Facts, Identification & Control
Scientific Name: Family Pompilidae
Spider wasps are of various colors depending upon the species observed, but many are black or blue colored with dark, large black, blue or orange-yellow colored wings. The adult wasps in the family Pompilidae range in size from about ½-2 inches long. If you see a wasp with this coloration running on the ground, flickering its wing and having a spider in its grasp, more than likely it is a spider wasp. Another prominent characteristic is a curled antenna at the front of the wasp’s head.
Behavior, Diet & Habits
Spider wasps have earned their common name as the result of being such efficient hunters and killers of spiders, which they use to feed to their offspring. Spider wasps are one of the many ground burrowing solitary wasps whose survival depends on capturing prey and bringing it back to the nest to feed larvae that hatch from eggs. The spider wasp has only one generation per year.
The spider wasp lifecycle has four distinct stages: an egg, larvae, pupae and adult stage.
Its annual life cycle begins in the spring when the overwintering pupal stage of the wasp changes into an adult. Since most species of spider wasps are ground burrowing wasps, the pupa is protected from the effects of the cold weather while spending the winter in the burrow. Soon after the adult female wasp emerges from the burrow, she begins to hunt for spiders. Upon finding suitable prey, the wasp attacks and stings the spider, a sting that paralyzes but does not cause the spider to die. She then drags the spider back to her burrow, lays an egg on the spider and that spider becomes food for the wasp’s larval stage.
Adult spider wasps do not eat spiders, but get their nourishment from plant nectar
Spider wasps are distributed throughout most of the U.S. Like other solitary wasps, they are not aggressive and normally prefer to fly or run away rather than sting. This meek behavior is common for most solitary wasps that live alone and are self-reliant, making their own nest and caring for their own young. Since it is unlikely that more than one spider wasp is encountered by the homeowner, doing nothing except letting the wasp escape is recommended.
If needing to exercise control, use the garden hose to spray water and drive the wasp away, or swat the wasp with a rolled up newspaper or fly swatter. Pesticides are not recommended, especially where insecticide deposits could be picked up by honeybees and carried back to their hive. If you need expert assistance, call your pest management professional who will advise and provide you with recommendations.
Like most other solitary wasps, this species is not aggressive and would prefer to run or fly away than stick around to sting someone. Probably the most likely reason a person is stung by a spider wasp is they accidentally step on one while barefooted. If this wasp does sting, the venom is categorized as being mild and generally produces minor discomfort. If a situation comes up when assistance is needed for mud wasps or any other stinging insect, the best thing to do is contact your pest management professional.