If you see a large wasp in your garden, it is natural to be afraid. In this article, we explore how to get rid of spider wasps and whether you should even try to do it.
If you are scared of giant flying insects, then you should take cover before a spider wasp starts chasing you around!
One of the more common nectar-feeding insects in your garden, spider wasps, are black and golden in appearance.
These insects are one of the approximately 5,000 species of wasps. If you are scared of giant insects, you should take cover before a spider wasp starts chasing you around.
In this article, let us learn more about these wasps and how you can get rid of them.
What are Spider Wasps?
Spider wasps belong to the family Pompilidae, similar to yellow jacket hornets.
They are black wasps, sometimes with orange stripes on their abdomen. You can easily identify these spider-hunting wasps by their wings which are dark orange in color.
The wasps have large hind legs, and they use their short front legs to dig holes in the soil.
One of the most famous species of spider wasp is the “tarantula hawk,” which preys on tarantulas almost twice their own size.
Most spider wasps live in the United States and some in South America. The largest species has the name Matacaballos or “horse-killer.”
Are Spider Wasps Harmful?
Spider wasps are both harmful and beneficial in some ways. The sting of spider wasps is one of the most painful stings in the world.
It can cause severe swelling and pain, which might last for a few hours.
On the other hand, they control the spider population in your garden and protect your plants from them. They are also pollinators who help spread pollen far and wide.
Spider Wasp Stings
If they feel threatened in their natural environment, spider wasps will sting! However, usually, they are nonaggressive insects.
These wasps are solitary in nature, so they don’t have any colonies to protect, which is why they aren’t as aggressive as yellow jackets or other wasps.
Their sting can be very painful, but it is not too much to worry about. They are not poisonous to humans, so the swelling or redness is likely to recover by itself in a few days.
However, in case of an allergic reaction, you should seek immediate medical attention.
While we are on the subject of wasp stings, the best thing idea is to keep away from these winged threats, especially if you encounter a tarantula hawk.
Tarantula hawk wasps cause the world’s second deadliest sting. It is blindingly and excruciatingly painful, leaving the human nothing writhing and screaming in pain.
Don’t believe us? Watch for yourself.
Damage To The Yard
Female wasps make their nests in the soil. They create tiny holes in the ground where they lay their eggs.
While these may cause some damage to the soil, it is not something to be worried about much.
Spider wasps are mostly beneficial insects because they control spiders in the garden.
They are not social wasps, so they do not colonize areas of the garden; hence there is no risk of an infestation.
It is probably not necessary to control their population if you only have one or two of them in your garden because this solitary insect is probably doing more good than harm.
Are They Aggressive?
Spider wasps are solitary wasps who are not aggressive by nature. But like any other creature, they will sting if you threaten them.
As long as you maintain your distance, these wasps are not aggressive.
How To Control Spider Wasps
If you are trying to control spider wasps in your garden, here are some things you can do:
First of all, try to spray water throughout the garden with a hose. The water turns the soil muddy, and these wasps don’t like to make nests in muddy soil.
Do not use pesticides on spider wasps because the deposits can harm other beneficial insects like honeybees, who may carry them back to their hives.
If a spider wasp makes its way into your house, there is nothing much to do except let it find its way out.
You could try swatting them with a shoe or fly-swatter, but make sure to run away at the first sign of trouble.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where do spider wasps nest?
Spider wasps nest in the ground. The female spider wasp digs a small hole, lays eggs, and then seals the nest with a pebble or sand.
Spider wasps are solitary and do not live in colonies like other wasps.
They usually make their nests in soil, rotten wood, tree trunks, or crevices in rocks.
Are spider wasps beneficial?
Spider wasps are beneficial insects since they hunt spiders and keep them away from plants.
Normally, these wasps live a quiet, solitary life in the garden and do not require any kind of pest control.
These wasps aren’t garden pests since they feed on the nectar from flowers and are excellent pollinators as well.
How painful is a spider wasp sting?
Even though scientists around the world have studied
the pain from wasps stings, it is still a matter of perception.
The most common pain reaction of a spider wasp sting has been described as excruciating, causing instant pain to the victim.
However, once it is taken care of with ice or an ointment, the swelling will go down in a few hours.
Where do wasp spiders live?
Common spider wasp species are native creatures of North America and are one of the most common garden insects.
These wasps live among flowers and plants, hovering around them and hunting for prey. They nest in the soil, on rotten trees and cracks that they find.
Spider wasps might not be your favorite thing to encounter in the garden, but they can be your friends.
These wasps help in pollination and keep your plants safe by killing off unwanted spiders.
Control of the wasps may be important for your safety, but if it’s only one or two wasps, you might not have to do anything about it since they are not aggressive.
Thank you for reading!
Spider wasps leave behind pain and suffering in their wake! Well, not quite, but its best not to have them around if you have pets and children in your home.
Lots of our readers who have spotted them in their homes have asked us to identify these bugs and what to do about them.
Please read some of these letters below!
Letter 1 – Tarantula Hawk and Sand Wasp from Puerto Rico
Spider wasp, also from Vieques
Hi LA and D,
Here’s a spider wasp (Tachypompilus ignitus) that we also came across on Vieques last month. They are seen flying all over the island, looking in flight like hefty, slower dragonflies. No questions this time; just an image to share. Any luck with that thick-waisted wasp/bee/robber fly guy below? …we’re also including a much closer crop of the beach wasp photo that we sent
the same day.
Jim and Sandy
|Spider Wasp||Sand Wasp|
Hi Jim and Sandy,
Thanks for sending us your Spider Wasp image taken in Puerto Rico. The other wasp is a Sand Wasp, also known as a Digger Wasp, in the genus Bembix. Sand Wasps nest in shallow tubes and the female supplies the larvae with flies and other insects. Your photo shows her dragging a fly into the nest.
Corrections: The following corrections were provided by Eric Eaton (02/12/2007)
“The spider wasp from Puerto Rico is almost certainly a species of Pepsis, NOT Tachypompilus….the sand wasp is possibly not a Bembix species, either, but I don’t think you can tell conclusively from images alone… Eric” This correction would mean that the Spider Wasp is one of the Tarantula Hawks.
Letter 2 – South African Spider Wasp: Tarantula Hawk???
Mon, Mar 2, 2009 at 6:42 AM
Location: South Africa, Western Cape, Near Malmesbury (Swartland, West Coast)
Weather: 38 Degrees Celsius in the shade, 44 in the sun. No wind. No clouds.
Looks: It has the typical wasp body, only much more bulky as opposed to slender, its really HUGE! Probably 5-6cm when straight. The whole body is black. The tentacles (or radars, what ever it might be called) are dark orange about 1mm thick and spirals once. The eyes are about 3mm wide. The wings and legs are also the same dark orange as the tentacles. The stinger, when pushed out fully is probably about 8mm long, very thin and curves slightly (it looks as it might be a very painful sting). The wasp did seem kind of clumsy. It made a lot of noise when flying. Wingspan, probably about 3.5-4cm. That’s it, I think.
I’ve lived in the western cape and have never seen a WASP come even close to the size of this big boy.
South Africa, West Coast
This is a Spider Wasp in the family Pompilidae. It bears an uncanny resemblance to a North American Tarantula Hawk in the genus Pepsis. According to Wikipedia, there are Tarantula Hawks in Africa. The sting of a female Tarantula Hawk is reported to be one of the most painful of all wasp stings.
Letter 3 – Spider Wasp: Entypus unifasciatus
KY: Black wasp with showy yellow antennae
August 26, 2009
This wasp has been around my house for the past few weeks, but its the first time I’ve ever seen this species anywhere. It looks significantly larger than the common red wasp here. Reminds me of a tarantula hawk but maybe slightly smaller. I looked through pictures of the local spider wasps but couldn’t find a match–looks more similar to that one from Australia except the wings look darker. Has very quick, jerky movement and exhibits wing shaking or flickering. It appears to be foraging for possibly other insects the way it is crawling all over these vines in the picture. It is very aggressive and has chased and pursued me hundreds of yards–so I’m lucky to have finally snapped these pictures at a safe distance. Body is completely black, Wings are black and s hiny with brown terminal ends, and the antennae are slightly mustard yellow and can curl. The passionflower with the posterior view is exactly 1″ from base to top (excluding the spikes on top of the bud) for scale, but I can’t tell if the wasp is forshortened by perspective due to its angle because it “looks” longer than that to me. It’s a different bud than the one with the side view of the wasp–I wasn’t able to find that bud again.
I’m not too crazy about this thing because of its aggressiveness, but I’d like to know more. If it is invasive or dangerous I might try to eradicate it, but if it is something rare or less dangerous that it looks, I might try to leave it be!
Louisa, KY, USA
We are excited to be getting photos of a magnificent new species for our website. You are correct that this is a Spider Wasp in the family Pompilidae. The species is Entypus unifasciatus and it doesn’t have a common name. BugGuide has a considerable amount of information on this species.
BugGuide indicates: “Life Cycle There is one generation per year. Males emerge first. By late August/early September most females are worn. By mid- to late September most female are very worn, with most of the apical area of the wing being tattered away. Life cycle probably more drawn out in far south, but there is very little difference. Most individuals do not persist into October. … Parasitoid of spiders, including wolf spiders (Lycosidae). … Females dig a burrow that ends in a terminal chamber off of the side of a mammal burrow or large crack in the ground. The serrations on the hind tibiae are used to aid the movement of soil out of the burrow entrance. The position in which the egg is laid is unknown. Larvae feed on one large spider and, as in all Pompilids that have one generation per year, overwinter as pupae.” We hope knowing a bit about this magnificent wasp will keep you from trying to eradicate it.
Letter 4 – Spider Wasp
Strange fly with Curly Q Antenna
November 18, 2009
This bug was witnessed in our office this afternoon walking across a desk. Another person in the office said that they saw it earlier and it flew away. I was fascinated by the antenna, which I hope you can see in the picture, as the ends of them do almost a 360 degree loop, like a curly q. If you could give us any help identifying it, that would be great!
South Florida, right on the ocean, about 50 yards from the beach.
This is a Spider Wasp in the family Pompilidae though we don’t even want to attempt to try to identify the species. Spider Wasps, as their name implies, prey upon spiders. Adult wasps feed on pollen and nectar, but the helpless young are carnivorous. The female Spider Wasp captures spiders and paralyzes them with her sting. She then lays an egg on the spider and the young wasp has fresh paralyzed living meat rather than a dead dried out spider to feed upon. According to BugGuide, the following are family characteristics of Spider Wasps:
“Typically dark colored with smoky or yellowish wings; a few are brightly colored.
Slender with long and spiny legs, hind femora typically extending beyond tip of abdomen.
Tibiae of rear legs have two prominent spines at apex (distal end, next to tarsi)
Wings not folded flat on top of abdomen.
Mesopleuron with a transverse suture (see this image).
Like the Vespidae, the Pompilidae have the pronotum extending back to the tegulae, the pronotum thus appearing triangular when viewed from the side and horseshoe-shaped when viewed from above.” In your photo, the spines on the rear legs are visible.
Letter 5 – Tarantula Hawk from Puerto Rico
metallic blue wasp orange antennae
Location: Maricao, Puerto Rico
January 27, 2011 11:10 am
I saw this wasp in my home land Puerto Rico (January 2011), which I have never seen it before. Hard to estimate the size since I am going by memory, but it was at least 1 inch.
My best guess from browsing images is a blue mud dauber. Coul you please confirm the ID?
We believe this is a Spider Wasp in the family Pompilidae (see BugGuide), but we are unable to find anything online that matches. We did not have much luck finding any references to Wasps from Puerto Rico either. The closest we could find on BugGuide is the genus Entypus, and though we could not find any images, we did find some references that the genus is found in Puerto Rico. We will continue to research this.
Confirmation from Eric Eaton
LOL, Daniel 🙂
Yes, definitely a pompilid, but might even be a Pepsis. …
Letter 6 – Probably Spider Wasp from Australia
Location: melbourne, australia
March 7, 2012 6:47 am
I suspect a butterfly and bee cross bred to create a beautiful mutant..i am however no expert. I found it on my car and got as close as i could to take a photograph without it noticing me.
We wish you photo showed more details. At first we thought that this was a Wasp Moth or Clearwing in the family Sesiidae, that mimic stinging wasps for protection, but now we believe this really is a Spider Wasp, Cryptocheilus bicolor, a species that preys upon Huntsman Spiders.
Letter 7 – Spider Wasp from South Africa: Java caroliwaterhouse
Subject: South African Flying Insect
Location: Nature’s Valley, Western Cape, South Africa
June 20, 2012 3:17 pm
Here’s a lovely bug from the South African Cape. We’d love to know what it is.
We are nearly certain this incredibly gorgeous insect is a Spider Wasp in the family Pompilidae, but we cannot find any photos online to support that supposition. Perhaps one of our readers will have better luck with a species identification.
Update: November 19, 2015
While researching a new Spider Wasp submission from Namibia, we discovered this iSpot image that supports our identification, but alas, it is only identified to the family level Pompilidae.
Update: August 11, 2017
While researching the identity of a Spider Wasp image from Egypt, we stumbled upon these images of Java caroliwaterhouse on Wasp Web. where it states: ” Females hunt and paralyze large spiders such as Rain Spiders (Palystes).
Letter 8 – Ichneumon
Subject: Red wasp with bright blue wings
Location: Loon Lake, CA — near Tahoe in El Dorado National Forest, very close to the lake
September 2, 2012 12:01 pm
This bright, beautiful little critter completely surprised me – I’ve never seen anything quite like this! I’d love to know what it was.
We are nearly certain that this is a Spider Wasp, Tachypompilus unicolor, though some details are difficult to discern in your photograph. The wasp appears to be searching the ground, which is a major factor in our identification as Spider Wasps hunt spiders in this manner, especially since they prey upon Wolf Spiders to feed their young. You may refer to BugGuide for additional information, including that the preferred habitat is : “Varied, but they are usually found in open habitats.”
I really appreciate the ID! Yes, it was down on the gravel-y ground, a few feet from the lake in one direction, and about 20 feet from a pine forest the other direction. I only saw it on the ground for about a minute, and then it flew away.
Update: June 4, 2020
Based on comments that have been submitted, we are correcting this posting, identifying the insect as an Ichneumon.
Letter 9 – Possibly Spider Wasp
Subject: Red wasp? Puple-blue wings
Location: Northeast Texas
July 11, 2013 12:55 pm
Hi! Thanks for reading, its a very commendable service you offer to us regular folks who know nothing about bugs. I live in Northeast Texas (Hopkins County) and I am no stranger to the red wasp, and have been stung so many times I can identify them in my sleep. We were INFESTED with them last year and I had an exterminator come at the beginning of the year and thankfully I have not seen any of the typical red paper wasps that we have (the meaner than hell boogers). Now for some reason, we are infested outside with these! They look like a red wasp, but they are faster, have bluish wings and like to crawl on the ground a lot. They don’t seem to be as aggressive as the paper wasp, but I haven’t given them much of a chance to chase me, but they seem more like the aggression of a dirt dauber because they don’t just stalk you down with the intent to kill. What are they?
Signature: Texas lady
Dear Texas lady,
We believe this is a Spider Wasp in the family Pompilidae. We will do additional research.
Update: July 12, 2013
We believe this might be a member of the genus Tachypompilus based on photos posted to BugGuide.
Letter 10 – Spider Wasps from Namibia
Subject: Big black wasp in Namibia
Geographic location of the bug: Windhoek, Namibia
Time: 12:30 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: We came across a bush that had 20 – 40 large black wasps feeding on it – they were stunningly beautiful and made a ‘helicopter’ sort of sound. There were many other types of wasps/bugs as well but these ones were just huge. I’d love to find out what they were and read up on them.
How you want your letter signed: Fiona L
We are uncertain of the species, but we are quite confident these are Spider Wasps in the family Pompilidae. As your image indicates, adults are frequently found nectaring on flowers including milkweed, and the female preys upon spiders which she paralyzes and then drags to her underground burrow where the immobile, but still living Spider becomes food for the larva that hatches from the egg she lays on the Spider. There are some nice images of a female Spider Wasp and her prey on Africa Geographic.
Thank you so much. I have now done a bit of reading on these things and feel privileged to have been so close to so many of them at once. Poor spiders though!