What Do Golden Digger Wasps Eat?

folder_openHymenoptera, Insecta
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Golden digger wasps are often called friends of the gardener, but did you know the reasons behind them? What do golden digger wasps eat that is so beneficial for gardens? Let’s check it out.

Golden diggers wasps are carnivorous as larvae but grow to become nectarivores in adulthood. Adult wasps only feed on nectar from flowers and overripe fruits.

The larvae grow up by preying on a paralyzed insect that their mother hunts for them.

Digger wasps prey on pests of the order Orthoptera, which include grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids. They are considered friends of farmers and gardeners.

What Do Golden Digger Wasps Eat

What Are These Wasps?

The golden digger wasps are scientifically known as Sphex Ichneumoneus. You can find these wasps in South America, Mexico, Central America, North America, and the Caribbean.

These solitary wasps have bicolored bodies. They have a black head and body, but their abdomen is rusty orange or bright orange.

Great golden’s are thread-waisted wasps, and their head and thorax region have golden hairs. They measure about one and a half inches.

What Do They Eat?

Adult wasps feed exclusively on the nectar of flowers and overripe fruits.

However, female wasps also hunt insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, and katydids. These are meant for the soon-to-hatch larvae of the wasps.

The wasps sting these insects, paralyzing them. They then carry them to their burrow and lay their egg on it. When the larvae hatch, they get to feast on the insect.

Insects such as katydids and grasshoppers damage crops and most garden plants by chewing on their leaves.

They are pests that cause retarded growth or premature senescence (untimely death) in your precious plants.

Beneficial insects such as golden digger wasps help control the population of these pests and are a natural way of avoiding harmful chemical pesticides.

What Do Golden Digger Wasps Eat

How Do The Adults Females Hunt to Feed The Larvae?

Great Golden Diggers are not social wasps and prefer to live alone in their separate nests. They also like to hunt separately from each other rather than swarming their prey.

Let’s look at their hunting process.

Building the nest

Female wasps, after mating, build clusters of nests in the ground, which look like small holes in the sandy soil.

The females follow a particular pattern ritually every time they create a nest.

Thus, the nests are almost identical and have a standard structure that comprises various interconnected tunnels of different sizes.

After building their nests, the female chooses a particular nest based on the best possible location and size.

Hunting the prey

Next, she goes hunting and captures many small insects, such as katydids, crickets, and grasshoppers.

The wasps use their mandible to grasp the antennas of the insects. Then they sting them, which paralyzes and makes the insect incapable of moving.

If it’s an insect smaller than the wasp, the female wasp carries it in between her legs and flies to her nest.

But for bigger ones, she drags them across the ground back to her nest.

What Do Golden Digger Wasps Eat

Laying her eggs

On reaching her nest, the female drops her prey and goes inside to check on the nest.

This is a ritual habit with the wasp, and if you move the insect even a few inches before she is back, she will drag it back and then again go to check her nest.

This habit has been the subject of study among entomologists because it shows that even seemingly well-thought-out things (checking the nest) can be ritualistic.

Once assured, she drags the prey into the inner tunnels, where she lays one egg on the bottom of each insect.

As the egg hatches and the larva emerges, it starts to eat the insect alive. The larvae keep the vital organs intact till the end so that the insect remains fresh as they feed and grow.

Lifecycle of the Great Golden Digger Wasp?

Golden diggers wasps can have only one generation in a year.

When she lays her eggs as described above, they hatch in 2 to 3 days. The larvae live in the nest, feeding on the insect provided.

After a few weeks, they start pupating and weave a cocoon of silk threads. They overwinter as pupae.

They emerge during the summer months as adult great golden wasps and live for about one to two months, during which they create nests, mate, and reproduce again.

What Do Golden Digger Wasps Eat

How Are They Beneficial To Us?

It would not be wrong to say that the great golden digger wasps are an asset to any garden or agricultural field.

These wasps are solitary and are not aggressive towards humans until you try to touch them. They do a lot of good for your garden:

  • They are beneficial predatory insects that prey on common garden pests such as grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets that eat on the leaves of your precious plants.
  • The adult wasps feed on the nectar and pollinate the entomophilous flowers of plants in your garden.
  • These wasps dig the soil while building nests in the ground. Digging helps in soil aeration, which improves its water-absorbing capacity, thus preventing water logging in the rainy season.

How To Invite Them To Your Garden?

One of the best ways to lure the helpful golden digger wasps to your garden is to provide a place to nest for them.

Female wasps begin their nest hunting and mating in early July. You can set up appropriate areas for them to nest beforehand.

Female wasps prefer open spaces without vegetation or grassy covers that receive direct sunlight for burrowing and making nests.

You can create such a patch in a part of your garden and make sure to add sandy and granular soil to the place.

Moreover, it’s best if you do not use pesticides in your garden. Chemical pesticides are harsh and kill both harmful pests and beneficial insects such as digger wasps.

You can also try planting a few plants, such as swamp milkweed, which are known to attract these wasps.

What Do Golden Digger Wasps Eat

Frequently Asked Questions

How deep do digger wasps dig?

The size of the burrow mainly depends on the size of the wasp. It can go up to 11 inches deep or more in some species of digger wasps.
The nest primarily has a central tunnel from which various smaller tunnels branch out, each one leading to a cell that is intended to host one larva.

How do I get rid of digger wasps?

To get rid of digger wasps, you have to destroy their nests. First, you need to mark all the holes in your garden.
Then during the night, when the wasps are inactive, you can pour a solution of 50 percent vinegar and 50 percent water into the holes. Ammonia also works to remove digger wasps.

Are golden digger wasps aggressive?

No, golden digger wasps are solitary and would not sting or bite humans until they feel threatened.
It is best not to try to handle it and leave it alone in your garden, as their sting could be painful and lead to allergic reactions in a few people.

What are digger wasps attracted to?

Diggers wasps are attracted to flowers containing nectar. Plants such as swamp milkweed, culver’s root, and spotted bee balm are known to attract digger wasps.
They also prefer pesticide-free gardens, where they can find ample food sources to hunt for their larvae.

Wrap Up

The adult female wasps strictly feed only on nectar or plant sap. But it also arranges an insect meal for its wasp larva to feed on during its development.

It lays each egg on its paralyzed prey which the larvae eat to grow while still in the nest. These insects have usually planted pests such as grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids.

For this reason, great golden digger wasps are friends of gardeners and planters.

Thank you for reading!

Reader Emails

Go through some real life shots of how the great golden’s capture and carry around katydids in between their legs – it is indeed a unique sight to behold.

Letter 1 – Mydas Fly and Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

thanks again!
Thanks very much for posting my photo of the cabbage butterflies! I was able to identify these two wasps I took photos of today A spider wasp, and a golden digger wasp; thanks as always!
Adam

Mydas Fly Great Golden Digger Wasp

Hi Again Adam,
Not only are you an accomplished nature photographer, it seems you have a stable of coopertive models at your disposal. Both of your images are a welcome addition to our site. We hope you haven’t gotten spoilt by us posting three letters with four images in two day.

(06/27/2007) Adam’s Spider Wasp
Greetings, Bugman!
I think that the “blue-black spider wasp” that Adam sent may be a mydas fly. The photo angle, though very beautiful, makes for a slightly harder ID on account of perspective and foreshortening. Thanks again for the wonderful site!
Emily

Thanks Emily,
We were rushing and missed that.

Letter 2 – Great Golden Digger Wasp with Katydid

 

Great Golden Digger Wasp with Prey
Hi Bugman…thought these might be a good addition to your carnage page. I watched the wasp drag the prey down into the burrow and disappear. It was having a hard time carrying it because of its size, so it moved along the wall and fell to the ground near the burrow.
Tom Rook
Brantford, Ontario Canada
www.stockfullofnature.com

Hi Tom,
Actually, our Carnage Page is reserved for unnecessary slaughter at the hands of man. This is far more appropriate for our Food Chain page. Thanks for sending us your awesome image of a Great Golden Digger Wasp and its Katydid prey.

Letter 3 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Hi there.
I will try to get a picture of this creature for you…but untill then.. I will do my best to describe it to you in the hopes you can tell me what it is.
for starters..I live in Maryland (baltimore county) middle northeast md. and this creature has been spotted at work burrowing under the ground in our gardens and taking ever greens in with him/her. it is a large 1 1/2 inch to 2 inch wasp like creature with black wings (that flutter when its on the ground)…shapped like a wasp (redish in color with a heart shaped face and yellow hight lites on its face)…it flys more like a humming bird..it tends to hover and dart rather then fly around like a normal bee. it has been seen killing and carrying off katydids and other small-ish insects…they appear to have a huge under ground structure going with many holes comming up in the gardens….that are full of spreading ewes and now Stone crop plants. (use to have bulbs and ewes)..gardens have been untouched for about 30 years and the bee like creatures have been noticed since I planted the stone crop and cut away some of the ewes to reveal the soil. they are again…large wasp like with black wings and redish bodies…and seem to kill other insects. any ideas ? I will take a picture of them tomorrow
thanks
Pat

Hi Pat,
You have a Great Golden Digger Wasp.

Letter 4 – Great Golden Digger Wasp in Mt Washington

 

We have been watching two Great Golden Digger Wasps, Sphex ichneumoneus, in our Mt. Washington vegetable garden as they gather nectar from our onion blossoms. They are rather possessive of the blossoms and try to chase one another away. This is a new species in our garden and we are most excited about their presence. Every year, we get numerous Katydids that eat our roses, and hopefully, the Great Golden Digger Wasps will help control the Katydid numbers.

Letter 5 – Great Golden Digger Wasps

 

 

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

Wednesday, July 15, 2009
While working in the yard, we couldn’t help but notice the three Great Golden Digger Wasps, Sphex ichneumoneus,  that were gathering nectar from the blooming onions.  Is it any wonder we have a healthy population of these wasps?  There are plenty of Katydids in our garden to provide a bounteous  food source for the young.  According to BugGuide:  “Female digs burrow almost vertically. Cells are dug radiating out from central tunnel. Larvae are provisioned with crickets, camel crickets, katydids (long-horned grasshoppers). One paralyzed prey is placed in each cell, and one egg is laid on it. One generation per year.

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

These Great Golden Digger Wasps are most active in their quest for nectar.  We had to be most patient in our attempts to capture these images.  We lament that we were unable to get a good image of the three Great Golden Digger Wasps together.

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

Letter 6 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Huge great Golden Digger Wasp
Location:  Fairfield, Maine USA
August 23, 2010 11:53 am
Dear Bugman, the other day I was going to shoot a few Argiope aurantia we have living in the garden when I hear and saw this enormous orange black and yellow blur zipping around. I pursued it and saw it was a wasp like none I’d ever seen. It was probably approaching at least 3” long and was also quite stout. Although initially, I wanted to stay a safe distance away, it soon became clear it was not concerned with me. It would even stop, cock its head up toward me and then carry on feeding on nectar from the Goldenrod. It was hard to follow it around closely enough to get pictures because it was actually quite shy. I’ve seen it on 3 different days, so far, and hope to see it again.
Are they very solitary wasps? I feel that I keep seeing the same one, in the same area of the gardens…
Thank you,
James R

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Hi James,
The Great Golden Digger Wasp,
Sphex ichneumoneus, is a solitary wasp that provisions its nest with paralyzed katydids and crickets to feed its young.  Some solitary wasps like Cicada Killers and Sand Wasps nest in colonies, but we have never heard of colonial behavior in the Great Golden Digger Wasp.

Thank you Daniel,
Unfortunately, since the last time, I have not seen it again.
It has been getting cold in the evenings; do they winter over, or just die each tear?
Thanks,
James

Hi again James,
Adults do not overwinter.

Letter 7 – Great Golden Digger Wasp Dilemma

 

Great Golden Digger Wasps
Location: Eugene, Oregon
August 17, 2011 7:33 pm
Hi this is my first year seeing these bugs and they have taken over a corner of my sand riding arena. I was weed wacking around the edge of the arena and at least 40 of them came out of their little burrows and just sat on the top of the sand (probably trying to figure out what that noisy irritating thing was doing and whether it was going to attack them). They never made any aggressive movements towards me so I wasn’t concerned about their presence (I am however intensely allergic to wasps so once I saw them so I kept my distance for my own safety)
My problem is, I need to be able to ride in this arena and I’m afraid if my horses big hooves stomp on a bug or onto one of their burrows they might feel the need to get aggressive. Is there a way to gently encourage them to find another home? preferably before they take over the entire arena? I have no idea how many larvae they lay each year but I would assume it could get out of hand with 40 or so adults in one spot this summer.
I’d prefer not to use pesticides, as much for the bug’s benefit as for the horse’s (horses can metabolize insecticides through the sole of the hoof and cause irreversible damage to the internal structure of the hooves and liver).
Any advice would be appreciated. I was thinking maybe dragging the arena more often with a tractor might encourage them to find another home. do you think that would work?
Signature: Teresa Hetu

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Hi Teresa,
Alas, we have no suggestions on how to solve your dilemma.  It seems you have too many restrictions (your allergies, horses reactions to insecticides, need to use corner) to make any decision that will meets all your qualifications.  Insects are like any other living creature.  They nest where conditions are suited to their needs, like food and shelter.  Once humans begin to alter the landscape, things change.  Creating a sandy arena for riding has produced conditions that made that specific area attractive to a large number of wasps.  Dragging the area with a tractor will not encourage them to find another home, but if you dig deep enough, you may destroy the broods that are there.  A female Great Golden Digger Wasp
Sphex ichneumoneus, expends a great deal of energy hunting and paralyzing a single cricket or katydid that will provide the necessary food for a single egg.  She will provision each chamber of her nest with enough food to sustain a single offspring and her instincts tell her when to plan for another offspring.  If she is lucky enough to survive predation herself, she may produce several offspring.  For some reason, the conditions in your area supported a large population this year.  You cannot expect that to keep happening because the habitat would not sustain ever growing populations of predators.  Nature seeks balance.  Good luck with your quandary.

It is odd that so many showed up this year when we have never had any before. or at least never saw any. We’ve had the arena for 10 years now and this is the first time I’ve seen anything like this. I have a tiller that I can use on their area perhaps that would work. How deep do they usually dig their nests? I suppose if all else fails I can just block off about a 20 foot diameter location and they can do their thing and hopefully move on next year.
Thanks for your help
Teresa

Perhaps weather conditions produced more Katydids than normal last season.  Did you place new sandy substrate recently?  That might attract them. 

nope, same thing it’s been for 10 years. would watering down the area make a difference? (I’m thinking soaking it?)

We love that idea.  Try it.

I’ll let you know the results… I have to daisy chain like 8 hoses to get all the way out into the corner but it’s sure worth a shot.
Teresa

We have never heard that term used with hoses.  We believe that hosing down the area will not make any difference to the developing larvae, but it may discourage the mothers from remaining and continuing to provision the nests for additional offspring.

Update:  September 26, 2011
Daniel, just wanted to let you know how the “experiment” went with the wasps. I’m sad to say it was a miss. they just relocated all over the arena rather than one corner after I soaked it.
Teresa

Letter 8 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Flying unknown insect
Location: Delaware Co, Unon Township, Indiana Co Rd 1200 N and State RD 3
September 13, 2011 2:59 pm
Can you tell me the name of this iscect my Aunt has in her back yard about tw0 feet from her home and a little bit about it. The insect has a hole in the ground?
Ed Tharp
Signature: Ed Tharp

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Hi Ed,
This is a Great Golden Digger Wasp and it is our favorite wasp.  You need not worry about her hole.  She is a solitary Thread Waist Wasp, and she shuns her own kind unlike other “solitary” wasps like the Cicada Killer that nests in colonies despite having her own brood.  Great Golden Digger Wasps prey upon Katydids.
What state are you in anyway? We found a Delaware County in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania and we aren’t certain that Indiana Co Rd is in Indiana.

Letter 9 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject: Big ass bug
Location: Tustin, Ca (Orange County)
June 5, 2012 12:49 am
I’ve spent hours online trying to learn the true name of this guy? It was pretty quick so I don’t have anything for a size reference point but it was definitely bigger than a quarter. In the close up of the head, you can see what appears to be fangs underneath it. I was guessing it was some kind of a wasp?
Any help you could give me would be great!
Signature: Macro Shooter

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Dear Macro Shooter,
This beautiful creature is a Great Golden Digger Wasp, a species found throughout North America.  The female provisions her nest with paralyzed Katydids that act as a preserved food source for her developing brood.  The Great Golden Digger Wasp is not an aggressive species.  We are postdating your request to go live early next week.

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Very cool, thanks for the quick information!  I seriously looked for hours trying to narrow it down to no avail.
My name is Joe Vallee by the way and thanks again….

Letter 10 – Great Golden Digger Wasps in Mt Washington

 

June 26, 2012
Location:  Mt Washington, Los Angeles, CA
We are always thrilled when the Great Golden Digger Wasps,
 Sphex ichneumoneus, appear in our garden in early summer.

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Their appearance seems to coincide with the bloom season of the onions we plant each year.  Though we grow onions because we love pulling out a few fresh green onions to add to the salad or to eat with a bit of salt, and we also enjoy the mature onions that we dig out after the bulbs get to a large size, but the added attraction of blooms that are frequented by bees, wasps, pollinating flies and even a few butterflies is a wonderful addition to a vegetable garden that is also decorative.  We watched as a larger Great Golden Digger Wasp was buzzed by a smaller one, and we can’t help but to wonder if this was some type of courtship behavior. 

Great Golden Digger Wasp

The female Great Golden Digger Wasp provisions her nest with paralyzed Crickets and Katydids.  We also have a healthy Katydid population, so there is ample food supply.  Parts of the garden are more wild in nature, and there is adequate habitat for a nest to remain undisturbed throughout the winter.  Great Golden Digger Wasps can be found in all 48 lower United States, and they are quite adaptable to a range of climate conditions.  Great Golden Digger Wasps are not aggressive and we hope that our readers will learn to tolerate them and not succumb to the impulse to eradicate all potentially stinging insects they happen to encounter.  See BugGuide for additional information on the Great Golden Digger Wasp.  We are postdating a few entries to go live during the few days this week we will be out of the office for a short roadtrip.

Great Golden Digger Wasp (the smaller individual)


Letter 11 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject: wasp?
Location: Hingham, Massachusetts
July 27, 2012 4:06 pm
Hi-
This bug has made a home in my walkway to my back door. I am concerned it will sting my curious toddlers. What is it and how do I relocate it?
Signature: Liz

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Hi Liz,
The Great Golden Digger Wasp in your photo is a solitary species that is not aggressive.  This female has dug a nest that she provisions with Katydids to feed her brood.  Solitary Wasps do not produce many offspring.  Those that survive will not emerge from the nest until next spring.  We do not believe this Great Golden Digger Wasp poses any threat to your toddlers and we do not feel there is a need to attempt to relocate her, especially since relocation could probably not be achieved.

Letter 12 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject: Tarantula Hawk
Location: Chowchilla River, Madera County, CA
July 13, 2013 8:29 pm
This falls into the interesting photo category. There were many of these working a good stand of flowering pennyroyal and mint (about all that’s flowering here at the moment).
Signature: Megan

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

Dear Megan,
This is not a Tarantula Hawk.  Tarantula Hawks are much larger and they are usually black with orange wings.  This is our favorite wasp that regularly visits our garden at the Mount Washington,  Los Angeles offices of What’s That Bug?  It is a Great Golden Digger Wasp and it is a species that if found coast to coast in North America.  Females hunt Katydids and their relatives to provision a nest for their young.  Great Golden Digger Wasps are solitary wasps and they are not aggressive.  When our onion flowers bloom in the garden, the Great Golden Digger Wasps come for the nectar.

Neat!  Thank you!  I guess because I saw lots of the standard black/orange Tarantula Hawks around, I thought this was one also.

Letter 13 – Great Golden Digger Wasp

 

Subject: UFB- unidentified flying bug
Location: South Salem, New York
July 8, 2014 6:23 am
Hi!
We found strange bugs digging gravelly holes in-between the stone tiles on our porch. We’ve looked it up several times, but we’ve found nothing useful. Does it sting? Can anybody confirm what type of insect this is?
Signature: The Greenbergs

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Great Golden Digger Wasp

Hi Greenbergs,
This is a Great Golden Digger Wasp, a docile, solitary wasp that spends its time visiting flowers for food and females hunt Katydids which they drag back to underground burrows to feed the young.  Only female wasps have stingers, and solitary wasps like the Great Golden Digger Wasp rarely sting humans, though a sting might result through careless handling.  Unlike social wasps like Hornets and Yellowjackets that will sting to protect the nest, the Great Golden Digger Wasp does not sting to protect the nest.  The sting is used to paralyze Katydids so the hatchling wasp larvae will have a source of fresh food.  We hope we have convinced you that the Great Golden Digger Wasps do not present a threat to you, your family or your pets, and that you will allow them to continue to nest on your porch.

Authors

  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: Wasps

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13 Comments. Leave new

  • Awesome! We have tons of these that feed from our mint flowers. I didn’t know what they were.

    Reply
  • Hi,
    I live on the same latitude as James but farther west; in Kemptville, ON, half way between Ottawa and Ogdensburg, NY.
    I’ve never seen the Great Golden Digger Wasp before but I have at least 3 of them burrowing in my yard. The soil is very sandy and their burrow gets about half a day of sun.

    Are these rare creatures? Are they moving North as the planet warms up? Is there anything I should be doing to encourage them?

    Thank you,
    K

    Reply
    • The Great Golden Digger Wasp is not a rare species, and according to BugGuide sightings, it is found in most of North America. As long as there are flowers to provide nectar for the adults, and Katydids to provide a food for the young, you should have no trouble attracting Great Golden Digger Wasps.

      Reply
  • Dave Schrader
    July 7, 2016 11:20 am

    I found what appears to be this great golden digger wasp in my garden. The hole is as big around as my little finger the adult about 1 and a half to two inches long. It was very aware of me but left me alone. Does this sound like this insect?

    Reply
    • It sounds correct. Like other solitary wasps, Great Golden Digger Wasps do not defend the nest.

      Reply
  • Dave Schrader
    July 7, 2016 11:21 am

    Sorry, the garden site is in Baldwinsville, NY.

    Reply
  • I live in Athens Maine and I have a colony of them living near the base of a dying pine tree.

    Reply
  • I didn’t mean to insinuate that I thought the wasps had anything to do with the health of the tree. I just meant that there are quite a few making nests there.

    Reply
    • Then the soil is probably ideal for digging, and there is probably a plentiful supply of Katydids for provisioning the nest.

      Reply
  • Dee Phaneuf
    July 10, 2020 5:23 am

    wondering if there is a visible difference between male and female..anyone?

    Reply
  • Esther Tremblay
    August 25, 2022 7:50 pm

    Hi I live in kamloops bc canada and I found 3 digger wasps in my garden. Is that unusual?

    Reply

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