Great Black Wasp

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Great black wasps are big — up to almost an inch and a half long — and dramatically black with blue iridescence on the wings. I saw a few of them on summersweet (Cethra alnifolia) and milkweed bushes in Brooklyn Bridge Park this week. Adult great black wasps eat flower nectar and are important pollinators. They dwarfed the honeybees and smaller wasps that were also eating there.

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The great black wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus.

Great black wasps are solitary wasps that do not live in colonies like the familiar yellow jacket wasp. Instead, the female great black wasp digs a multi-chambered tunnel in soft soil to make a nursery for her offspring. She hunts for large insects, usually katydids; stings them to paralyze but not kill; and takes them into the tunnel nest. She provisions the nest with several katydids, lays eggs on them, and then pushes dirt into the nest opening to close it. The eggs hatch into larvae that eat the katydids. Then they pupate through the winter and emerge as adults in summer to begin the cycle again.

The great black wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus.

Great black wasps are sometimes called -killers. It’s no coincidence that I see them in Brooklyn Bridge Park where there are flowers (for nectar) and katydids (for baby food) — everything a great black wasp could want.

Julie Feinstein

Julie Feinstein

I am a Collection Manager at the American Museum of Natural History, an author, and a photographer. I live in New York City. I recently published my first popular science book, Field Guide to Urban Wildlife, an illustrated collection of natural history essays about common animals. I update my blog, Urban Wildlife Guide, every Sunday.

Julie Feinstein

Julie Feinstein

I am a Collection Manager at the American Museum of Natural History, an author, and a photographer. I live in New York City. I recently published my first popular science book, Field Guide to Urban Wildlife, an illustrated collection of natural history essays about common animals. I update my blog, Urban Wildlife Guide, every Sunday.

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Steve Durkee

I can spend hours watching these outside the office Sarah. They are very diligent. Then I make dumb jokes about wasps in Edgartown.

Sarah Mayhew

They are fascinating to watch. I have photographed and made videos of them here on Martha's Vineyard Island. The female digs the hole/nest and then covers it up very carefully. She then drags a large green caterpillar (haven't identified) back to the entrance, uncovers the hole again and then drags the caterpillar in backwards. She reappears, fills in the hole and is very careful to spread all the grains of sand around the opening so you could never tell the sand was disturbed. Amazing.