Interested in learning about sand wasps? This article will be a guide for everything you might want to know about these wasps.
“Sand wasp” is a broad term given to wasps that belong to the subfamily Bembicinae in the family Crabronidae.
These are small, stout insects, measuring about ¾th to 1 inch, and one of the 1200 species of wasps found across the United States.
The article below will discuss these tiny insects, from their diet to their life cycle and mating rituals. Keep reading!
What Are Sand Wasps?
As discussed above, sand wasps are wasps that belong to the subfamily Bembicinae within the family Crabronidae in the order Hymenoptera.
The term “sand wasp” is a broad one. It is used for groups of wasps that fall under the subfamily Bembicinae.
However, other species, like the thread-waisted wasps, are also called sand wasps.
The thread-waisted wasps belong to the family Sphecidae.
The species we will be talking about in this article, i.e., the digger wasps, were also previously a part of the family Sphecidae but have been reclassified into the family Crabronidae.
You will spot them mostly in color combinations of yellow and black or white and black and banded, similar to that of a bee. But they may also be pale green in color.
They are also solitary wasps and do not live in colonies like yellowjackets or paper wasps.
They might nest together in a cluster, but each female will have her own individual nest where she will lay eggs and provision it.
Their nests are inside sand burrows.
A peculiar physical characteristic of sand wasps is their protruding, elongated upper lip that looks like a beak.
Sand Wasp Types
Since the classification is broad, let’s take a look at some types of sand wasps:
Eastern Cicada Killer
A common sand wasp species is the eastern cicada killer. Also known as Sphecius speciosus, you can usually spot these wasps in coastal areas.
They are black and yellow in color, and you can also spot some red on the bodies. These wasps are named after their specialty in hunting cicadas, usually mid-flight in the air.
Common Sand Wasp
The common sand wasp, or Bembix americana, is one of North America’s most common sand wasp species.
It’s a medium-sized wasp that can be spotted feeding off the nectar of flowers.
Horse Guard Wasp
This species of sand wasp, also known as Stictia carolina, is a relatively large species of wasp.
They are named for their tendency to fly around horses and other animals to hunt horse flies to take back to their larvae.
Horse guard wasps are black and white in color. They may have pale white or off-white discontinuous bands on a black body.
This species of wasp is medium-sized and has a very visibly large square head. They have yellow bands on their black bodies.
If you see them up close, you’ll also notice pale coloring on their faces.
These wasps make their nests in the stems of plants or hollowed twigs instead of the sand.
But their larvae also feed on paralyzed flies, like those of other types of sand wasps.
Red-belted Sand Wasp
Another interesting species of sand wasp is the red-belted or red-banded sand wasp.
They belong to the subfamily Ammophilinae in the family Sphecidae.
They are very peculiar-looking with long, narrow waists. They have a black body, but the end part of their tale is bright orange.
A parasitoid wasp, they usually hunt on caterpillars for their young.
This species is also known for stealing prey from the nests of other females to provision their own.
They sometimes also remove another female’s egg, replacing it with their own.
What Does A Sand Wasp Eat?
Adult wasps survive by feeding on flower nectar and pollen. However, they will go out and hunt for flies for their larvae.
Sand wasps hunt various flies, such as deer and house flies.
They are incredibly fast and agile and often hunt flies in mid-air, capturing them by the wing and paralyzing them.
A single, developing sand wasp larva can supposedly consume two dozen flies during its larval stage.
You may spot sand wasps out and about, mostly during summers, as they set out to hunt for flies for their larvae.
Summers are when flies become most bothersome, making it an ideal time for the hunt.
Where do Sand Wasps Live?
Sand wasps, as their name suggests, are mostly found in sandy habitats, in areas with loose or sandy soil that are ideal for making their nests.
Sand wasps make their nests in burrows in the ground. Several sand wasps may build their individual nests in a cluster close together.
They are also abundant in urban areas, forests, and woodlands.
Geographically, sand wasps are spread across the United States, especially in the states of Missouri and Australia.
Life Cycle of A Sand Wasp
There are generally two generations of sand wasps in a year.
Egg Laying & Provisioning
Females excavate sand burrows in the ground – an elongated tunnel that ends in a cell.
They do this using their mandibles by chipping away the soil.
Female wasps dig either one or more chambers in the soil and lay one egg per cell. She may have two larvae developing simultaneously in two different cells as well.
She is also known to construct a couple of decoy tunnels to confuse parasites and predators, ensuring her larva’s safety.
She can find the actual entrance to her cell with the help of certain landmarks known only to her.
In the case of sand wasps, the females usually lay the egg first and then go out hunting for fresh prey to bring back to their larvae.
Sand wasps may also kill the prey instead of simply paralyzing it because the larva consumes the prey immediately.
The female continues to supply prey to the larva one after another till the larva is mature and ready to pupate.
Pupation and Adults
At this point, the female wasp will exit and close the cell. Inside, the larva will then pupate in a cocoon using sand grains, resulting in a hard external shell.
They will overwinter and emerge as adults the following year to begin the cycle again. How that cycle propagates – we shall look at it in the next section.
Mating Rituals of Sand Wasp
The only purpose of male sand wasps is to mate and reproduce. They have some dedicated mating rituals as well.
Male sand wasps emerge from their burrows before females and engage in what’s called a “sun dance.”
The males fly at a high speed in an erratic manner a couple of inches above the ground and wait for unmated females to emerge from their burrows.
If a female isn’t pounced upon immediately after emerging, she joins a suitable male wasp in flight.
A pair that mates mid-air escapes the crowd and finishes mating elsewhere.
However, if, by chance, the pair falls to the ground, the other males will try to overthrow the first suitor in order to mate with the female.
How Long Do Sand Wasps Live?
Sand wasps, like other solitary wasp species, do not live for very long.
Some sources say they have a two-month lifespan, during which they may make several burrows.
They might have two eggs or larvae growing simultaneously in two different cells.
Wasp species usually die before fall and winter because they are not meant to tolerate the cold.
The only exception are queen wasps (among the social wasps) that hibernate during the winter to emerge the following year and start nesting.
Do They Bite/Sting?
Sand wasps are the most docile wasps out there. They usually do not sting or bite. They do have mandibles that they use to dig their nests, but they do not bite or sting.
They will only become aggressive if they feel threatened or if their nests are threatened. Even if they sting you, it will largely be by accident.
Are They Poisonous/Venomous?
Sand wasps are not poisonous or venomous. Like in the case of most bees and wasps, their stingers are modified ovipositors.
This is also why only females can sting, either accidentally or in defense.
Though the sting may be painful and can cause an allergy flare-up in some, icing it or seeking a doctor’s help for medication should provide you with relief.
Are They Harmful or Beneficial to Humans?
They aren’t particularly harmful to humans because they don’t sting or bite aggressively.
You can get stung accidentally by a female, or they will bite if they feel threatened or their nest is in danger.
They are beneficial to humans in the sense that they hunt true flies. During summer, flies create a menace.
Sand wasps are out to hunt at the same time and end up preying on many of them.
What Are Sand Wasps Attracted To?
Sand wasps are known predators of true flies. Research says that sand wasps are attracted to the same flies that are attracted to humans.
This is the reason that you may find them flying incredibly close to people.
They are simply trying to hunt flies hovering around that particular person, but many mistake this as aggression.
How Do I Get Rid of Sand Wasps?
Sand wasps usually create their nests in burrows in sandy or loose soil.
So one effective way of getting rid of them is by spraying insecticides.
You can use permethrin dust or spray on them to kill them.
Alternatively, you can also dust some insecticide on their burrows or plant grass on soil mounds to prevent them from building a nest.
You can also rake the ground in your garden to break any nests being built or use a tarp to cover the soil so the sand wasps cannot get to it.
Interesting Facts About Sand Wasps
- The female wasps dig the sand for burrows very quickly. In mere seconds, they can dig big chunks of the soil to create their chamber.
- Sand wasps may nest as a group but are not social or colony wasps. They may only come together in a swarm when one of them is attacked.
- Though non-aggressive, sand wasps can deliver a painful sting, accidental or otherwise. Some could also get allergic reactions, so seeking medical help is recommended.
- Only female sand wasps have a stinger and the ability to actually sting. Male sand wasps aren’t capable of stinging.
Frequently Asked Questions
Sand wasp sting treatment
Most insect stings can be treated with first aid at home.
This includes removing the stinger, applying ice, taking antihistamines and pain relievers, washing the sting site, and getting a tetanus booster if needed.
Serious allergic reactions may require immediate medical attention, including antihistamines, steroids, and epinephrine injections.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the reaction and may involve observation in the emergency department, hospital admission, or even the placement of a breathing tube.
Multiple stings or stings inside the mouth or throat may also require medical attention.
Are sand wasps dangerous?
Sand wasps are not aggressive and usually do not sting or bite, except when they feel threatened or their nests are threatened.
They are not poisonous or venomous, and their stingers are modified ovipositors, which only females have.
Though their sting may be painful, they are not harmful to humans and can even be beneficial as they hunt true flies, which can be a nuisance during the summer.
What is sand wasp size?
Sand wasps are solitary, stout-bodied insects that belong to the subfamily Bembicinae in the family Crabronidae and order Hymenoptera.
They are typically around 0.75 to 1 inch in length.
What are sand bees?
Sand bees are just another name for sand wasps.
These are a type of wasp that belongs to the subfamily Bembicinae within the family Crabronidae in the order Hymenoptera.
This term is also used for other types of wasps, including thread-waisted wasps. Digger wasps, a type of sand wasp, were previously part of the family Sphecidae but have been reclassified.
They are typically yellow and black or white and black, but can also be pale green. They are solitary wasps and nest individually in sand burrows. They have a protruding, elongated upper lip.
Sand wasps are interesting and amazing creatures, from their classification right down to their propensity to fly very close to humans.
These solitary wasps build sand burrows for nesting and hunt flies for their young to feed on, like many other parasitoids.
You can often see them in the summer hunting flies in gardens to provision their nest for the larvae to feed.
These wasps are mostly harmless, and even though they might appear to be threatening, they will hardly ever sting you.
Do remember to take precautions, however, because however innocuous they may be, their sting can still hurt a lot.
Thank you for reading!
Over the years, our readers have sent in several beautiful specimen photos of sand wasps in various shapes and forms.
We have compiled these emails below for your reference. Please do go through and enjoy the visual treat!
Letter 1 – Sand Wasp
Blue wasp? or blue hornet? sort of powder blue, almost sky blue. Nice site. Very cool indeed. TL (So. Cal.) Hi TL, Nice photo of a Sand Wasp, Bembix species. It is a new species for our site. According to Hogue they are: “Also known as Digger Wasps, these insects are recognizable by their stout shape and greenish-white or bluish-white abdominal markings. … Sand Wasps are characteristic inhabitants of dry sandy areas such as beach bluffs and mesas, sand dunes, and arroyos. … The nests are shallow tubes running obliquely into the soil; each contains a single larva, which the female keeps supplied with a diet of fresh flies and other insects. In practicing this form of continuous provisioning of the larvae, sand wasps differ from spider wasps, mud daubers, and many other digging wasps, which provide only a single cache of food that must last throughout the larva’s development. Sand Wasps are not social insects, as are hornets and yellow jackets; yet, as a result of the tendency of individuals to nest in the same area, a type of colony develops.” The Western Sand Wasp, Bembix comata, is a common species.
Letter 2 – Possibly Sand Wasp
Any idea what this beauty is called? Found on a fern in Orlando Florida, sorry for the poor photo it was raining and I was trying to get enough DOF hence the slow shutter speed. It was very alert, I assume it has excellent vision.
We like this for one of the wasps in the family Crabronidae, possibly a Sand Wasp in the genus Bembix. There are many images that look similar on BugGuide.
Letter 3 – Sand Wasp
digging bee/wasp green stripes on back metalic green eyes Sat, Jul 4, 2009 at 9:55 AM Was hoping you could indentify these bees. there are at least 30 to 40 that just stared showing up and digging in our flowerbed. act1guy madera, CA (central valley) Dear act1guy, This is a Sand Wasp in the genus Bembix. We look forward to seeing these wasps each summer. The two places in Los Angeles where we encounter them are in the Los Angeles River near the Glendale Narrows and near Union Station downtown at the freeway underpass when we walk to a film lab. The Bembix Sand Wasps or Digger Wasps. according to Charles Hogue in his wonderful book Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, are: “characteristic inhabitants of dry sandy areas such as beach bluffs and mesas, sand dunes and arroyos; I have seen them working in the long jump pit on the track at the University of Southern California. They fly low and rapidly over the ground seeking prey and tending their burrow nests. The nests are shallow tubes running obliquely into the soil; each contains a single larva, which the female keeps supplied with a diet of fresh flies and other insects. In practicing this form of continuous provisioning of the larvae, sand wasps differ from spider wasps, mud daubers, and many other digging wasps, which provide only a single cache of food that must last throughout the larva’s development. Sand wasps are not social insects, as are hornets and yellow jackets; yet, as a result of the tendency of individuals to nest in the same area, a type of colony develops.” So, Sand Wasps help to eliminate an overabundance of flies which often plague us humans during the hot summer months.
Letter 4 – Sand Loving Wasp poisoned with bug spray
Green eyed insect that made 5 dirt nest under garbage cans Location: Utah July 21, 2010 12:43 pm I found 5 hills with one entrance in each under my garbage can. Then a wasp/fly/? looking bug appeared. It had long wings and bright green eyes. It seemed to have either a stinger or antennae out the mouth area. We sprayed the hills and took the picture just before it died. I have never seen it before and lived here in Utah for 5+ years. Do you know what it is? Thanks so much for your time and effort. I wish I could just download the picture and that it would match it with the bug. Sincerely Heidi Dear Heidi, One of our primary purposes in running What’s That Bug? is to promote tolerance and appreciation of the lower beasts, and to educate the public in an effort to prevent the senseless slaughter of beneficial or benign insects and other arthropods because we know that people fear the unknown, hence the creation of our Unnecessary Carnage section where your letter and photo will be archived. We were uncertain of the identity of this digging Hymenopteran, so we sought assistance from Eric Eaton who was kind enough to respond: “Hi, Daniel: The insect is a “sand-loving wasp” in the genus Tachytes. Hard to say more without examining the specimen under a microscope. Eric“. BugGuide does not have much information on the genus, however, BugGuide does provide this tidbit of information on the info page of the subfamily to which it belongs, Crabroninae, the Square Headed Wasps: “Some nest in hollow stems or in abandoned galleries in wood, others burrow in the ground. The principal prey is flies, but some utilize various other types of insects.” We can deduce that the proximity of the underground nests to the garbage cans means that your species feeds upon flies. Your Sand Loving Wasp would be considered a beneficial insect by most people since it helps to control pestiferous flies that are attracted to garbage and can spread diseases including: Typhoid fever, Cholera, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Shigellosis, Polio, Diarrhea, Anthrax, Eye inflammation, Tuberculosis, Yaws, Dysentery, Trachoma, Conjunctivitis and even Leprosy. Were we you, we would welcome Sand Loving Wasps in the vicinity of our garbage cans. Perhaps our response will cause you to allow any future nests to develop unmolested. As a postscript, Sand Loving Wasps are not known to sting humans. They are solitary wasps and solitary wasps do not have the aggressive nest protecting behavior exhibited by social wasps like Yellowjackets and Red Wasps.
Letter 5 – Cuckoo Leafcutting Bees Battling
Bees doing a dance on dead apple tree branch Bees doing a dance on dead apple tree branch Location: Henderson, NV (Near Black Mountain) July 18, 2011 11:42 pm We had two little bees (around 1.5-2.0 cm) doing a dance on a dead branch of an Apple tree around sunset today (July 18) One bee would grab hold of the end of the branch with its Mandibles and front legs, fold its wings, and stretch out the back legs straight. When the second bee flew around, the first would arch its back up for a little until the second would land, then fly off. I looked through this site and http://bugguide.net/ – but couldn’t quite classify it, maybe a Mining Bee? Signature: Dan Hi Dan, First, we must compliment you on an awesome series of photos of what we believe to be some species of Sand Wasp in the tribe Bembicini (see BugGuide) engaging in what appears to be a courting and mating “dance”. We are going to try to enlist the assistance of Eric Eaton to confirm our identification and perhaps to provide more specificity. Eric Eaton provides a correction Daniel: These are actually cuckoo leafcutter bees in the genus Coelioxys. They are both females. The first image shows one in its “sleeping” posture, gripping the bud with its jaws. I think the second specimen wanted to displace the first one since good sleeping quarters are in short supply (?). So, it is a battle, not mating 🙂 Coelioxys are kleptoparasites of leafcutter bees in the genus Megachile. The female Coelioxys lays her egg in the nest of her host. The larva that hatches then eats (steals) the pollen and nectar stored by the host bee. Eric
Letter 6 – Sand Wasp
Subject: bug identification Location: Grand Junction, Co August 9, 2015 5:17 pm Just wanted to know the correct name of this bug. On the ground at Lands End, on the Grand Mesa, Grand Junction Colorado. During mid July, did not seem to be aggressive. Signature: Paul Huntington Dear Paul, This little beauty is a female Sand Wasp in the tribe Bembicini, but we were not able to match your images to a species on BugGuide. According to BugGuide: “About three quarters of the species prey on Diptera, and it is believed that fly predation is ancestral in the group; the rest prey on Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera, Neuroptera, Odonata, and/or Homoptera.” The female provisions the underground nest with prey for the developing brood to feed upon, and as BugGuide states, most Sand Wasps prey upon flies.