Sphecid Wasp Facts: Natures Pest Control

In this article, we will give you all the information that you need to know about Sphecid wasps.

Getting rid of unwanted pests like spiders, beetles, and aphids can be challenging.

Using insecticides is always a bad idea because they can get into our food and also end up killing beneficial insects like ladybugs and green lacewings.

But certain insects can take care of this problem for you with ease.

Yes, that’s right—sphecid wasps are excellent predators of such pests.

Despite our fear of wasps due to their ability to sting us, many wasps are our friends. They can help your garden immensely by getting rid of unwanted guests.

Let us know more about these wasps in the article.

Thread-Waisted Wasp

What Are Sphecid Wasps?

There are around 8,000 different species of sphecid wasps worldwide.

They belong to the superfamily Apoidea and the suborder Apocrita of insects that have narrow waists.

There are three distinct types of wasps under this suborder: mud daubers, thread-waisted wasps, and sand wasps.

You can find them in abundance across all of North America. Most of these insects are solitary and are known to build individual nests.

These wasps are mainly known for their predatory behavior and nesting habits.

Let us take a look at the different types of these wasps and understand how to identify them.

Sphecid Wasp Types

Sphecid wasps are one of the many big wasp families in the insect kingdom.

1,100 species of sphecid wasps roam the North American continent.

Let us take a look at some different types of sphecid wasps:

Ammophila wasps

Ammophilia wasps are usually black with a touch of orange on the abdomen.

There are around 60 species of these wasps found in North America.

If you notice closely, males are comparatively more slender than females. However, the orange is less in the males.

These insects are usually ¾ to 1 inch long. Some can even grow up to 1½ inches long.

These wasps build individual nests by digging into the ground. You can find them in areas with bare and loose soil.

Western Cicada Killer Carnage

Cicada killer wasps

Unlike the Ammophilia wasps, cicada killer wasps are big insects that can grow up to 2 inches long.

You can identify them by their black or dark brown bodies with bright yellow markings on the abdomen and amber wings.

They get their name because they are experts at hunting down cicadas. They used the paralyzed and hunted cicadas to feed the larvae when they hatch from eggs.

You can find them in the eastern United States, particularly in the eastern part of the Rocky Mountains.

The females like to dig nests around sidewalks, roadsides, and embankments.

Mud dauber wasps

Mud daubers are also a family of solitary wasps. These insects get their name from the fact that they build a nest using mud.

Sheds, barns, house interiors, and bridges are some of their favorite sites to construct mud chambers.

These wasps usually hunt spiders to feed their young.

They sting these spiders to paralyze them. Later, the paralyzed prey is carried and filled in a mud chamber for one wasp egg.

Like all thread-waisted wasps, these mud daubers are also long and slender with a tiny waist. The bodies can be black or steel blue with some yellow spots.

The adults rely on nectar and honeydew to fulfill their diets. They hunt spiders only for larvae.

Mud Dauber Nest

Digger wasps

Like the cicada killers, these wasps are also huge. They have dark-colored bodies with bright-colored stripes or spots on the abdomen. The wings are also usually dark.

These insects are parasitoids of pests like the Green June beetle, which eat the roots of plants.

The adults rely on nectar to fulfill their diets.

These insects hunt the pest by digging deep into the soil to locate the pest grub.

On locating the beetle grub, the wasp stings to paralyze the prey. They then lay an egg on their prey.

The larva feeds on the grub and eventually ends up killing the host.

They might look intimidating, but they are harmless to humans. They can sting if you try to manhandle or threaten them.

What Do Sphecid Wasps Eat?

Sphecid wasps are excellent hunters and consumers of pests and spiders. But the adults don’t eat them.

In most cases, adult wasps rely on plants and nectar to fulfill their dietary needs.

So what is the purpose of all this hunting and killing, you might ask?

Well, the larvae of these wasps are carnivorous.

These baby wasps consume the pests hunted down by the mother wasp, who leaves her nest with the eggs in it.

For example, the cicada killer larvae consume the paralyzed cicadas, grasshoppers, etc. left in the nest by the female wasps.

The adults, on the other hand, drink nectar.

Similarly, the mud dauber wasps carry paralyzed spiders and place them in the mud cells for the larvae to consume.

The adult mud daubers consume plant nectar, body fluids from hunted spiders, and honeydew.

Black and Yellow Mud Dauber

Where Do Sphecid Wasps Live?

Sphecid wasps like mud daubers and cicada killers are usually found nesting near human dwellings.

Various species of mud dauber wasps, like the yellow and black mud daubers, prefer to build nests in spots like porches, attics, and carports.

You can spot them carrying mud to build their nests.

Most of the sphecid wasps are ground-dwelling; they usually dig their nests, use existing cavities, or build mud chambers attached to rocks, trees, buildings, and more.

Since the adults rely on nectar to fulfill their diets, you can spot them flying near blooming gardens and wildflowers.

Life Cycle of A Sphecid Wasp

Sphecid wasps are holometabolous insects, which means they show the complete four stages of metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

Sphecid wasps are mostly solitary. The females prefer to build their nests to lay eggs.

However, the blue mud wasps do not build their own nest; they prefer to lay eggs on existing nests built by black and yellow mud daubers.

Some species of Sphecid wasps also fit a stone between the mandibles to dig a nest on the ground.

After mating, the majority of wasp species in this family build their nest and fill it with paralyzed prey.

It can be cicadas, spiders, or any other pest.

They hunt these pests by stinging them and injecting wasp venom, which paralyzes the insect.

It is fascinating to see how the blue mud wasps hunt black widow spiders by dragging them out of the web.

The sphecid wasps usually leave the nest after laying the eggs and putting food in each quarter of the wasp larvae.

When the egg hatches, the larva starts eating these paralyzed insects to grow strong enough to start pupating.

Some species, like the blue mud wasps, overwinter in the nest and emerge as adults in the spring.

As adults, these insects mostly consume only nectar.

Thread-Waisted Wasp

Mating Rituals of Sphecid Wasps

Various species of sphecid wasps have different mating rituals. However, out of them, the most fascinating one is that of the digger wasps.

Also, most of the sphecid wasps live longer as larvae and pupae as they overwinter and emerge as adults in the spring.

However, they can die sooner if hunted down by predators like birds.

At times, we might kill sphecid wasps out of fear. But should we kill them? Are they dangerous? Let us find out.

Do They Bite?

Yes, sphecid wasps have a reputation for killing dangerous pests like spiders, but they are not harmful to humans.

These insects do not aggressively defend their nests because they are solitary wasps – they don’t have a family to protect.

The female does not guard the wasp egg. She leaves the nest after keeping enough food for each egg.

However, if you are reckless around them, they will sting.

Are They Poisonous/Venomous?

The venom in sphecid wasps like cicada killers, mud daubers, and more is strong enough to paralyze tiny spiders and other pests but is harmless to humans.

However, do not handle them recklessly if you do not want to receive painful stings.

Are They Harmful or Beneficial to Humans?

As mentioned in the sections above, these wasps do not harm humans until they feel highly threatened.

These insects are excellent for natural pest control. If you have spiders and other pests around the garden, sphecid wasps will help you take them down.

Also, the blue mud wasps hunt down the poisonous black widow spiders.

Sphecid wasps also consume nectar regularly, which makes them decent pollinators.

What Are Sphecid Wasps Attracted To?

Sphecid wasps like cicada killers, mud daubers, and digger wasps are more likely to be around areas with abundant pests like spiders, cicadas, and aphids.

The adults also prefer to be around bright wildflowers and blooming gardens to get sweet nectar.

Thread-Waisted Wasp with Cutworm Prey

How to Get Rid of Sphecid Wasps

Sphecid wasps may appear dangerous due to their pest-hunting habits, but they are not dangerous.

The adults do not live for long. Plus, they can help with pollination and pest elimination.

It is not necessary to kill or get rid of these insects. However, if you are allergic to wasp stings, you must take the nest down and prevent them from returning.

You can start by removing the nests in your home and garden. Do not remove a mud nest if there are no holes.

The absence of a hole indicates that the larvae are still inside, and some nests can contain larger wasp larvae.

You can also control the pest population in your garden and home to reduce the food options for these insects.

Interesting Facts About Sphecid Wasps

The sphecid wasps are a large family of insects, and there are many fascinating facts about these creatures. Let us take a look at a few:

  • The infamous emerald jewel wasp is known for turning its prey into a zombie slave. It stings the American cockroach twice. The first sting immobilizes the front legs. The second sting hits the brain, which allows the wasp to send signals to the roach to follow to the nest where the eggs are laid.
  • In some cases, sphecid wasps lay eggs inside the spider body, where spider eggs are located. The wasp larvae come out and eat the eggs and pupate by eventually killing the host spider.
  • At times, a sphecid wasp larva can show cannibalism by consuming the other small larvae and wasp eggs in the cluster.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do mud daubers sting?

The mud dauber wasp is docile and only stings when provoked. They build solitary nests on buildings, which can be unsightly.
However, they have been known to cause plane crashes by building nests inside pitot tubes, causing faulty air-speed readings.
Their sting is not extremely painful, as it is designed to paralyze their prey.

What do mud daubers eat?

Mud daubers eat a variety of insects, including crab spiders, orb weavers, jumping spiders, black widow and brown widow spiders, cicadas, and katydids.
They also consume nectar and honeydew, but young mud daubers require insects with high protein content.
The ability of the parents to provide food affects the offspring’s development. Mud daubers lay eggs on top of the prey and seal the nest with mud.
They can go to extreme lengths to find food, including digesting dairy, vegetables, and meat. They are generally passive but may sting if very hungry.

Are mud dauber friendly?

Mud daubers are usually friendly towards humans, but they will sting if provoked. You should not approach them without wearing protective gear.
They are insects that build nests in warmer climates during the summer months. 
Mud daubers can be distinguished from wasps by their unique characteristics and bulging abdomens. They feed on insects like spiders, mosquitoes, and aphids.

Wrap Up

Sphecid wasps are a huge family of insects identified by their long and slender bodies with thread-like waists.

Digger wasps, mud dauber wasps, and cicada killer wasps are some of the different species in this family.

These insects can be helpful in naturally eliminating pests like spiders and beetles, as they are experts in hunting them.

Also, they do not sting humans unless they feel highly threatened.

So, the next time you see these insects, do not kill them unless you are allergic to wasp stings.

Thank you for reading the article!

Reader Emails

Sphecid wasps are a vast family, with many of them found near our homes and gardens all the time.

In most cases, these wasps are harmless. But they end up getting squashed or shooed away simply because of the way they look.

Our readers have often inquired with us about these wasps and how dangerous they are to humans.

Here are a few examples for you to read.

Letter 1 – Grasshopper Hunting Sphecid Wasp from Australia

 

Cricket for lunch?
Hi Mr. Bugman,
I’m at it again, I tried your link you suggested but this wasp is bucking the Huntsman trend. Is it the Cryptocheilus bicolour again please? For someone who has been badly bitten by a Whitetail spider I still love my ‘bugs’. My husband took this in our spring, fairly cool day by our standards and the wasp totally ignored us. Cheers,
Karen
Halls Head, Western Australia



Hi Karen,
This is most definitely not the Spider Wasp, Cryptocheilus bicolor. Not only is the coloration wrong, the species, like many wasps, is very host specific. This is one of the Sphecid Hunting Wasps. Our sources indicate that most Sphecid Wasps can sting painfully, but they are not aggressive. We have located online mention of a Grasshopper Hunting Wasp in Australia known as Podalonia tydei suspiciosa (Smith, 1856), but cannot locate a photo. We checked the Geocities site under Sphecid Wasps, and found images of Sphex cognatus, a Digger Wasp that preys upon Crickets and Grasshoppers. We are not certain that is your wasp, but it is possible. So, we are certain this is a Sphecid Wasp, but are inconclusive regarding species. Nonetheless, it is a very impressive photo. Eric Eaton wrote in the this addition: “The wasp stinging the grasshopper is indeed a sphecid, can’t tell what genus from that angle, but suspect Prionyx. Eric”


Hi Mr. Bugman,
Halls Head, Western Australia calling again…. Does this pic help Eric id our wasp? You mentioned it could possibly be Prionyx. This was taken from a slightly different angle minus his/her cricket. Thanks once again. Cheers
Karen

Letter 2 – Solitary Sphecid Wasp

 

Pics of Great Black Wasp
Hello Bugman,
Our house is being invaded by these wasps, at least I think they are wasps? They are appearing inside the house about a dozen or more daily. What can we do to keep them out of the house and back outside? Is this the non-aggressive black wasp? This wasp looks like it and does not attack even when I try to swat at it when they are buzzing around me. They also like to fly into the walls and ceiling fans.
Regards,
Ruben Amesquita
SmartArt
Dallas, Texas



Hi Ruben,
I checked with an expert, Eric Eaton, who wrote back:
Hi Ruben,
I checked with an expert, Eric Eaton, who wrote back:
“The lateral view shows it to be something in the sphecine tribe Larrini. The genera there are a real beast. You have to look at the ocelli (simple eyes) to even have a clue. They are normally fossorial (dig burrows in the soil), so I don’t know how they are getting into his house. Being solitary, though, they will not be aggressive.”
Hope that helps.
Being solitary, though, they will not be aggressive.”
Hope that helps.

Letter 3 – Sphecid Wasp

 

Small wasplike insect with orange abdomen This wasp was taken on July 22 in a wooded area of Brazos Bend State Park. I haven’t found anything in any of my books that looks like a sure match. It is 19 mm long. Please let me know what it is. Thanks a bunch. Glen Kilgore Hi Glen, We will check to see if Eric Eaton recognizes your wasp. Here is Eric’s response: “The wasp with the red abdomen is a sphecid in the genus Prionyx, and looks to be a female. It is probably P. fervens, as it has dark wings, which the otherwise similar species do not have. Females paralyze short-horned grasshoppers (Acrididae) as food for their offspring, and they frequently capture ‘hoppers much larger and far heavier than themselves.”

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.

8 thoughts on “Sphecid Wasp Facts: Natures Pest Control”

  1. Saw a wasp like creature today. His abdomen was bright red, no stripes just bright red. The rest of his body was black. He was the size of a large yellow and black striped wasp. What was it?

    Reply
  2. I just saw the same in my garden as Tony describes. Not orange or red, but bright red and BIG. 1 & 1/2″ EASY. I have lived in Florida my whole life and have never seen this bug. I live near the beachesof St. Pete

    Reply
  3. There are 2 of these flying bugs in my house. I went to get spray and when I came back to room they were gone. Main concern is do they sting? I d k how they’re in the house.

    Reply
  4. I caught one killing a large winged grasshopper today near Portland, OR. I have a good picture of it, but there isn’t a place to upload. It’s not aggressive toward me and I’m up close taking photos.

    Reply
  5. I have some kind of wasp they are black I did notice one with a red bottom and the rest are more brownish. I do have animals so my concern is whether they sting or not I myself would not be fast enough to run away because I do have allergies.Oh I live on Long Island New York

    Reply

Leave a Comment