I think I’ve mentioned this gentle giant before, because it’s one of my favourites in the garden, the great golden digger wasp, Sphex ichneumoneus. In the thread-waisted wasp family (Sphecidae), it’s one of the largest of the more than 130 species of digger wasps (Sphex genus) in that family. I saw one outside today so thought I’d feature them here.
The photos above were taken today of a great golden digger on an Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, one of their favourites in my garden; the other plants I see them on are Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’ and the white ‘Ice Ballet’ version of A. incarnata (along with great black wasps, another spectacular wasp for observe). (Photos from 2014)
I was wondering why insect-eaters visit these flowers and found this answer (at Houzz??): “Besides hunting … herbivorous prey, adults also visit a variety of flowering plants for nectar and can be quite effective pollinators in some cases. These beautiful wasps often demonstrate a preference for plants with white flowers. Nectar from flowering plants provides energy for the adults, especially the females that are excavating nests and hunting for prey.”
Though these wasps are an inch or more long, there’s no need to fear them. As another great golden digger lover notes, “Solitary wasps like the Great Golden Digger Wasp are virtually harmless. They do not guard their nests and are not aggressive towards humans. Females are equipped with stingers but use them only on their prey, although a rare sting to a human may occur if the wasp is grabbed or stepped on. Male wasps may act aggressive, but they have no stingers and can do no harm.”
I mean, you wouldn’t want to be their insect prey — grasshoppers, katydids, crickets — who will be stung with paralyzing venom, kept paralyzed in the larder, and then eaten alive by the wasps’ grub-by offspring, but humans and other non-insect animals who don’t step on them or grab them are in no danger even from the females.
Julie Zickefoos, one of my favourite birders and naturalist writers, sang the great golden digger’s praise a few years ago in a blog post about them and the return of monarchs to her garden.
Featured image is great golden digger wasp saying “hello!” from Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’