Great Black Wasps – All You Need to Know

The great black wasps are the gentle giants of the wasp kingdom. While their size is intimidating to humans, they are not big stingers and are almost completely harmless to us. Know all about these beautiful wasps in the article below

All black bug species that look like a wasp are scary, thanks to the reputation of wasps as stinging insects. Some particularly nasty ones include yellow jackets and similar social wasps.

However, wasps are a diverse group of insects, with more than 18,000 species in North America alone. Besides the fact that not all wasp species are aggressive, many of them can also be beneficial.

If you’re worried about the great black wasp or simply want to learn more about this species, this article is for you.

Great Black Wasps
Great Black Wasp and Katydid prey

What Are Great Black Wasps?

Quite common in North America, the great black wasp is one of the digger wasp species. As you can guess, they earn their name from their appearance.

While the name sounds like a general description and might seem fitting for all black hornet-looking bug types, great black wasps are distinctive. These wasps grow up to 1 to 1.3 inches long.

Female great black wasps are larger than the males and possess stingers that they use to paralyze their prey. Let us explore more about the appearance of great black wasps below.

What Do Great Black Wasps Look Like?

As mentioned earlier, great black wasps are much bigger than your average wasp. Unlike most wasp species, they’re completely black and devoid of any stripes or special markings.

Their wings are shiny and give off a blue iridescence. Apart from this unique appearance, they share various features common among other wasps as well.

These include compound eyes, segmented antennae, and tiny, pinched waists. Great black wasps have strong mandibles for chewing, and their bodies are covered in hairs that help in pollination.

Great Black Wasp

Where Do Great Black Wasps Live?

Great black wasps are spread across North America and almost the entirety of the US apart from the Pacific Northwest. You can find plenty of great black wasps in Mexico and some parts of Canada, such as Ontario and Quebec.

However, don’t mistake all black wasp Ontario species as great black wasps – mud dauber wasps are also black and are common in Canada.

You can usually find great black wasps buzzing around near flowering plants in July and August. They’re a solitary wasp species, i.e., they don’t live in large colonies.

Instead, they dig individual nests in the ground to lay eggs.

What Do They Eat?

Adult great black wasps primarily feed on nectar, which is why you’ll find them in flowering gardens, as I mentioned earlier.

This also makes them excellent pollinators, with the fine hairs on their bodies helping transport pollen from one flower to another.

The larvae, however, are insectivorous. Before laying eggs, adult female great black wasps prey on fleshy insects like katydids, grasshoppers, locusts, etc.

They paralyze the prey and drag them into the next, before laying eggs underneath them or in their stomachs.

Until the larval wasps are large enough to leave the nest, they feed on the paralyzed prey.

Great Black Wasp

What Is The Lifecycle of Great Black Wasps?

As you know by now, the great black wasps are a parasitic wasp species that hunt insects specifically to help their larvae survive. Here’s a more detailed overview of their life cycle.

  • Egg: The egg of a great black wasp is up to 0.24 inches long and 0.04 inches wide. The females glue them on the underside of prey insects. They usually create multiple chambers in their nests, leaving one egg and several paralyzed insects in each chamber.
  • Larvae: The larval stage of great black wasps lasts about ten days. Their larvae don’t have to start hunting after they hatch, thanks to the paralyzed prey already provided in the nest. Feeding on these insects, they grow through the molting stages. A fully grown great black wasp larva is around 1.2 inches to 1.4 inches long.
  • Pupae: At the end of fall, the fully-developed larvae develop into the pupal stage. They survive the cold winter by overwintering in their burrows as pupae.
  • Adults: The overwintering great black wasps become active again in the following summer. It’s around this time of the year that they find plenty of nectar to feed on and ample prey to hunt for the next generation. Ultimately, they mate and the cycle repeats.

Where Do They Lay Eggs?

Great black wasps lay their eggs in underground nests that they create by burrowing into the soil. Each next may contain several eggs placed in different chambers.

Adult females hunt prey insects and paralyze them by stinging them thrice – once in the neck and twice in the thorax.

The paralyzed prey is then dragged into the nest, and an egg is planted on the underside of their abdomen.

Do They Bite or Sting?

Great black wasps can sting you if they feel threatened or aggravated. Although their sting doesn’t hurt as much as the sting of a tarantula hawk wasp, it’s still very painful.

Thankfully, only the females have stingers, and the chances of getting stung are low as they’re solitary wasps.

Are They Poisonous or Venomous?

The great black wasp is capable of delivering paralytic venom while stinging.

While the venom is potent enough to keep their prey paralyzed for weeks, it doesn’t have much effect on humans.

However, in case you’re allergic to insect stings, it can potentially trigger strong allergic reactions.

Are They Harmful to Humans as Pests?

Great black wasps are far from being harmful pests. Rather, they’re quite the opposite – these beneficial wasps help keep pest populations low.

A single adult female can prey on up to 16 plant-feeding pests every day. Besides being an effective natural predator, these wasps are also great pollinators for carrot, bean, and milkweed family plants.

Great Black Wasp

Can They Come Inside Homes?

While great black wasps can accidentally fly into your home, they have no reason to do it on purpose.

Their main food source is nectar, which they’d find outdoors. The same goes for the insects they prey on for their larvae.

As they are digger wasps and burrow in the soil, you need not worry about great black wasps building nests in your home either.

What Are great black wasps Attracted To?

Adult great black wasps usually hang around flowering plants with nectar for them to feed on. They’re especially attracted to sweet clover, goldenrod, milkweed, and thoroughwort plants.

If you’re trying to attract great black wasps for natural pest control, adding these plants to your garden can help.

How To Get Rid of great black wasps?

There’s no need to get rid of great black wasps as they’re solitary wasps and don’t infest in large numbers.

Besides, while their sting is painful, you’re unlikely to get stung by them unless you try to handle them. If you still want them off your garden, try the following solutions:

  • Remove their food source: This is the most humane way to do it as it’ll get rid of the wasps without hurting them.
  • Non-insecticidal sprays: You can use non-insecticidal sprays to get eliminate great black wasps. Essential oils like, clove oil, lemon oil, or peppermint oil work too.
  • Treat the nests: If you find a great black wasp nest on your property, you may either drench it with an insecticidal spray or dust it with powdered insecticides.
Great Black Wasp

Interesting Facts About great black wasps

Now that we’ve covered most of the important details about great black wasps, here are a few interesting facts that you might enjoy learning about:

  • Once the eggs have hatched, and the nest is full of developing larvae, the females often shut off the tunnel. They do this to keep out parasites or other insects that might enter to steal the larvae’s food. While they sometimes simply use a pebble or a small twig to seal the entrance, they can also tamp down the soil by vibrating their abdomens.
  • When carrying their prey to the nest, great black wasps lay vulnerable to predators. In many cases, birds steal the prey captured by these wasps.
  • Despite their scary appearance, great black wasps are relatively harmless and don’t display the aggressive defensive behavior associated with wasps and hornets.

Wrapping up

The next time you see a big black bug with blue wings that looks like a wasp, there’s no need to panic.

If it’s a great black wasp, it won’t attack or harm you in any way as long as you leave it alone.

Since these wasps do not have a stinger, they won’t harm you as much as other stinging wasps do.

Besides, they’re good to have in your garden anyway, both for pollination and pest control.

In case you’re allergic to insect stings and don’t want them around, you may follow the solutions we mentioned to get rid of them.

Hopefully, you found this article helpful, and thank you for reading it!

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