Sand Wasp Chronicles: Insights Into Their Fascinating Life

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!

Sand Wasp
Sand Wasp: Stizus brevipennis

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.

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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.

Sand Wasp

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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.

Ectemnius decemmaculatus

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.

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Sand Wasp

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.

Sand Wasp

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.

Larvae Hatch

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.

Sand Wasp

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.

Wrap Up

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!

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.

21 thoughts on “Sand Wasp Chronicles: Insights Into Their Fascinating Life”

  1. Hey, my name is Kelsey from Saskatoon, SK. I was just having a long conversation about bee’s and wasps and our fear with them with my old elementary best friend. So, i started talking about when we were in elementary and when we were digging in the sand box and we seen a weird bee/wasp looking thing and it looked like this but a lot more vibrant. It was almost neon, and i never knew what it was, but after looking it up we found this website, and now we know what it is. I was terrified. I’ve never seen anything like it, and i’m sure everyone gets that feeling when they are trying to remember the name of something but can’t remember, it bothers then so much until they remember it, well it was the same for us but couldn’t find the words to describe it, and when we first described what we saw, no one believed us. Well we had that feeling for 5 years, and feel so relieved that we found what it was and can finally prove to people from 5 years ago that it is a real thing. It blew my mind when i first saw it, and the colors were amazing and bright. So thankful people have seen the same thing as me and my friend. I saw the Sand wasp in Saskatoon, SK, at King George Community School sand pit. I’m so relieved to find this.

    Reply
  2. Do they sting? My Kindergarten class wants to know…..we have some out in the sand area on our playground….

    Reply
  3. Thank you guys for this information.. although I think this baby can be aggressive it’s made me move two times on my front porch …? I was shocked to see such a thing never in my life have I seen such a bright white and yes it’s very neon colorful . It does want me to move so I moved because of the fear if it will sting so now I know it will and not to swat at it ., I usually get my bug!! . lLOL feeling lucky in Kentucky
    TBradshaw in Ky

    Reply
  4. Thank you guys for this information.. although I think this baby can be aggressive it’s made me move two times on my front porch …? I was shocked to see such a thing never in my life have I seen such a bright white and yes it’s very neon colorful . It does want me to move so I moved because of the fear if it will sting so now I know it will and not to swat at it ., I usually get my bug!! . lLOL feeling lucky in Kentucky
    TBradshaw in Ky

    Reply
  5. We have LOTS of sand wasps in our horse-riding arena. I was happy to learn that they eat flies! I am concerned that although they’re reluctant to sting, they will, because when we ride our horses, we’re destroying their nests. If they sting a horse with a rider on it, the horse’s reaction could be dangerous.
    My question is if we keep a sprinkler going on the arena for a week, they could return when the sand is dry again, correct? Or, is there a season for them making nests? I am located in Tulare, California

    Reply
  6. We have LOTS of sand wasps in our horse-riding arena. I was happy to learn that they eat flies! I am concerned that although they’re reluctant to sting, they will, because when we ride our horses, we’re destroying their nests. If they sting a horse with a rider on it, the horse’s reaction could be dangerous.
    My question is if we keep a sprinkler going on the arena for a week, they could return when the sand is dry again, correct? Or, is there a season for them making nests? I am located in Tulare, California

    Reply
    • We believe your fears of a sting occurring because of destroying nests is far-fetched, because though they nest in colonies, Sand Wasps are not social wasps and it is social wasps like hornets and yellowjackets that will defend a nest. We do not know how irrigation will affect the Sand Wasps.

      Reply
  7. I have to share this story: 2nd grade. My class is playing in the park next to the school. I was always into catching and studying bugs. I have a sandwich bag full of bugs I’ve caught (a carpenter bee, and 2 blue sand wasps). The teacher says it’s time to go inside, but I’m not done playing with bugs so I stuff the bag in my pocket for later. Bad move. I begged and I pleaded, but my teacher ultimately refused to reach in my pocket to grab the bag full of bees. I’m 35, and to this day… They’re still there.

    Reply
  8. Hey-
    My wife was moving some paving stones yesterday and freaked out when she saw a green eyed bug. She and our daughter thought for sure it would kill us if stung. Funny how that fear works when you see a bug that is so different. To my question, are the green eyed sand wasps a common thing to see in Utah? This is where we’re found our first.

    Reply
  9. Hey-
    My wife was moving some paving stones yesterday and freaked out when she saw a green eyed bug. She and our daughter thought for sure it would kill us if stung. Funny how that fear works when you see a bug that is so different. To my question, are the green eyed sand wasps a common thing to see in Utah? This is where we’re found our first.

    Reply
  10. What did you kill it with? I know they’re harmless and actually eat annoying bugs but they’re digging out all the dirt underneath my paver stones. I’m also in UT.

    Reply
  11. When I was a child I lived in Yorba Linda California & they were always digging up the San box at our school- daily 15- 30 digging kicking up sand, I loved watching them.I was terrified of bee’s too “But not these type”. I always thought they were the nice bee’s or(good guys). They would land and dig all around me while I dug up fire ant nest. I guessing they wanted the larva from the ants ?.
    They were always helping me dig truly fascinating to watch nature do it’s thing right next to me I was never stung by these gentle sand wasp- They were so cool ?

    Reply
  12. When I was a child I lived in Yorba Linda California & they were always digging up the San box at our school- daily 15- 30 digging kicking up sand, I loved watching them.I was terrified of bee’s too “But not these type”. I always thought they were the nice bee’s or(good guys). They would land and dig all around me while I dug up fire ant nest. I guessing they wanted the larva from the ants ?.
    They were always helping me dig truly fascinating to watch nature do it’s thing right next to me I was never stung by these gentle sand wasp- They were so cool ?

    Reply
  13. Hi Mike,
    I used Wondercide. Hated to do it because they kill the cidada killer wasp (among other bad bugs) but I just put down flagstone, very painstakingly!

    Reply
  14. Hi Mike,
    I used Wondercide. Hated to do it because they kill the cidada killer wasp (among other bad bugs) but I just put down flagstone, very painstakingly!

    Reply
  15. I have seen these my whole life growing up in Utah. I have just discovered a couple dozen or so burrowing in my kids’ sand box. We live around the Riverton/Herriman/South Jordan area of the Salt Lake Valley. Happy to find out that they are non-aggressive and eat flies!

    Reply
  16. I walked right over a colony of these wasps.. they were hovering above their singleness in the sand. I didn’t know I was walking over a colony.. and tell my husband said watch out for these bees! I thought they were a large number of flies hovering over the ground. I walked back over to see neon colored wasps. They were definitely not aggressive and were hanging out over there ground nests.this was located in the sand on an island in the middle of the Willamette River next to Portland, OR. I plan on kayaking back over there and just sitting next to the bees!

    Reply
  17. I live in Northern Az, this guy just fly right into me. Scared the bajesus out of me, not only because it was a wasp, but the alien look?

    Reply

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