Information About Great Black Wasps

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Great black wasps are large, black insects that are much more colorful in behavior than appearance. Though they are large and intimidating, great black wasps are relatively docile and rarely aggressive toward humans. They are often found around homes in many parts of the country as they feed on the nectar and pollen of common garden flowers and will hunt grasshoppers, katydids, cicadas and other large insects from lawns.

Taxonomy

  • Great black wasps (Sphex pennsylvanicus) are members of the sphecid family of wasps, which include mud daubers, sand wasps, digger wasps and many other large wasps without a common name.

Description

  • Great black wasps, also known as katydid killers, are a large flying insect. They appear solid black with a blue iridescent sheen on their wings. Great black wasps can grow to be 1 inch in length; males are slightly smaller than females.

Range and Habitat

  • Great black wasps are found throughout Eastern and Central North America. They prefer open meadows and fields with flowering plants, where insects such as grasshoppers, katydid and other large insects are also found. Great black wasps are commonly found in residential areas where there is an abundance of garden flowers and open lawns, resources that allow great black wasps to feed and reproduce easily.

Behavior

  • Great black wasps are relatively timid when compared to other sphecid wasps. Males cannot sting and females will only sting if persistently threatened. Like other members of the sphecid family, great black wasps make their small, tube-like nests underground; biologists call animals that commonly dig and live underground, like the great black wasp, a forssorial species. They are solitary wasps and rarely live in colonies with other wasps. Their non-aggressive demeanor may be attributed to the lack of a colony nest to defend.

Reproduction

  • Great black wasps are famous for their reproductive behavior. Great black wasps will hunt and kill grasshoppers, katydids or cicadas, then carry the dead insect back to their nest where they push the carcass into their nest. They will capture two to three insects and then lay their eggs in the carcasses, which serve as food for the newly developing wasps.

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