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Great Black Wasp

Common Name: Great Black Wasp.

Scientific Name: Sphex Pensylvanicus.

What to look for?  Strikingly large, black wasp! The Great Black Wasp has a satiny matte black body. They have smoky black wings that shine with a blue iridescence. When not flying, they usually fold their wings together lengthwise down the back. There is a narrow constriction between thorax and abdomen – known as a “thread-waisted” wasp. The heavy-duty mandibles (mouthparts) are relatively large and sickle-shaped, allowing her to hang onto her large Katydid prey. And, toward the other end, she has a stinger-tipped abdomen (see fifth photo). The legs are long and spiny.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? During the summer, the Great Black Wasp may be found around some of the milkweed or goldenrod plants that grow around Carillon Stonegate Pond. And over at Stonegate Park, you may see the Great Black Wasp feeding on the fascinating Rattlesnake Masters or Virginia Mountain Mints.

How big are they? Huge! The Great Black Wasp averages approximately one and one-half inches in length.

What are their flight patterns? Great Black Wasps are short distance fliers as they search for suitable plants and to hunt katydids for their young.

How else do they behave? Great Black Wasps are solitary, not social creatures like bees. They do not live in colonies. They are said to be mellower than bees and other wasps. Female Great Black Wasps dig long tunnels underground, with multiple chambers to hold eggs. They may fly around looking anxious if you approach their tunnel. The only role of the male Great Black Wasp is to mate.

What’s for dinner? Nectar and katydids – depending on their point in life cycle! Adult Great Black Wasps need flower nectar to fuel their flight. They find this nectar in Milkweed, mountain mints, Rattlesnake Master, White Sweet Clover, and goldenrods. In the larval stage, they primarily feed on katydids, grasshoppers, or crickets.

Where do they take up residence? The Great Black Wasp is common and widespread, living throughout the U.S., except the Pacific Northwest, and up into southeastern Canada. They reside in prairies, fields and meadows that support their preferred plants.

When and where do they breed and nest? Like other wasps, the Great Black Wasp undergoes complete metamorphosis through (1) egg, (2) larva, (3) pupa, and (4) adult. They are a solitary wasp and do not live in colonies. Mating season is just before the start of summer. The female digs a long tunnel in the ground with multiple chambers to lay eggs. Known as the “Katydid Hunter”, the female Great Black Wasp captures several katydids or grasshoppers and places these next to the egg. She catches, stings, and paralyzes her prey but does not kill it. Once the egg hatches, the emerging larva has an immediate food source and will devour the insects as it grows and develops over approximately ten days. The larva probably passes the winter in a pre-pupal state, pupating the following spring and then emerging in summer as an adult.

Where do they migrate? The Great Black Wasp does not migrate.

Do they make any interesting sounds? No.

Interesting Facts About the Great Black Wasp:

  • The male Great Black Wasp spends most of their time airborne, looking for food, chasing off other males and trying to mate with females.

  • Adult Great Black Wasps may look mean, but they are disinterested in humans and are not bothersome. That said, they can sting if mishandled or threatened, so looking is safer than touching.

  • Female Great Black Wasps search the treetops for those nighttime minstrels, the katydids.

  • A friend to gardeners: a single female great black wasp can capture 16 hoppers a day, helping control grasshoppers, which chew on crops and garden plants.

  • According to the “BugLady”, the female Great Black Wasp digs her tunnels by using her mouth to loosen the soil, her legs to rake and compact it into a lump of dirt, holds under her chin with her first set of legs, walks it to the surface with her other four legs, and deposits it in a heap.

For more information on the Great Black Wasp and sources of information used in this blog (these are the several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit The BugLady at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Field Station, Missouri Department of Conservation, and Insect Identification for the Casual Observer

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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