What Is a Great Black Wasp? 

A great black wasp on a bright orange flower
Great Black Wasp Classification
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Sphecidae
Genus: Sphex
Species: Sphex pensylvanicus

The Great Black Wasp’s scientific name is Sphex pensylvanicus [1]. Great black wasps are digger wasps that are found throughout North America and some areas of Canada.

It is common for them to dig their nests in the ground, usually in dry soil where their young will be safe from moisture. [2]

Great Black Wasps are part of the genus Sphex, which is part of the family Sphecidae. Sphecidae are Hymenoptera, like other bees and wasps, and all Hymenoptera are insects. 

Sphex is an Ancient Greek word for “wasp,” which makes their genus name pretty self-explanatory. 

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    Why Are They Called Great Black Wasps?

    The Great Black Wasps get their name from the fact that they are large insects with a metallic blue color. 

    In relation to Sphex pensylvanicus, the scientific name of the Great Black Wasp, Sphex is the Ancient Greek word for “wasp,” while pensylvanicus indicates that these wasps are primarily found in Pennsylvania and other parts of the Northeast. 

    Where Can Great Black Wasps Be Found?

    The Great Black Wasp is found throughout most of the United States and Canada, as well as in northern Mexico. Temperate climates are preferred by Great Black Wasps, and tropical climates are not preferred.

     Due to the fact that Great Black Wasps are not found on other continents or in other countries, they have a fairly restricted geographic range.[3]

    How to Identify a Great Black Wasp?

    The Great Black Wasp can be identified by its large size and blackish-blue color with bluish black wings.

    The female Great Black Wasp can reach a length of 34 millimeters, while the male can reach a length of 28 millimeters. As only female Great Black Wasps carry stingers, it is relatively easy to tell the difference between males and females.

    The Great Black Wasp can also be identified by its slender thorax and abdomen, as well as a distinct “waist” between the thorax and abdomen. They also possess long, segmented antennae and long, black legs.

    a great black wasp pollinating yellow flowers
    In order to pollinate, great black wasps utilize the tiny hairs that cover their bodies. They are considered generalists, which means they are capable of pollinating a wide variety of flowers.

    Additionally, Great Black Wasps can be identified by their flight. Unlike other wasps, Great Black Wasps do not tuck their legs away when they fly. Instead, they leave them dangling in the air while they fly. [3]

    Great Black Wasps are sometimes confused with Great Golden Digger Wasps, but they are much larger and darker. 

    In addition, the Great Golden Digger wasp has yellow wings and red markings on its body, making it fairly easy to distinguish it from other a Great Black Wasp.

    Where Do Great Black Wasps Live?

    Great Black Wasps live underground, where they burrow their own nests. 

    The Great Black Wasp is a solitary insect, which means that it lives individually, rather than in a colony. Great Black Wasps can dig as deep as a foot into the ground when building their nests. 

    Great Black Wasps lay their eggs on other insects, using the insects as food for their larvae. The eggs are laid with their food provisions in a separate cell in the ground on katydids or grasshoppers. 

    Under the ground, Great Black Wasp larvae develop in their own sealed cell of dirt until they become adult wasps at which point they emerge and mate with other wasps. 

    Great Black Wasp nests resemble small piles of dirt or mud at the surface of the ground, with a hole in the center about 5 millimeters in diameter. 

    To identify the type of insect living in the nest, it is necessary to see the nest of the Great Black Wasp itself, which looks similar to nests of most other ground-nesting bees and wasps. 

    How Is the Great Black Wasp Egg Chamber Built?

    By digging into the soil and hollowing it out with its legs and mandibles, the adult female Great Black Wasp constructs an egg chamber. The female Great Black Wasp collects prey for its young and places a paralyzed insect in each chamber. 

    In the following step, the female Great Black Wasp lays an egg on each insect in order to provide food for its larvae during their development. After the egg is laid, the wasp seals up the egg chamber to protect the developing wasp and proceeds to search for additional food sources.

    Which Part of the Year Can Great Black Wasps Be Seen?

    The Great Black Wasp is most often seen in the summer months, particularly in July and August. It should be noted, however, that Great Black Wasps may be active all year round in warmer climates.

    The Great Black Wasp is often observed pollinating plants such as milkweed and Queen Anne’s Lace.

    What Do Great Black Wasps Eat?

    As adults, Great Black Wasps consume nectar and pollen from flowers, drinking nectar for its sugar content and eating pollen for its protein content. 

    Larvae of the Great Black Wasp feed on paralyzed insects that their mother collects. The mother Great Black Wasp stings its prey three times to paralyze it, and then brings it back to the nest still alive, where the larvae feed on it until it dies. 

    a great black wasp straddling some yellow flowers
    Wasps are typically known for their yellow and black bands. The great black wasp lacks these markings and is a solid black color.

    When the Great Black Wasp lays its eggs, it does so directly on the body of its prey insect in order for it to reach the food when it hatches. 

    Great Black Wasps prefer to sting katydids and grasshoppers to feed their young. They lay their eggs directly on the living, paralyzed prey, and as they hatch, they feed on katydids and grasshoppers. 

    Do Great Black Wasps Pollinate?

    The Great Black Wasp is an important pollinator of a wide range of flowers. It is through the tiny hairs on the Great Black Wasp’s body that pollen can be attached to and then fall off at other flowers, which is how they pollinate flowers. 

    Pollination is a phenomenon that occurs when insects such as the Great Black Wasp fly between flowers, picking up grains of pollen from the flowers and transferring them to other flowers.

    It is common for Great Black Wasps to pollinate milkweed, Queen Anne’s Lace, sweet clover, mountain mint, bee balm, and snakeroot. The great black wasp is a generalist, meaning that it feeds on a variety of flowers and is not very specific about what flowers it prefers. 

    Do Great Black Wasps Make Honey?

    Due to their solitary nature, Great Black Wasps do not produce honey and do not form colonies. Therefore, Great Black Wasps are not kept by beekeepers to produce honey.

    The Great Black Wasp and bees live in individual nests, which are often located in the ground. In contrast to honey bees, they do not have a queen and do not produce honey, instead providing protein and carbohydrates to their young by feeding them pollen, nectar, and other insects. 

    Do Great Black Wasps Sting?

    It is only the female Great Black Wasp that can sting, and because they are solitary wasps, they are not very aggressive. 

    Generally speaking, solitary wasps such as the Great Black Wasp and bees are not aggressive because they do not possess any honey stores to protect them against intruders.

    The sting of a female Great Black Wasp is, however, extremely painful, so it is imperative to avoid being stung. By staying away from the wasps and not disturbing them in their daily activities, it is fairly easy to avoid being stung. 

    Great Black Wasp vs. Paper Wasp

    Great Black Wasp Paper Wasp
    Appearance More than an inch long typically, dark blueish metallic black. Brownish black, up to one inch long, yellow legs, red wings, and yellow stripes on the abdomen and thorax.[4]
    Stinging Non-aggressive but painful stings. Non-aggressive but painful stings.
    Honey Does not produce honey. Does not produce honey.
    Reproduction Each female wasp lays her own eggs in her own nest in the ground. One queen lays all of the eggs for the colony, fertilized by drones.
    Diet Adults eat nectar and pollen, larvae eat paralyzed insects collected by their mothers. Adults and larvae eat caterpillars, nectar, insect larvae, and flies.
    Nest Ground-nesting wasp, digs up to a foot into the ground to create a nest that includes various brood cells made up dirt and mud where eggs are laid. Constructs nest out of fibers collected from dead wood and plant stems mixed with saliva. Lives communally in one nest with many other wasps.

    Reproduction & Lifecycle of Great Black Wasps

    In the beginning, Great Black Wasps build nests about a foot into the ground using their legs and mouths. A Great Black Wasp nest consists of several chambers and tunnels where larvae are stored. 

    As a result of the large size of the nests, various prey insects are capable of being dragged through the tunnels to feed the Great Black Wasp larvae. 

    Once the Great Black Wasp female digs its nest, it begins searching for prey to feed its young. The female Great Black Wasp stings katydids, crickets, and grasshoppers three times in order to paralyze them, and then it brings them back to the nest for storage. 

    The female Great Black Wasp lays its eggs directly on the prey, between the legs, so that when the eggs hatch, they will have access to food. 

    a great black wasp on small white flowers
    Try to locate a stinger when attempting to identify whether a great black wasp is male or female. Only females possess stingers!

    After hatching from their eggs, Great Black Wasp larvae burrow into their prey insects and begin feeding. Both the liquids and the soft tissues of the insects are consumed by them. During much of this process, the prey insects remain alive. 

    In the ten-day period following the laying of the eggs and hatching of the larvae, the Great Black Wasp consumes up to six prey insects. The larvae then develop into pupae, which are then transformed into adult Great Black Wasps. 

    Adult Great Black Wasps emerge from their brood cells after digging their way out. Once they emerge as adults, the wasps mate and begin the cycle again. 

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