The Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) is a solitary, non-aggressive member of the thread-waisted wasp family, the Sphecidae. Despite its intimidating length of about an inch, this is an easy-going wasp beneficial to gardeners in several ways. They are great pollinators of flowers in addition to being predators of grasshoppers, which they use to feed their larvae. They also aerate the soil, helping it to retain water. Digger wasps burrow into the soil to create nesting chambers, supplying each chamber with a paralyzed grasshopper on which they lay an egg. Once hatched, the larva will use the grasshopper as its food source – a grizzly end for the grasshopper!
Wasps comprise a number of families within the huge Order Hymenoptera, which also includes bees, ants, and sawflies. Wasps are generally distinguished by their predatory and parasitic behavior and the modification of the ovipositor into a stinger. Only some wasps are considered social, nesting in colonies which they feel compelled to defend, sometimes inflicting painful stings when disturbed. The paper wasps of the family Vespidae are best known for this. But wasps as a group are astonishingly diverse, with many more non-defensive species.
Pollinator expert Heather Holm suggested spotlighting the Great Golden Digger Wasp (aka the Great Golden Sand Digger) as an example of a gentle, interesting, and highly beneficial wasp species. Our thanks to Heather for an excellent virtual introduction to wasps on June 7th! She also provided the photos for this article. You can find several programs by Heather Holm on YouTube. Here’s one.
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