Do Digger Wasps Sting? Truth Revealed

Seeing a wasp burrowing in a nest in your garden or yard can be terrifying. But are these digger wasps really dangerous? Do digger wasps sting, and if so, do they do it on purpose? Let’s find out.

With approximately 103,000 species of wasps in the world, it can sometimes be hard to identify which ones can sting, so most people take the safe route and avoid all of them!

When you find a new type of wasp in your garden, it’s only natural to be wary and wonder if it will sting you.

This article will tell you everything about the powerful stingers of digger wasps, whether you should be wary of them, and how to drive unwanted digger wasps away from your home.

Do Digger Wasps Sting? Truth Revealed

What Are Digger Wasps?

Digger wasps get their name from their nesting habit – they build nests by digging into dry dirt. An adult wasp of this type grows up to around 1.5 inches to 2 inches but may sometimes be even bigger.

There are many different subspecies of digger wasps, and they can look quite different from each other.

In North America, you’ll mainly find two types of digger wasps – the blue-winged digger wasp (Scolia dubia) and the great golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus).

The blue-winged digger wasp is unique in its appearance.

The front half of the body is black, while the hind half is reddish-orange, with two bright yellow spots on the abdomen and dark wings.

Great golden digger wasps, on the other hand, have bright amber wings and amber and yellow stripes on their abdomen. Both these species are thread-waisted wasps.

Are Digger Wasps Dangerous?

Although it’s quite common to relate to wasps as dangerous, stinging insects, digger wasps are mostly harmless.

Since they are solitary wasps, they aren’t very territorial and usually don’t attack humans unless threatened. Rather, digger wasps are beneficial insects that can help control the pest population in your garden.

Do Digger Wasps Sting Humans?

The female wasp of this species does have a stinger and is capable of delivering quite a painful sting. However, it’s quite rare for them to sting humans.

As mentioned earlier, they aren’t very aggressive because, unlike social wasps, they don’t have a colony to defend.

Even if you get close to a digger wasp’s nest, it’s unlikely to attack you. However, these wasps might still sting you if you provoke them or make them feel threatened in any way.

Are They Venomous?

Like many solitary wasps, digger wasps carry a paralytic venom that they can deliver through their sting.

They use this venom to paralyze their prey, which is usually caterpillars and other small insects or their larvae.

Next, they lay their eggs on the paralyzed insect and drag it into their nest. They leave it there, sealing the nest behind them.

The wasp larvae hatching from the eggs feed on these live insects to survive and grow.

However, this venom isn’t potent enough to poison humans or cause any major complications. Unless you’re specifically allergic to wasp venom, there’s no reason to worry about it.

Do Digger Wasps Sting? Truth Revealed

Are Digger Wasps Aggressive?

Although female digger wasps can inflict painful stings, they usually aren’t aggressive at all.

While the males are somewhat aggressive and may attack you, they don’t have stingers and can only swarm and ‘dive bomb.’

That said, it is still best to keep your distance from them. After all, you won’t be able to identify a male from a female from afar, and it’s never a good idea to anger them.

Are Digger Wasps Dangerous to Dogs and Other Pets?

If you have pets at home, the presence of wasps can be particularly concerning.

However, digger wasps are as harmless to pets as they’re to humans. Unless attacked, they won’t sting your dog or any other pet.

Great Golden Digger Wasp with prey

How to Find Digger Wasp Nests in Your Garden?

Digger wasp nests look like simple quarter-sized holes in the soil. But that’s actually just the entrance.

They build complex nests with several chambers underneath the soil, about a foot under the ground.

Female wasps cluster their nests together even though they are not social. Usually, there are not more than six in one area.

Although these wasps can dig up to around two feet under the ground, their nests are usually only around six inches deep.

Hence, if you suddenly start noticing such holes in your lawn and have also seen some digger wasps around the house, there’s a high chance that the holes are their nests.

You can usually let these wasps be, but too many holes in an area can damage your lawn by weakening the soil, especially if the wasps have dug a large network of tunnels underneath.

How To Keep Them Away?

If you have digger wasps in your garden, it’s best to leave them be as they’re beneficial predatory insects and kill pests that can damage your plants.

However, if they’re causing too much damage to your lawn or you simply don’t want them in your garden, here’s what you can do.

You need to kill the females and their eggs to keep them away for good. Track down all the nests and mark them during the day.

When the females are back in their nests at night, you can pour some ammonia into the nests.

Watch out for any new nests for the next couple of weeks, as digger wasps usually stick around the same area and may dig new nests if they survive.

Frequently asked questions

Do Great Golden Digger Wasp Sting?

The great golden digger wasps rarely sting humans unless provoked; they use their stingers to inject venom and paralyze their prey.
However, they are capable of delivering painful stingers and can hurt quite a bit if you end up disturbing them. It’s best to keep a safe distance from them.

How do you get rid of digger wasps?

To get rid of digger wasps, find out their nests and pour ammonia into them at night.
This should kill the females and destroy the eggs. If it’s a major infestation and you can’t handle it yourself, you may contact a pest control professional.

What do digger wasps do?

Digger wasps use their strong forelegs to dig nests and build networks of tunnels in the soil. They usually lay one egg in each branch of the tunnel and leave them to hatch.
To ensure food supply for their larvae, the wasps hunt insects like caterpillars, paralyze them and drag them into the nests.

How deep do digger wasps dig?

Different wasps are capable of digging up to more than two or even three feet into the ground.
However, most of their nests are only about six inches deep. They prefer loose and sandy soil that’s easy to burrow into.
The nests have several chambers in them, one for each of their progeny.

Wrapping up

Besides being beneficial predators, adult digger wasps are also good pollinators. In the mature stage of their life cycle, they feed on nectar and help spread pollen.

Although the large size of a digger wasp might make it look intimidating, there’s no need to fear it.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you got all your queries regarding digger wasps answered by now.

Reader Emails

Digger wasps are notorious because of their size, but really they are more bark than bite (or rather sting).

Go through some of the letters from our readers below confirming the same.

Letter 1 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject: what kind of wasp is this?
Location: Kingston,NH
July 27, 2015 11:06 am
I live in NH and saw this bee and thought it looked strange. I’m not sure if they are native to this area but i have been seeing them the past two years. Please, help me identify this bug.
Thank you.
Signature: Wendy

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

Dear Wendy,
The Great Golden Digger Wasp, Sphex ichneumoneus, is native throughout North America and if you have had a sudden increase in populations, we suspect it has something to do with food supplies.  Adult Great Golden Digger Wasps are pollinators, and in our own garden, they are very fond of the flowers of onions, but we have also seen them visit the blossoms of carrots, so we suspect they are also attracted to other plants with umbel blooms.  The female digs a nest that she provisions with paralyzed Katydids, Crickets and other longhorned Orthopterans which provide food for the larvae.  Years when Katydids are especially plentiful will likely result in more Great Golden Digger Wasps.

Letter 2 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject: Long, flying insect with orange wings burrowing in sand
Location: Park Lake beach, Rockaway, NJ
July 14, 2016 9:18 am
Hi
Today on the beach we saw quite a few insects we haven’t noticed before (we were at a different beach). They were long – 2 or 2.5 inches, had orange wings, and were burrowing into holes in the sand. We’d love to know what they are ! (Could only get a picture of the bright orange wings in blurry pictures. The wings didn’t show up in the clearer pics)
Signature: Stephanie Kawalec

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

Dear Stephanie,
The female Great Golden Digger Wasp creates a subterranean nest that she provisions with paralyzed Katydids that will provide fresh meat for her developing brood.  Great Golden Digger Wasps are a solitary species and they are not aggressive toward humans.

Letter 3 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject: What is this flying insect?
Location: Springtown PA
July 21, 2016 2:32 pm
This wasp type is burrowing holes in the dirt around a fig tree. I live in Springtown PA in Bucks County. This photo was taken at 5.25pm on July 21,2016. the temperature outside is 87 degrees.
Can you identify it please. Thank you Renee Sopko
Signature: Renee Sopko

Great Golden Digger Wasp makes nest
Great Golden Digger Wasp makes nest

Dear Renee,
The magnificent Great Golden Digger Wasp is a docile, solitary wasp that poses no threat to humans.  The female excavates a nest and then provisions it with Katydids for her young.  The Great Golden Digger Wasp is found across the continental U.S. and is a frequent visitor to our garden when the onions bloom, though we have yet to see one this year.

Letter 4 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject: Great Golden Digger Wasp
Location: Faribault County, Minnesota
September 24, 2016 11:36 am
Greeting, Awesome WTB Volunteers!
Here’s the photos of the Great Golden Digger Wasp I promised to send. I took these photos that same summer, August 2013, as the Great Black Wasp photos. I did see them both at the same time in my Rain Garden, though never close enough to get them in the same photo!
The detail fascinates me in these photos! The abdomen appears “furrier” than on the Great Black, the mouth pieces are more noticeable, and the legs spikes are definitely prominent. (Yes, I know, I’m using non-scientific jargon; as the saying goes, “I’m not a scientist …”).
Hope these photos help enhance your archives. They are indeed gorgeous gentle giants!
Blessings,
Wanda
Signature: Wanda J. Kothlow

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

Dear Wanda,
We are so thrilled you have solved your problem of submitting your images.  Since they started coming through a few days ago, you have provided our archives with such excellent images.  They are high resolution, perfectly focused and marvelously composed.  These Great Golden Digger Wasp images are amazing.  It is interesting that you are visually comparing the Great Golden Digger Wasp,
Sphex ichneumoneus, to the Great Black Wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus, because they are members of the same genus.

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

Greetings, Daniel!
I’m glad the issue re: sending images is resolved as well. I have photos of several insects I’ve identified through various resources, and many of those might be beneficial additions to your archives. Then I have countless more photos of insects I still need help identifying with which I hope you can assist.
When I saw the Great Golden Digger Wasp I had already seen the Great Black Wasp so my first thought was how similar they were. Having identified the Great Black, I knew where to look for the identification for the Great Golden Digger Wasp. I do enjoy learning and remembering various resources to use as tools. In the case of these two Great Wasps, I had a book I borrowed from the library and the pictures provided the identification. I think you know one of the authors of that book, a Mr. Eric R. Eaton. I believe he provided additional insight into the identification for my Long-Horned Bee submission earlier this summer.
Speaking of which, I think I might have a photo of the male Long-Horned Bee. I’ll take another look to see if the antennae are longer than on the female.
I’ll cull through my photos to see what else I’ve identified that you might be able to add to your growing archives. And of course what I need help identifying.
Blessings to one and all!
Wanda

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

Letter 5 – Great Golden Digger Wasp on Milkweed

 

Subject: What is this feeding on milkweed?
Location: Massachusetts USA
August 11, 2017 7:17 am
What is this insect feeding on milkweed in coastal Massachusetts? Thank you!!!!
Signature: Rob S

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Dear Rob,
Flowers from milkweed are a great source of food for nectaring insects, including this gorgeous Great Golden Digger Wasp.  This is a solitary wasp and it is not aggressive towards humans.  Great Golden Digger Wasps prey on Katydids that the female paralyzes and provides as food for her brood that develops in an underground chamber.

Wow Daniel! Thank you for the ID and the information!
Rob S.

Letter 6 – Great Golden Digger Wasps with prey

 

Subject:  Great Golden Digger Wasps
Geographic location of the bug:  Andover Township, NJ
Date: 07/03/2018
Time: 02:15 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi Daniel,
This is not a question, just a share.  Several days ago, the Great Golden Digger Wasps appeared along our walkway and immediately set about excavating their nest holes.  There was a fair amount of jockeying for position the first day and even a few little skirmishes, but eventually they all got to work.  Today, with nests apparently complete, the whole colony (about a dozen by my count) set out hunting.  Given the docile temperament of these big wasps, I was able to lay right next to several of the nest holes and observe the action up close.  I was interesting to see that one of them came in with what I believe is a Roesel’s Katydid, not a species I’ve counted in my yard before.
Hope you enjoy the photos.
How you want your letter signed:  Deborah

Great Golden Digger Wasp with prey

Dear Deborah,
As always, your images are stunning.  Through the years, you have demonstrated a fondness and appreciation of insects, and we really want to acknowledge that the colony of Great Golden Digger Wasps that nested in your yard is very lucky they chose your property for their home.  We shutter to think what a fearful individual might have done to these docile and beautiful wasps.  For that reason, we are tagging this posting with the Bug Humanitarian Award.  Based on images posted to BugGuide, we concur that the prey in one image appears to be an immature male Roesel’s Katydid.

Female Great Golden Digger Wasp with immature male Roesel’s Katydid prey

Thank you!  I feel very honored!  Discovering the world of insects has been such a wonderful journey for me, and you have helped me so much along the way.

 

Letter 7 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject:  Insect
Geographic location of the bug:  Near Tobermory, ON Canada
Date: 07/15/2018
Time: 11:33 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Could you please identify this insect?  This is the first time we’ve seen one.
Thank you.
How you want your letter signed:  ~R

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Dear ~R,
The solitary Great Golden Digger Wasp is not an aggressive species.  The female excavates a burrow that she provisions with Katydids and other Orthopterans to serve as food for her brood. 

Letter 8 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject:  Wasp
Geographic location of the bug:  Oregon
Date: 08/04/2018
Time: 08:42 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I have a large wasp like flying creature with a black tip bottom and mostly orange.  They hang around my flowering plants.  About 15-20 mm. Long antenna.  Very scary. Never seen before.
How you want your letter signed:  Deb

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Dear Deb,
This is a Great Golden Digger Wasp.  They are not aggressive and they hunt Katydids, not to eat, but to provision the nest for the young.  Adult Great Golden Digger Wasps are vegan pollinators.

Letter 9 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject:  Friend or Foe?
Geographic location of the bug:  Pateros , WA
Date: 08/13/2018
Time: 06:16 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This guy was moving among the flowering herbs at edge of garden this weekend.  He looks formidable with extremely long back legs.   What is he?
How you want your letter signed:  Charlene

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Dear Charlene,
This large, impressive wasp is a Great Golden Digger Wasp, a solitary species that is not aggressive toward humans.  Was it moving among the flowering herbs like it was more interested in the flowers or like it was searching for something?  This is a pollinating species that feed on nectar as an adult, but it is carnivorous, but helpless, as a larva.  The female Great Golden Digger Wasp hunts for Katydids among the foliage and when she locates one, she stings it to paralyze it and then drags it back to her subterranean nest as food for her brood.  We vote “friend.”

Letter 10 – Great Golden Digger Wasp visits What’s That Bug?

 

Subject:  Great Golden Digger Wasp
Geographic location of the bug: Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
Date: 06/15/2021
Time: 6:53 PM PDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Dear Readers,
It has been several years since Daniel has seen a Great Golden Digger Wasp in the garden, but like in years past, they show a preference for blooming onions.  This was an impressive specimen, and Daniel hopes to be able to get a sharper image in the next few days.  There is a healthy Katydid population in Daniel’s garden, so the Great Golden Digger Wasps should have no problem hunting for prey to feed her brood.

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Update:  06/18/2021
The Great Golden Digger Wasp returned to the blooming onion flowers the next afternoon, and Daniel was lucky enough to capture one image with a Honey Bee.  The Honey Bee is a good indication of the size difference between the two insect, with the Great Golden Digger Wasp being about three times the size of the Honey Bee.

Great Golden Digger Wasp and Honey Bee

Update:  06/25/2021
Daniel has been seeing a Great Golden Digger Wasp visiting the onions almost every day and today there were two Great Golden Digger Wasps on one onion flower, but alas, by the time Daniel pulled his magicphone from his pocket and opened the camera app, changing the focal length to 2X to better zoom in, one had flown off.  Daniel was only able to get an image of a solitary Great Golden Digger Wasp.

Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Letter 11 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject:  Orange Wasp
Geographic location of the bug:  Massachusetts
Date: 07/11/2021
Time: 02:14 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Showing up on my milkweed plants. Seems very aggressive against other bees/wasps.
How you want your letter signed:  Vinny

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Dear Vinny,
This is a Great Golden Digger Wasp and Daniel has been posting images of this species from his Los Angeles garden last month where they were nectaring from blooming onions.  The Great Golden Digger Wasp is a solitary wasp and they are not generally aggressive and they do not defend their nests.  The female feeds on nectar and milkweed is a marvelous nectar producing plant.  The female also hunts Katydids which she stings and paralyzes and then drags back to her nest where she lays an egg that will hatch into a helpless larva that will eat the paralyzed Katydid alive.  Great Golden Digger Wasps rarely sting humans, but the sting is likely quite painful.  She will only sting if threatened.  She would much rather save her venom for paralyzing Katydids than warding off predators, so she has aposomatic warning coloration (orange and black) and she moves in a jerky and attention getting manner to warn would be predators to avoid trying to eat or lest they encounter a painful sting to the mouth.

Thank you Daniel. This information will ease our minds in regards to potential bites as they are appearing in large numbers.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

5 thoughts on “Do Digger Wasps Sting? Truth Revealed”

  1. A strikingly large black wasp with smoky-black wings that shine with blue iridescence, the great black wasp is often seen busily eating nectar and pollen from flowers in summertime. The cicada killer might be the scariest-looking wasp in our state.

    Reply
  2. I have been watching one of those for a few days, it’s been ravaging the Gulf Fritalry caterpillars on my Passion Flower vine.

    Reply
    • Great Golden Digger Wasps do not trouble with caterpillars. They are very host specific, though the actual species of Katydid they prefer will vary over their range depending upon what is common locally. We suspect you have been watching an entirely different species of Wasp, like possibly a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes, a group that frequently preys upon caterpillars to provide for their young.

      Reply

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