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HYMENOPTERA, Sphecidae (Apoidea) (formerly under Sphecoidea). --  <Images> & <Juveniles>


Please refer also to the following links for details on this group:


Sphecidae (Sphecinae) = Link 1


Description & Statistics


          Sphecidae. -- The mud daubers have a very long petiole.  Most are moderate-sized to large, with a complete wing venation, but a few are small with a length of only 2 mm. The small sphecids have a reduced wing venation, with 4-5 closed cells in the front wing. There are over 1200 species of these solitary wasps in North America.  There is the start of social organization shown in some groups.


          Females construct their nests attached to some object.  Most species nest in burrows in the ground, but some nest in natural cavities such as hollow plant stems, cavities in wood, etc.  Some also construct nests of mud. They paralyze spiders, lay an egg and seal the cell.  The larvae develop, pupate and chew their way out.


       There is a restriction to a particular type of food for the larvae of some species, but a few vary considerably in their selection of prey. Some are also cleptoparasitic, building no nest but laying their eggs in the nests of other wasps, their larvae feeding on the food stored for the host larvae.


Most species of Sphecinae construct their nests in the soil, although some also form them in hollow stems or construct mud cells on foliage, etc.  Some may confine themselves to a single host species, while others may attack individuals of several related families.  The pey varies, ranging from spiders to grasshoppers, mole crickets, locusts, lepidopterous larvae and cockroaches.  Among the common genera, Sceliphron and Chalybion store their nests with spiders.  C. cyaneum Dahlb. of North America utilizes the black widow spider. Chlorion, Podium, and Trigonaspis prey on a variety of Orthoptera; some species of Sphex attack larger Orthoptera, mainly grasshoppers; others of the genus store their nests with larvae of Lepidoptera.


Sphex aegypticus Lep. attacks migrating desert locusts in East Africa (Williams 1933).  In one season vast numbers of females may follow a locust migration, and large numbers of paralyzed locusts are stored in nests.  S. aegypticus


Piel (1933b) observed Sphex nigellus storing its nests with adults or nymphs of Conocephalus spp., etc.  Here nesting differs from the above examples in that the prey is stored in cells formed in hollow stems of bamboo.  Prey are completely paralyzed and the legs and antennae amputated before storage.  Nevertheless, the latter remain alive for 4-6 days.  The cells are provisioned, and the end of the bamboo stem is closed with a blades of grass or stems.


Sphex lobatus F. develops on the cricket Brachytrypes portentosus Licht in tropical Asia (Hingston 1925, 1926).  It is thought to be specific in its prey.  The female searches for the host cell in the soil, drives out the occupant and then  pursues and captures it above ground.  A lengthy battle often ensues, but finally the parasitoid is able to grasp one of the wings with her mandibles, and the sting is then inserted in the thorax and finally the neck.  After paralyzing the cricket, the wasp drags it by its antennae back to the burrow from whence it came.  This is one of the few species of Sphecidae that makes no cell or burrow of its own.


Some species of Sphex supply their nests with caterpillars.  S. hirsuta Scop. attacks noctuid larvae, the latgter being nocturnal and during the day are found in the soil at the bases of their food plants (Bougy 1935).  Female wasps search for larger caterpillars in the soil, and sting them into permanent paralysis, first in the thoracic region and then in the posterior segments bearing the pseudopods.  While being dragged to the burrow on its back, the caterpillar's thorax is grasped between the wasps mandibles.  The egg is usually laid on the abdomen's dorsum.  When partly grown, the larva may enter the caterpillar body to complete feeding.


Prionyx atratum Lep. persues grasshopper nymphs in the southwestern United States.  A number of prey are stung at one time, but only the last one stung is used for provisioning the nest.  Thus the wasp is responsible for killing more grasshoppers than can be judged from its nest (Clausen 1940/1962).


Some South American species of Podium, that store their nests with nymphs and occasionally adult cockroaches of the genus Epilampra, were studied by Williams (1928).  Females have the habit of laying the egg on the prey just prior to dragging it into the burrow, which contrasts to the usual habit of ovipositing after the nest is fully provisioned.  As with other members of the family attacking Orthoptera, the egg is placed at the base of one of the coxae.  Nests are made in hard ground that is free of vegetation, and P. hazmatogastrum Spin. may even be found nesting frequently on the sides of termite mounds.


Clausen (1940) discussed the effect of the sting of female Sphecidae on the host.  It ranges from only temporary to permanent paralysis, and in some cases, to immediate death.  Crickets stored by S. lobatus recover rather completely in 10-15 min., but a considerable lethargy follows, for they make no effort to escape.  Noctuid larvae stung by S. hirsuta live a maximum of 39 days.  In species attacking caterpillars, some females malaxate the venter of prey after it is stung.  Some species pinch the neck extensively, feeding on fluids that exudes from the prey's mouth.


Finnamore & Michener (1983), who placed them as a separate family in the Apoidea, noted that adults of ca. 230 species are fossorial or nest in preexisting cavities.  Their prey is orthopteroids, mainly Tettigoniidae (Grylloptera) and Acrididae (Orthoptera).  They are stout wasps and black or black and red, although a few species are metallic blue..  In North America there are 35 species in 4 genera known as of 2000..


A key reference is Bohart & Menke (1976).


Further Description


          This is cosmopolitan family of wasps that include mud daubers, digger wasps, and others that are known as  thread-waisted wasps. Older definitions of the Sphecidae and the more refined ones, where the seven sphecid subfamilies were each raised to family rank are now considered paraphyletic.  Thus, the most recent classification is closer to the conservative scheme; the families Heterogynaidae and Ampulicidae are the sister taxa to what are now two families the Sphecidae and Crabronidae. Most sphecoid wasps are now included in Crabronidae, and Sphecidae in a more restricted concept, more or less to what used to be the subfamily Sphecinae.


          The biology of the Sphecidae is quite diverse; some sceliphrines even display early forms of sociality, and some sphecines produce many larvae in a single large brood cell. M Pre-existing cavities are preferred nesting sites, or they dig simple burrows in the soil.  There are also species that construct open nests of mud and even resin. All are predaceous, with the prey ranging from spiders to dictyopterans or orthopteroids to caterpillars of Lepidoptera or other Hymenoptera.  Most species mass provision their nests before laying eggs.


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References:   Please refer to  <biology.ref.htm>, [Additional references may be found at:  MELVYL Library]


Borror, D. J. & R. E. White. 1970. In: Page 350 and plate 16, A Field Guide to the Insects. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.


Bland, R. G. & H. E. Jaques. 1978. How to Know the Insects.  In: Page 385, 3rd ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Co. 409 p.


Borror, D. J., C. A. Triplehorn, and N. F. Johnson. 1989. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. In: Page 724, 6th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders College Publishing. 875 p.


Daly, H. V.,  J. T. Doyen, and A. H. Purcell III. 1998. Introduction to Insect Biology and Diversity. In: Page 597, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press. 680 p.


Goulet, H., Huber, J.T. 1993. Hymenoptera of the World. Agriculture Canada Research Branch, publication 1894/E. 668pp.


Stange, L. A.  2001. The Cicada Killers of Florida (Hymenoptera: Sphedidae). Fla. Dep. Agric. Cons. Serv., Div. Plant Ind., Entomology Circular No. 402. 2 p.