Great Black Wasps – All You Need to Know

folder_openHymenoptera, Insecta
comment6 Comments

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!

Reader Emails

8247

Letter 1 – Great Black Wasp

 

Blue sand digging wasp? Hi there bug guys. I am from Ontario, Canada and was out in my driveway yesterday and noticed this blue waspy looking bug digging in a pile of sand. It was quite a sight. He would go in and appear a moment later with a ball of sand under him, which he would then shove out from underneath himself before going right back at it again. He was a pretty little bug too. Shiny blue wings on an almost ant like body. I was wondering if you would be able to identify him for me and maybe explain what he was doing digging so ferociously in the sand as he was. Thanks so much, Sarah Hi Sarah, When your Cricket Hunter, Chlorion aerarium, finishes her nest, she will provision it with paralyzed crickets and related insects and lay her eggs. You can look at BugGuide and the Cricket Hunter Wasp page for more information on these digging wasps. Correction: (08/01/2008) Daniel: The cricket hunter wasp from Ontario is actually the “great black wasp,” Sphex pennsylvanicus, most likely. Hard to definitively exclude Podalonia, but I am quite certain it is that Sphex species. She’ll bring katydids, not crickets, back to the burrow. Eric

Letter 2 – Great Black Wasp

 

Subject: Great Black Wasp Location: Faribault County, Minnesota September 21, 2016 3:09 pm Greetings, Daniel et al! To test whether or not my queries can get through as successful submissions, I’m sending photos I’ve identified as a Great Black Wasp. These photos were taken in my Rain Garden way back in August of 2013. I was so excited the first time I saw this magnificent creature! I did not know what it was and called it a giant flying ant and tried to do some research. I eventually figured out it was a Great Black Wasp. My first photos were blurry and off center so I kept hoping I would see it again to take more pictures. The milkweed in my garden proved irresistible and the wasp did return allowing me to get these better photos. I’ve seen the Great Black Wasp each summer since then, though not as frequently. I was gone much of Summer 2015 and this year the humidity has kept me out of the garden more than I like. These photos are slightly smaller in size than the others I’ve been trying to send through without success. Does this site have a limit to submission size? Maybe that is my issue … Blessings to all, Signature: Wanda J. Kothlow
Great Black Wasp
Great Black Wasp
Wow Wanda, Your images of a Great Black Wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus, are absolutely gorgeous.  We wonder if your problem was related to huge file size.  The detail on these images is phenomenal, even after we reduced them to a web friendly size.  According to BugGuide:  “Provision nests (in burrow in soft earth) with Katydids or grasshoppers. (Univ. Florida lists: Tettigoniidae in genera Microcentrum and Scudderia.) Usually about three are placed in a nest.”
Great Black Wasp
Great Black Wasp
Hi Daniel, Thank you! The Great Black Wasp photos I sent went through just fine, so what you received is “my original” in all its glory. The combined total in size for the Great Black Wasp was just under 6 MB. The Long-Horned Bee submission earlier this summer was closer to 7.5 MB. For my future submissions I’ll check file sizes. If need be, I’ll compress them to keep my combined total submission size under 8 MB. I was hoping you would like the photos of the Great Black Wasp. I thought you would like to add them to your photo archives. I truly was excited to see this creature; when feeding on the milkweed the Great Black is quite a sight to behold, almost mesmerizing! I have some fine photos of the Great Golden Digger Wasp as well which I can send. Both large wasps really are gentle giants. All of the insects I’ve encountered in my garden have proven to be non-aggressive toward humans, so I have been using that reality as an opportunity to educate the residents here at the apartments. My photos help make the point quite nicely. “Aren’t you afraid of getting stung?” they ask. “Nope,” I reply. “In all my years of gardening I’ve never had an issue with any of the wasps, flies, or bees I find on my plants or in the earth. They do their thing, I do my thing, and we get along just fine.” Blessings, Daniel! Wanda J. Kothlow
Great Black Wasp
Great Black Wasp

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Great Black Wasp

 

What is this bug?
I have hordes of this bug nesting in my patio which is made of stone blocks. They are going in the cracks and are huge! They never bother us but I am concerned that they could be destructive in some way. I have seen them taking green “grasshoppers” in with them. Sometimes they hover over the cracks between the patio tiles and then lower themselves into the ground. The one in the picture is about 1.25” long but I have seen smaller ones also. I forgot to tell you I live in Michigan and we have been seeing this bug for a good month or two. My dog keeps chasing them and occasionally catches one. They don’t seem to try and go after him when he antagonizes them. If it is a common flying insect, is there some kind of "bug killer" that won’t be harmful to my dog?
Thanks in advance,
Sherry Obershea



Hi Sherry,
You killed Sphex pennsylvanica, the Great Black Wasp. They are hunters of katydids, and they nest singly in burrows in the soil, not in mud nests. They are very non-aggressive. They are actually beneficial in keeping the destructive insect population down. You should learn to coexist.

Authors

  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: Great Black Wasps

Related Posts

6 Comments. Leave new

  • I think I have a nest of these, under a shingle in my roof. Somehow lone ones always come in my room. Help?

    Reply
  • Sarah Cecilie
    July 27, 2014 1:03 pm

    I looked up the black wasps because we have a lot of them around our boat (on land in our yard). They stay in that area and don’t bother us at all.
    I was wondering why all of a sudden we see them this year, and do they sting?
    Not wanting to get rud if them if they’re harmless.

    Reply
    • Solitary Wasps like the Great Black Wasp may sting if carelessly handled, but they are not aggressive in the same manner as social wasps. Unlike Social Wasps, Solitary Wasps do not sting to protect the nest or young.

      Reply
  • Found one yesterday insa B.C. Cxanada

    Reply
  • Found a black wasp yesterday in Wasa B.C. !

    Reply
  • This summer I tried to get one out of the cottage in the Madawaska Valley…gently, it stung me. Then I got it..it died…had nerve seen one there before… sting was quite nasty! Are they moving further north? Damn…just wanted to get it outside. Bite me this is what happens!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

keyboard_arrow_up