Where Do Great Black Wasps Live In The United States?

Great black wasps can be terrifying to look at, but there’s a lot you may not know about them. For example, where do great black wasps live? Where do they come from originally? Let’s find out.


There is a wide variety of wasps found around the world, but the Great Black Wasp (Sphex Pensylvanicus)is native to the warm climates on the Western side of the United States.

Even so, it can be found all across North America and has spread its wings in many states by now. Let’s discuss more where the great black wasps live below.


Great Black Wasp Carnage


Where Does It Live?

The great black wasp is the biggest species of wasps by size (larger than its cousin, the great golden digger wasps) and is usually found everywhere in the United States (except Pacific Northwest).

You can find them most commonly in the states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Long Island, Michigan, and Massachusetts.

Amongst the cities, you can usually spot a great black wasp location in San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Bakersfield, Santa Clarita, and more places on the Western coast of the country.

The great black wasps have the unique ability to survive in almost any type of climate. But when it comes to thriving, the warm climate of the western US is the best for them.

The best time to spot them is in the United States in July and August.

Do They Make Nests?

The great black wasps are solitary insects. They don’t really have a need for a nest, as they can spend their lives flitting from one plant or tree to the other. Neither do they have colonies to protect.

However, the adult female great black wasps are digger wasps who build nests when they are about to lay eggs.

Unlike paper wasps or yellow jackets, they dig an underground nest about 1 foot below the surface. They also dig a series of tunnels to create enough room to lay multiple eggs.


Where Do Great Black Wasps Live


What Does a Great Black Wasp Nest Look Like?

The great black wasp’s nest is similar to the tarantula hawk wasp’s nest, with a series of tunnels and chambers for laying eggs.

Each chamber contains room for one egg. Moreover, both these bugs are parasitic, so they lay their eggs in the body of another insect. So the chamber has to be large enough to have room for the insect as well.

While Tarantula Hawk uses large insects like spiders to act as hosts, the great black wasp usually relies on smaller insects, including grasshoppers or katydids, to do the job.

In either case, the poor host insect’s future is quite bleak and their impending death quite gruesome. We will talk more about them in later sections.

How Do Black Wasps Lay Their Eggs?

Once the female wasp creates a burrow in the soil, the mating process begins. Once she is pregnant with eggs, the female wasp starts looking for host insects like katydids, locusts, cicadas, and grasshoppers to serve as food for her larvae.

The great black wasp stings the insect thrice, paralyzing it with venom. She lays her egg under the victim’s belly and carries it to her burrow.

Once the egg hatches, the larvae feed on the paralyzed host insect, making sure to keep it alive as long as possible. After this stage, they pupate and, finally, dig out of the burrow to come out of the ground.

So if you spot some underground great black wasps, they are likely freshly minted adult wasps coming out of their burrow.

Female wasps are very defensive once they lay their eggs until the larvae become adult wasps. During this time, if you go near her nest, she is likely to sting you.


Where Do Great Black Wasps Live


What Do They Eat?

The male adult wasps survive on nectar and pollens, but the female wasps hunt small insects, such as katydids, cicadas, grasshoppers, and locusts, to lay their eggs.

However, they do not eat these prey, instead paralyzing them by stinging them three times and laying a single egg on them. She carries it to her nest and places it in one of her chambers.

After placing the insect in the tunnel, the female wasp covers the hole with soil and looks for other prey. Once the egg hatches, the larvae feed on them to grow stronger.

Are They Invasive?

The great black wasp isn’t an invasive insect. Neither is it aggressive or dangerous. Since it doesn’t form colonies, it usually does not have anything to defend, so there is no need for them to be aggressive.

The black body of these wasps may seem threatening to you, but the insect is usually unbothered by the presence of humans.

Even though the female wasp can sting humans, she would only do it if she felt unsafe or threatened and her nest was nearby.

If you are allergic to insects, stay away from areas where these wasps build their nest.

Do They Sting?

Only the females have stingers, and they sting only when threatened. These thread-waisted wasps have a painful sting, but it’s not dangerous.

However, if you are allergic to insects and get stung by a great black wasp, we recommend you seek medical help.

In any case, it is better to admire their beauty from afar rather than try to touch them.


Where Do Great Black Wasps Live


Frequently Asked Questions

What attracts great black wasp?

The great black wasps are usually attracted to flowers full of nectar and pollens. They are also attracted to other sweet and sugary things like soda bottles, desserts, juice, jams, honey, and other such things.

Adult wasps usually feed on nectar, but their larvae need to feed on insects to pupate. The female wasp hunts small insects like grasshoppers, cicadas, locusts, etc., to feed them to the larvae.

Do great black wasps live in the ground?

Unlike other social wasps, the great black wasp needs a nest to lay eggs since she doesn’t have a colony of helpers.

However, she does not build nests overground like yellow jackets and paper wasps; she digs her nests under the ground and lays multiple eggs there.

What happens if you get stung by a great black wasp?

Only the females of the great black wasp species have a stinger, but they are usually not bothered by humans. However, if they feel threatened, they would not shy away from stinging humans.

Their stings do not cause any long-term harm but can be quite painful. If you are allergic to insects and great black wasp stings, seek immediate medical help.

Can black wasps sting more than once?

Yes, black wasps can sting more than once; however, only the female ones.

When she hunts insects like cicadas and locusts to feed her larvae, she stings them three times to paralyze them, lays her egg on them, and pulls them into her burrow to keep as a feeder for the larvae.

Wrap Up

The great black wasp are magnificent specimens of the wasp species, but unlike their cousins, they don’t live in colonies. They make their nests underground when they have to lay eggs.

These bugs are found all over North America in many states, but they prefer warmer climates. Thank you for reading!

Reader Emails

Many of our readers have inquired in the past whether a wasp they have seen in their gardens is a great black, and if these wasps even live in their state/area.

We hope the post above has been useful. Do read some of the mails below, and see the beautiful pics of the wasp in question.

Letter 1 – Great Black Wasp


To Whom it May Concern,
I killed two of these monsters this weekend. I have never seen a totally black, wasp like creature before. It dive bombed me and took an inordinate amount of wasp spray to kill. Can you please tell me what this is? I live in mid Michigan.
Chris McHugh

Hi Chris,
You killed Sphex pennsylvanica, the Great Black Wasp. They are hunters of katydids, and they nest singly in burrows in the soil, not in mud nests. They are very non-aggressive.

Letter 2 – Blue Mud Dauber


Subject: Insect ID Location: South Florida-West Palm Beach March 16, 2014 3:17 pm Could you please ID this blue flying insect. Signature: DJS
Great Black Wasp
Blue Mud Dauber
Dear DJS, This looks like a Great Black Wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus, to us.  We are going to check with Eric Eaton who profiled the Great Black Wasp on his Bug Eric blog to see if he can verify or correct its identity.  According to Eric:  “Few North American wasps are as conspicuous as the Great Black Wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus. This all-black insect with violet reflections on its wings is so large as to sometimes be mistaken for a tarantula hawk wasp. Males average 22 millimeters in body length, while females are about 28 millimeters (up to 35 mm) and more robust.” Correction Courtesy of Eric Eaton Daniel: That is either a Blue Mud Dauber, Chalybion californicum, or a Steel Blue Cricket Killer, Chlorion aerarium.  Hard to tell the two apart from only a couple images from the same angle.  I lean toward Blue Mud Dauber, though. Eric
Great Black Wasp
Blue Mud Dauber

Letter 3 – Great Black Wasp


Subject: What is this huge flying bug? Location: Southern Maine August 3, 2014 7:45 am They have infested our backyard, burrowing in the dirt around our pool. What are they and how can we kill them/get rid of them? Signature: CH
Great Black Wasp
Great Black Wasp
Dear CH, This looks like a Great Black Wasp, a non-aggressive, beneficial species that preys upon Katydids and digs underground burrows to use as a nursery.  Other than providing a food source of paralyzed Katydids, the female Great Black Wasp does not defend her nest.  We do not provide extermination advice.  The Great Black Wasp is a much more attractive creature living than dead.


  • 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 “Where Do Great Black Wasps Live In The United States?”

  1. I looked up the black wasps because we have a lot of them around our boat (on land in our yard). They stay in that area and don’t bother us at all.
    I was wondering why all of a sudden we see them this year, and do they sting?
    Not wanting to get rud if them if they’re harmless.

  2. I live in south central Louisiana. This flying insect burrowed a hole the size of a quarter, overnight… The dirt removed from underground can fill a 10# bag of flour.. The bug appears to be solid black, and a little larger than the size of a carpenter beep. Can you identify this bug for me?
    Thank you.

  3. I live in south central Louisiana. This flying insect burrowed a hole the size of a quarter, overnight… The dirt removed from underground can fill a 10# bag of flour.. The bug appears to be solid black, and a little larger than the size of a carpenter beep. Can you identify this bug for me?
    Thank you.

  4. We had a lot of these black wasps show up last summer. And just yesterday my grandson got stung 3 times (2 on stomach 1 on hand) after sliding on his stomach down the slide. While I appreciate their beauty I can not have them around. My granddaughter is highly allergic to bee and wasp stings and as we found out yesterday so is my grandson.
    So they have to go. My question is how do you find the nest? What does it look like from topside? We thought about putting granular sulphur out in the yard. To keep their “food” away. Will this work? Any suggestions?

  5. I have (I think) the Black Wasps in my house! I don’t want them in my house… We have pets and don’t want to spray and we can’t find where they’re coming from.


  6. I have (I think) the Black Wasps in my house! I don’t want them in my house… We have pets and don’t want to spray and we can’t find where they’re coming from.


  7. I have a very jerky fast metallic midnight blue wasp body insect that comes, doesn’t give me time to photo it then disappears under the porch. I never see more than one & never see any exit. Is this a dauber?


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