something, we send a photo. I can’t imagine how I would have described Pale Beauty to you so that you would have been able to ID it. Ijust don’t think it’s possible. Is it?

  4. burning silo Says:

    Robin – I’d never seen a wasp like that before either. As mentioned in my notes that accompanied the photo, I could actually see it rummaging around in the flowers from quite a distance. I thought it was more than one insect!
    As for IDing insects, at the very least, a photo is almost always necessary just to figure out what you’re looking at as there are so many insects that resemble other insects, that you can be led astray so easily. The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) is a good example. Sort of looks like both a Hummingbird or a very large bee, but it’s a moth. I suspect that some of the “bees” that people ask me about are actually these moths. Anyhow, a good photo is a good starting point. Other very helpful clues are the kind of plants the insect was sitting on or visiting, the locale, and the date as so many insects just emerge within a very short part of the season and are then gone. However, even with all of those bits of info, even a good entomologist often can’t ID a species without having the insect to examine (A good example being some species of Dragonflies).

  5. Smitty Says:

    Hi was looking at the pictures and i think i have these nasty creatures, the Great Black Wasp. Huge! They have been carrying dry grass up to the windows (they are closed but enough space for them to get under) and when I open the windows there is one or two large white larvae and a whole bunch of tiny wasp like things but only of light green colour. Does that sound right or do I have something else? Its horrible I can’t get rid of them..I will try to get a picture but to date have only thought of killing them…

  6. burning silo Says:

    Smitty – Yes, it’s possible that it’s the same insect. I don’t know if they usually nest in buildings. I’ve heard of them nesting in holes in the earth, but they may behave differently depending on region. Here are a couple of links to articles on Sphex wasps. This is a general article on Wikipedia. There’s also this newsletter from the Vermont Entomological Society which has some good info. Go to Page 8 — “Notes from the Kingdom” by Don Miller and read the section below “Hymenoptera”. It’s all about nesting Sphex pennsylvanicus. As you’ll find in both references, these big wasps capture katydids, crickets and other insects, paralyze them, and carry them to their larvae. Hope some of the info is useful.

  7. Elen J Says:

    Just yesterday I saw these same wasps feeding on my oregano flower tops. I live in West Michigan and this is the first time I can ever recall seeing these huge guys. Their wings a shiny deep blue black. I almost thought one was a hummingbird at first. Further research finds these not to be aggresive and not tree nesters.

  8. Andy C Says:

    I visited Thailand (area near to Sattahip) with a local Scout Group this time last year, as the UK contingent of the 25th Asia-Pacific Regional Jamboree. Whilst we were off on a tiny island scuba-diving, one of the Scouts spotted one of these creatures – between 1 and 1.5 inches long, it was burrowing into the soft sand around the base of a tree.

    We watched it for a while and it was very methodically goinging into the hole forwards, then dragging the dirt out behind it and using it to form a U-shaped “trench” in front of the entrance – a very defendable position if you had a rifle, but i digress.

    It was all new and impressive to me, but when the Scout approached it to take a closer picture, it stopped it’s digging, turned to face him and then with a vertical take off a Harrier Jet would’ve been proud of, rose to his eye level and stopped. Just hovered there looking like it was staring the lad out :D

    He backed down, the wasp sunk back to the floor and carried on with it’s home improvements. Stunning for me to see nature at work, when i’m so used to the British woodlice, moths and moneyspiders :D

  9. burning silo Says:

    Andy – Great story about the wasp! I can see it perfectly in my mind’s eye as most of these large wasps are very observant and will interact with humans – and I don’t just mean by stinging, etc… They will watch and then return to their work if they decide they aren’t threatened. Must have been a great experience for the Scouts (and you) to become acquainted with some of the local natural history.

  10. Bertabugnu Says:

    We found this Huge Wasp in The High Desert of California. must of felt threatened because it was trying to attack us. My son killed it. had to share how huge this was!

  11. Bertabugnu Says:

    Sorry hit wrong button lol it was about 2 1/2 inches long biggest one weve ever seen!

  12. bev Says:

    Hi Bert – Interesting behaviour for the wasp. That does sound like a large wasp. I’m not familiar with the species that might be found in the high desert. Elsewhere, I’d probably say it might be a Cicada Killer wasp, but I’m not sure that you’d find them in that type of habitat. Thanks for leaving a note. It’s always interesting to read about the insects that people encounter.

  13. Sprayer Says:

    I got stung by one the other day, I sprayed it with oc pepper spray afterwards it wasnt a happy camper.