What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

gigantic bee/ wasp. Makes a hornet look small
July 29, 2009
Hi, heres a good one for you,
I do a lot of macro insect photography and have seen lots of bugs over the years, but after a single sighting whilst on holiday in italy (I’m from the UK) and hours of fruitless internet digging I’ve had no luck identifying this beast.
It had a body length of over 2″ (no kidding!) and distinctive markings (see pictures). It made the local european hornets (plently of them) look small. It spent most of its time on the ground with short flights between plants.
I dont have any extreme closeups since I didnt want my head any closer to it!! Shots with canon 100mm f2.8 macro and 5D MKII.
Hopefully you can shed some light on this!
David Lewis
Tuscany, Italy

Mammoth Wasp

Mammoth Wasp

Hi David,
We have just secured the funding to purchase several Canon 5D cameras for our photography program at LACC.  We were struck by the similarities between your wasp and a North American species, Scolia nobilitata which may be viewed on BugGuide.  Armed with that information, we searched Scolia and Italy and were led to a photo of Scolia flavifrons, the Mammoth Wasp, on TrekNature.  Then we found more images with the name Megascolia maculata flavifrons, obviously a synonym.  Continued searching led ut to the Wildside Holidays website that includes this information:  “This is a very large solitary wasp, the female reaching up to 4.5cm whereas the male is a little smaller. This species appears in warm weather during late May, June, July and August. They hold no danger to humans despite their size and black / yellow warning colours. They feed eagerly on flower nectar and this is the best time to view them.  The larger female can be told apart by her yellow face and short antennae. The male has a black head and longer antennae. Both have two yellow bands on their abdomens which can sometimes be divided to form 4 spots, which is more evident on the female in these pictures.  You may see several of these wasps flying around decaying tree stumps, they have a purpose here. They are searching for larvae of a particular beetle. Inside the rotten wood may be young of the Rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes nasicornis) [See image below]. The female Mammoth wasp once she has discovered the huge larvae will sting one to paralyze it and then lay her egg on the outer skin. On hatching, the larvae of the Mammoth wasp will eat into its host thereby killing it. The larva of the wasp then creates a cocoon near to the meal remains. It will stay in this cocoon over winter and hatch out once the spring weather warms sufficiently.
”  Because of the yellow face, your specimen is a female.

Mammoth Wasp

Mammoth Wasp

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

6 Responses to Mammoth Wasp from Italy

  1. gordon chapple says:

    Last year we were staying in a flat overlooking Lake Como in Italy. As we were enjoying the view and a number of strange looking wasps approached and we soon saw that they were nest building about half a metre from us. They were slightly larger than the British wasp, but the one thing that really made them different was that they had two long tendrils that hung down and was as long as the whole body of the wasp. My wife put her hand up to swat one of them away and was instantly stung as she came into contact with the wasp. We wondered if the tendrils were some kind of touch stinger as there was no prolonged contact. They appeared an aggressive kind of wasp. The effects of the sting lasted for many days. I can find no picture of this wasp and regretfully I didn’t take any pictures of the wasp despite having many opportunities. Can you help please?

    • bugman says:

      We have no idea at this time, and without a photo, any identification will be difficult.

    • gerald smith says:

      Hi Gordon
      As someone who lives in Italy, not far from Lake Como, I recognize your description well. What you observed is probably a Paper Wasp; and almost certainly Polistes dominula, the European Paper Wasp. In my house, they build their nests under the eaves of our outdoor balconies: this would appear to be a good match for your location description.

      By the way, I arrived on this page while researching the Mammoth Wasp Megascolia maculata flavifrons. I just found one of these in my garden for the first time, and I take it as an ill omen of global warming: Mammoth Wasps occupy Mediterranean habitats, and my area is supposed to be sub-Mediterranean, with winter frosts – which we haven’t had for 2 winters in a row.

  2. Santino says:

    I went to tuscany, italy when i was ia kid and come access the same large wasps. My friends family i was travelling with callled the wasps ‘Apperliornas’

  3. Bob says:

    I just returned from Venice where there was a nest of these Mammoth Wasp in the public park. They didn’t seem to bother anyone, even the pigeons seemed to ignore them. They intrigued me because of there size. Cool looking.

  4. Dave Dunker says:

    I just stamped on one of these as it looked a bit dodgy

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