Hymenoptera

The great group of insects which includes bees, wasps (including social, solitary, spider, cuckoo, scolid, parasitic and various combinations). I am concerned here mostly with the Aculeate wasps and bees. This group also includes the ants but, to be honest, at this point I am a complete ant dunce. (I'll work on these later.) Here also are the Velvet ants (Mutillidae) which are not ants at all but true wasps. I have found these wingless female wasps to be very hard to shoot.

Many of these Hymenoptera are familiar creatures and many are totally unknown to the average denizen of the wilds. For now we will focus on the wasps (including the spider wasps and the social species), the bumblebees, and the small flower bees in the Halictidae. A pdf format key on the web to the groups inside Hymenoptera is here. For now clicking here will get you to the main frame page where all the Hymenoptera photos have been moved presently. Below are some of the larger wasp groups and some introductory information. My working list of the Pompilidae species in Arkansas is here.

 

Chrysididae

Excellent animals. This family is in its own wasp superfamily with several other smaller families that would be difficult but interesting subjects as well. The Cuckoo wasps are stingless (mainly) parasites of other stinging animals (mostly other wasps and bees but two subfamilies feed exclusively on walkingsticks). The Chrysids are armored and can fold up for maximum protection like an insect armadillo (okay, not exactly). The ovipositor has become an extensible tube that can be telescoped into the area where the food item to be illicitly "egged" is hidden. Most of our North American cuckoos come in brilliant metallic colors.

 

Sphecidae

The monster wasp group that mainly concerns us here. Closely related and included in the same large superfamily (for now) as the bees. There are about 7,500 Sphecids on the planet. About 1400 in the US. Bees, on the other hand, (including Bumbles) number 20,000. Essentially all bees are pollen and nectar feeders. Sphecid larvae are all over the map but the adults do often still feed on pollen. The food of the larvae ranges from aphids to beetles to butterflies to cockroaches. The classification of the Sphecidae will be changing. Mostly to allow a split into several families after close examination of DNA lineages has stirred things up. The most recent books still have them in one big happy family.

 

Vespidae

The mostly social wasps which includes the hornets, yellow jackets and paper wasps. Big group in the tropics where many species are still unknown and unseen. It shrinks to a manageable size in temperate North America. It does include the large subfamily Eumeninae, which contains the potter wasp group that provision cells with caterpillars and are heavy pollen and nectar feeders. And also the fascinating Masarinae. They are not social. This Vespid family includes the familiar wasps, Polistes, that reside in nests beneath our eaves and alcoves and the ground nesting and picnic loving yellow jackets, Vespula.

 

Mutillidae

Closer to the Pompylid group than the above. A stunning 500 species in the US. These are also known as the Velvet ants though they are not true ants. The females however are wingless and do resemble ants. They are also mostly brightly colored and spend most of their time ranging across the ground. They have extremely powerful stings which are not used on their defenseless cocoon hosts. So are likely made for us and other bothersome vertebrates with big feet or hooves. It is not recommended that anyone test the potency of the sting which is where they received their name cow-killers. These gals are not very host specific and will attack the cocoons of wasps, bees and some flies.

 

Pompilidae

The large spider wasp group. About 150 species in the US. The group keeps getting rearranged. Most are dark or jet black with sheens of blue and purple in the right light. Often they have some orange or red in the body or wings. They are slender and long-legged. Includes the impressive Tarantula hawks. Some build nests, some are parasitoids and some are kleptoparasites. All use spiders of various species and sizes including Tarantulas, and the large Lycosids. There are even species that tear open the doors of the formidable trap-door spider to yank them from their homes. Each genus often selects specific family groups of spiders though some are diverse feeders. Some wrap their victims in their own silk.

 

Scoliidae

A moderately sized group in the world, the Scolids number less than 30 species in the US. Some are impressively large. One is larger than the Cicada Killer and indeed is often mistaken for it. These wasps are parasitoid mainly on Scarab beetle larvae. Related to the Tiphids which make a frontal attack on tiger beetle larvae in their burrows. Both groups sting their victims and attach eggs to them in specific places for many of the species. The majority tunnel for Scarab beetle larvae.

 

sapygidae

A small wasp group with only 17 species in North America. Closely related to the above Mutillids. Most are ectoparasites and cleptoparasites, frequently of bees. Many feed on pollen. Many of these are poorly known. One, the Sapyga species that is a nest parasite of Megachile has been extensively studied (because the Megachile it prefers is a heavy pollinator of alfalfa). We have only two genera in the US: Sapyga and Eusapyga.

 

Tiphiidae

See the above. About 200 species in North America. Most are black and often with yellow banding. Many attack the larvae of scarabs and especially June beetles. One subfamily of Tiphids make a direct frontal attack on tiger beetle larvae in their burrows. Tiger larva are nasty and this is no small feat. Several scarab feeders were introduced into the US in attempts to control scarab pests such as the Japanese Beetle Popillia japonica. These wasps burrow through soil and wood in search of their beetle grub prey. They sting and lay their eggs on the grubs in their natural habitats.