If you look from afar, it looks like the Pelecinids have a huge stinger. So, do American Pelecinid wasps sting? Let’s find out!
The American pelecinid wasp belongs to the family Pelecinidae and is a new world wasp. This little insect can appear to be scary with its long, curled, stinger-like organ.
But in reality, it’s a curled abdomen and not a stinger.
American pelecinid wasps don’t sting. Their curled abdomen acts like a faux stinger when ambushed or attacked, as they may simply jab it against the predator.
However, these insects are not poisonous and will not sting.
What Are American Pelecinid Wasps?
American pelecinid wasps are parasitoid wasps belonging to the superfamily of Proctotrupoidea and Pelecinidae. They are the only species to fall under the genus Pelecinus.
Parasitoids should not be confused with parasites. They’re somewhere between parasites and predators.
While parasites keep their host alive, parasitoids kill the host tissue to survive.
An interesting point of information is that most of the APW population occurring in North America is female.
Male APWs are almost non-existent. Female wasps do not need a mate to reproduce.
They breed through a method called parthenogenesis, where eggs do not need to be fertilized to develop an embryo.
What Do They Look Like?
The American pelecinid wasps (APWs henceforth) are black in color, thin, and have a glossy appearance with very long antennae.
While female APW grows up to two and a half inches in size, the male adult wasp grows only upto an inch.
A distinct thing about their appearance is their long, curled abdomen that looks like a stinger or a tail.
Despite their relatively small size, the abdomen of female wasps is almost five times their body size.
They use this to deposit eggs directly on the host. The abdomen of male wasps is shorter than that of females. APWs also have short wings and are slow flyers.
Where Are They Found?
Geographically, APWs are widespread across North America as well as Central and South America.
In the North, they are spotted across the eastern states and east of the Rocky Mountains. They’re also commonly found in Canada and Argentina.
As far as their habitat is concerned, these shiny black wasps inhabit open fields, grasslands, forest edges, woodlands, and gardens. They’re usually found on the forest floor as they tend to fly closer to the ground. APWs are also found in deciduous forests.
What Do They Eat?
The adult wasp feeds on pollen, nectar, and water. This is why you will often notice APWs inside flowers and in gardens. They’re a herbivore species of wasps.
Their larvae, however, are parasitoids and feed on their host. When it’s time to lay eggs, female wasps will fly close to the ground and lay the egg on June beetle larvae, i.e., white grubs.
They do so with the help of their curved abdomen.
Once the larva hatches, it feeds on the grub until it dies. At this point, the immature wasp will continue to feed on the grub tissue till it pupates in the same soil.
Are American Pelecinid Wasps Dangerous?
American pelecinid wasps are not dangerous as far as species of wasps go. Their appearance is scary with their curled black abdomens that look like a long stinger.
But these are harmless wasps.
Adult APWs are herbivores and live on a pollen, nectar, and water diet.
Do They Sting/Bite?
As discussed above, American pelecinid wasps do not have stingers. They have a curled abdomen used to deposit eggs and act as faux stingers to scare predators.
At most, they may use the abdomen to push a predator or threat away. But beyond that, they are not capable of biting or stinging.
Are They Poisonous Venomous?
No, American pelecinid wasps are not poisonous or venomous. Their abdomen is actually the long, narrow organ resembling a stinger or a tail.
And since they have no proper stinger, there is no way for them to deposit any kind of poison or venom.
Are American Pelecinid Wasps Beneficial?
American pelecinid wasps play a dual ecological role in the environment. One is controlling insect pest populations carried out by the wasp larvae.
Second, they play the role of pollinators once they mature into adult wasps.
Let’s take a more detailed look at these two roles.
American pelecinid wasps are beneficial in controlling the populations of June beetles.
The white beetle grubs feed on the roots of plants and can pose potential issues in the crop and grass systems.
The female wasps track down the white grubs of June beetles and lay their eggs on them.
The pelecinid wasp larvae are parasitoids that feed on the exoskeleton of the beetle grubs and feed on it till it dies.
And it’s not limited to June beetles. Parasitoid wasps are essential in naturally controlling the population of insect pests.
They lay eggs on top of arthropods and cause their death by feeding on them.
In their second role as pollinators, once the larvae mature into adult wasps, they step into their essential role in pollination, like bees and butterflies.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Pelecinus polyturator bite?
American Pelecinid Wasps do not generally bite humans, and they even appear to avoid human disturbance.
However, they will bite if they feel threatened or come into contact with skin. Their venom is not deadly, although it can cause discomfort and swelling.
It is best to leave them alone if you spot them around your home, as they are beneficial creatures that help reduce garden pests.
Where is the American Pelecinid wasp found?
The American Pelecinid wasp is found in most parts of the United States and Canada, as well as parts of Mexico and Central America.
It prefers dry, arid regions with little vegetation or water. In particular, it is commonly found in desert-like environments such as cactus-rich areas, roadsides, and urban centers.
This species of wasp is part of the spider wasp family and can be identified by its black body and long abdomen, which looks like a stinger.
What is a scorpion wasp?
Scorpion wasps are a family of insects well known for their spectacular morphological structure, with the ability to paralyze or even kill their prey before eating it.
These wasps have venomous barbed stingers and vary in size from 10-45 mm long. They come in a range of colors, from black to yellow and red, depending on the species.
The larvae feed on paralyzed arthropods that are brought back to the nest by their mothers.
Adult wasps feed mainly on flower nectar and are important pollinators within their ecosystems.
What does a scorpion wasp look like?
The scorpion wasp is a metallic black or blue colored, medium-sized insect with some yellow markings.
Its wings are long and narrow, and it typically measures about one inch in length.
It has two long, curved antennae as well as two pairs of short and stout legs which give it the appearance of a small crab or crayfish.
Its most notable feature is its large stinger located near the end of its body which can be used to paralyze prey before consuming them.
The scorpion wasp is an impressive and remarkable species.
American pelecinid wasps are a harmless species of wasps. They have a long narrow organ that looks like a stinger but is an elongated abdomen.
The females use the curled abdomen to lay eggs during the breeding season.
In the absence of a proper stinger, these wasps are not capable of biting or stinging.
American Pelecinids look quite scary from afar, as you can see from the several emails we have received from our readers over the years.
But a closer inspection tells us that they are quite harmless, and actually beneficial to us.
Do go through the email to understand why people are so scared of them!
Letter 1 – American Pelecinid
Hello, Thank you for all your hard work! My 6yr old Jenna and myself spend alot of time here, especially since we’ve moved back to “Buggy old Michigan” as Jenna says. Our question today is regarding this flying buggy that looks to me like a dragonfly with a scorpioin like tail that appears to have a stinger (created much controversy in our neighborhood of bugs to beware)??? We are very curious as the population of these guys is increasing this month. Thanks Again
Jenna and Shelly
Hi Jenna and Shelly,
The population explosion of the American Pelecinid might be a good thing. These non-stinging relatives of wasps use that long ovipositor to lay eggs underground in the burrows of beetle grubs. The grubs are parasitized. There might be a future population explosion of destructive June Beetles if you kill the Pelecinids. Pelecinids are totally harmless.
Letter 2 – American Pelecinid
What’s this Bug?
I was wondering if you could tell me what kind of insect this is in these pictures?
Thanks in advance
The female American Pelecinid uses that odd shaped abdomen to deposit eggs deep in the ground where the larval food, May Beetle grubs can be found. The adult drinks nectar. Males are very rare. This is the only North American species in the Family Pelecinidae.
Letter 3 – American Pelecinid
Odd Dragonfly-like bug
The attached picture is of a flying bug we have seen several tiems in the last few weeks near Flint, Michigan. I’ve searched high and low and cannot figure out exactly what it is. It appears to be a type of dragonfly. Can you help? Thanks,
This is an American Pelecinid, a non-stinging wasp relative that parasitizes June Beetle Grubs. The American Pelecinid is the only member of its family found in the U.S.
Letter 4 – American Pelecinid
Glad I found your site. Checked every I.D source available ( except yours ) to no avail. I suspect this bug is not of this world. Can you help?. It was sitting on a car bumper at my cottage 60 miles North of Montreal on a hot summer day. The body was about 1 1/2 inch long and the tail another two or three! Plus how does that thing fly?. Thanks for your help.
Regards Bob Alie
This is an American Pelecinid, Pelecinus polyturator, a parasitic wasp and the only North American species in the family. The female, and your specimen is a female, inserts her long abdomen into the ground to lay eggs on burrowing scarab beetle grubs that will provide food for her progeny. She flies with the use of her wings.
Letter 5 – American Pelecinid
Curled up tail and wings
Sat, May 9, 2009 at 5:57 PM
This bug was found outside, in the twin cities metro are of Minnesota. The size of the bug was rather small, a few centimeters. I hope the image is good enough for you to see and hopefully figure out what it is.
The very unique American Pelecinid, Pelecinus polyturator, is not likely to be confused with any other North American insect. Your specimen is a female, and she uses her unusual abdomen to parasitize the grubs of scarab beetles. According to BugGuide: “Parasitoids of insect larvae that feed on decomposing wood, etc. These include larvae of scarab beetles, esp. May Beetles ( Phyllophaga ). Also reported to parasitize wood-boring insects. Female thrusts ovipositor into soil to detect host, lays one egg on each. Pelecinid larva burrows into the beetle larva, killing it. Wasp larva scavenges remains and pupates there in soil. ” BugGuide also indicates this surprising information: “In North American populations, males are rare, and reproduction is apparently largely by parthenogenesis (Brues, 1928). In tropical populations (or species), males are more abundant.” Lastly, BugGuide also states: “Typically August-September. Reported July-August (Minnesota), June-September (North Carolina)” which could make this early sighting another indication of global warming. Insects are often quite adaptable, and changes in their habit force them to adjust quickly as their life cycles are generally less than a year.
Letter 6 – American Pelecinid
looks like a flying scorpion
September 7, 2009
this fly landed at my camp table over the weekend in the Adirondack region of NY. I thought it immediately looked like a flying scorpion and looked it up online. There are scorpionflies, but this one doesn’t resemble that. Any ideas?
perplexed in the north country
Long Lake, Adirondacks, NY
This is a parasitic Hymenopteran known as the American Pelecinid, Pelecinus polyturator. The pictured individual, like most individuals, is a female. The female American Pelecinid uses her long ovipositor to locate subterranean grubs from May Beetles and other Scarabs and lays an egg. The young wasp then feeds on the beetle grub, eventually killing it. Our new great obsession in the insect world is nonsexual reproduction, or parthenogenesis. The American Pelecinid males are quite rare, and most females reproduce without a mate. According to BugGuide: “In North American populations, males are rare, and reproduction is apparently largely by parthenogenesis (Brues, 1928). In tropical populations (or species), males are more abundant.“
Letter 7 – American Pelecinid
Winged black bug with 2 inch hook-like thing
September 14, 2009
I awoke this morning, and on my window screen I found this bug. It’s about 3 inches long, and black. It has a long, hooked appendage below its wings. It’s 6 segments, but possibly 7. The very tip is at an angle, but it’s only a millimeter or two, so I’m not sure if it’s another segment or just the end of the 6th. I’m not sure if it’s some type of stinger, because although the end is tapered, it doesn’t look very sharp. I found it at about 10:00 AM in Fargo, North Dakota today, so during the end of summer and fall is when this picture is from.
Scary Bug Girl
Fargo, North Dakota
Dear Scary Bug Girl,
This nonstinging wasp relative is an American Pelecinid. Its profile is very distinctive. The female of the species (your individual is a female) uses her long abdomen to deposit eggs underground near burrowing May Beetle Grubs that her larvae will feed upon. We love your photograph.
Letter 8 – American Pelecinid
Long scorpion like tail.
September 20, 2009
This picture taken today, September 20, 2009 in the Northern reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Iron River.
I think it is some sort of a wood borer that uses it’s long segmented tail to burrow deep under the bark of a tree and lay it’s eggs.
During the first attempt to take a picture of this bug it flew off but thankfully it is not a fast flyer and landed only a few yards from where it began.
Iron River, MI
We have posted several images of the American Pelecinid recently, but your photo shows the most detail. The female of the species, which is represented in your photograph, uses her long abdomen to lay her eggs underground near burrowing grubs of May Beetles. The larvae of the American Pelecinid then parasitize the beetle grubs.
Letter 9 – American Pelecinid
Some sort of Dragonfly Species?
June 10, 2010
I was outside during mid afternoon doing some yard work, and out of the corner of my eye, this strange bug caught my attention. At first glance, it looked like a dragon fly, but it looked to odd to be one. It’s body appears to be much longer than a dragon fly. The body is also broken up into 5 segments and has what appears to be some type of stinger at the end of it’s body. It also kept arching it’s body up and down and you can see what I mean in the pictures. It was all black and had no distinctive markings or other colors. I also held it to get another good picture and from the head to the end of it’s tail was about 3 inches.
Buggy For Bugs
This is an American Pelecinid, the only member of its family in the continental U.S. The American Pelecinid is a parasitoid wasp that preys upon the grubs of June Beetles that live underground. Your specimen is a female and the female American Pelecinid uses her long jointed abdomen to lay an egg underground on or near a burrowing white beetle grub. When the egg hatches, the larval Pelecinid feeds upon the grub. We are presetting your letter to post live to our site between June 15 and June 23 as we will be in Ohio visiting mom for a week, and we want our readership to continue to get live daily postings in our absence.