The Importance of Wasps in the Native Landscape

Northern Paper Wasp
Polistes fuscatus
Wasps get a bad rap because of their stinging capabilities. But many gardeners know that they can be a welcome addition to the landscape, pollinating flowers and parasitizing other insects to keep populations in check. I have never been stung by a wasp or bee while working in the garden. Most often people get stung when they unknowingly come across or disturb a nest.

After reviewing photos from this past growing season, I realized I captured a lot of new wasp visitors in our landscape. This year, I plan to spend more time observing their behavior to find more clues about their roles in the ecosystem.

I saw two types of Ichneumon Wasps in our yard. Both have the same common name - Giant Ichneumon. The first is Megarhyssa macrurus (photographed a few years ago) and pictured below.
Giant Ichneumon
Megarhyssa macrurus
This Giant Ichneumon is light chocolate brown-red in color with yellow and black markings. Its body is around 1.5 inches in length but the females have a long ovipositor (full length cut off in this photo) that they use to lay eggs into the larva of another wasp in trees - the Pigeon Horntail. Female Pigeon Horntails lay their eggs in oak, elm, hickory and birch trees and inject a fungus to help break down the wood fibers. (Insects of the North Woods)

Giant Ichneumon
Megarhyssa atrata
The second Giant Ichneumon ~ Megarhyssa atrata was about the same size but can be up to 3 inches in length. It has an all black body and with a yellow head and legs. The female's ovipositor can be 4 inches in length.

The Giant Ichneumon Wasps use the injected Horntail fungus as a cue for where to drill into trees to find their Horntail prey. (Insects: Their Natural History & Diversity)

We saw several of these walking in the woods at a local park this summer. Their flight is slow with the ovipositor hanging downwards.

I photographed this particular one in our back yard on a white oak tree in late May.

Great Black Wasp
Sphex pensylvanicus
Great Black Wasp
These large black wasps were found pollinating Dotted Mint (Monarda punctata) in the early summer and Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum), Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium), and Milkweeds (Asclepis species) in mid to late summer.

These wasps prey upon grasshoppers and katydids. They stockpile their nest burrows with parasitized prey. (Insects: Their Natural History & Diversity)

Great Golden Digger Wasp
Sphex ichneumoneus
Great Golden Digger Wasp
This colorful wasp has bright orange legs and body. I saw this wasp for the first time in our yard in early September nectaring on Stiff Goldenrod.

"It digs a nest in the ground and is usually gregarious, establishing moderate sized congregations. They capture katydids to feed to their young." (Insects of the North Woods)

Read a post about these wasps and check out a video link of the Golden Digger carrying off prey to their nest at the Bug Eric blog.

Northern Paper Wasp
Polistes fuscatus

Northern Paper Wasps
Northern Paper Wasps (also pictured in first photo at top of page) have dark brown narrow wings and two yellow spots at the top of their abdomen. They prey on moth and butterfly caterpillars. (Insects of the North Woods)

Nests in woodlands and savannas. It is fairly common where exposed wood is present and can be used for nest material. (

We saw Northern Paper Wasps from mid July through late September. Pictured here on White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum).

Aerial Yellowjacket
Dolichovespula arenia
Aerial Yellowjacket
Our cedar picket fence is a popular spot for both the Aerial Yellowjacket and Baldfaced Hornet.

You can hear these wasps chewing the wood fibers several feet away as they move vertically up the pickets collecting the wood pulp for their nests.

Aerial Yellowjackets nest out in the open from shrubs to trees as well as on buildings. (Insects of the North Woods)

We also saw these wasps nectaring on Milkweeds.

Bald Faced Hornet
Dolichovespula maculata
Baldfaced Hornet
Baldfaced Hornets are black with white markings. They are larger than the Aerial Yellowjackets about 3/4 inch in length. They nectared in our yard in August on Eupatoriums.

They build the large paper nests that hang high up in tree branches and hunt other insects.

"A fertilized queen overwinters and starts a paper enclosed nest in the Spring. As the colony grows, multiple tiers are added, consisting of hexagonal cells." (

Potter Wasp
Eumenes crucifer
Potter Wasps

Potter Wasps are solitary. They use mud "to make elegant, clay-pot-like nest that they stock with paralyzed caterpillars and leaf beetle larvae. Potter wasps lay a single egg in each 'clay pot' usually hanging the egg from the roof of the pot by a slender thread" (Insects: Their Natural History & Diversity)

We saw these wasps in late August and September on several species of Goldenrods.

Mason Wasp
Ancitrocerus species
Mason Wasps

This Mason Wasp was found on our Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) from mid July to mid August.

"Most Ancistrocerus nest in pre-existing cavities such as hollow stems or abandoned burrows made by other Hymenoptera". (Insects: Their Natural History & Diversity)

What kind of Wasps do you see in your landscape?