When you see a wasp flying towards you, what do you do? Most people’s first instinct is to scream and run away, and it’s easy to see why. They inflict a terrible bite, and some contain so much poison that even a few bites can kill a person. However, wasps also play an important role in the ecosystem. They pollinate flowers and trees and help reduce populations of common pests and other invasive species. While they may seem intimidating, there is more to them than meets the eye.
Wasps and their close relative, the hornet, share a common ancestor with bees and ants. Some species are eusocial, nest members work and live together, while others live mostly secluded. While most of them act as pollinators, many also catch and eat other insects. They come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny fairy wasps to giant hornets from Asia and Europe. But what is the largest wasp species? To determine which wasps are the largest, you need to measure their length from head to sting. Here is a list of the 10 largest wasps in the world.
10. European hornet
European hornet (Vespa crabro) the largest eusocial wasp found in Europe. In addition, it is also the largest true hornet in North America. Although it looks like the Asian giant hornet, it is much smaller in size. On average, workers are about 1 “long, but queens can grow up to 1.37” in length. There are brown and yellow stripes on the abdomen, and the wings appear reddish orange. Most people view European hornets as pests, but in general they try to avoid humans. However, they can quickly become aggressive if you threaten their nests or get too close to their food sources.
Although traditionally originated from Europe, their range extends to Japan and all of North and Central America. Their diet is mostly carnivorous and consists mainly of beetles, butterflies, dragonflies, praying mantises, and other wasps. However, they will also consume fruits and other high sugar foods and steal prey from other insects. Due to the widespread destruction of their nests, the IUCN classifies European hornets as endangered in certain regions.
9. Great gold digger
Also known as the great gold digger, the great gold digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) is part of the Sphecidae family. It gets its name from the golden hairs on the head and chest, and also because it digs holes in the sand. In their largest size, they can reach 1.5 inches in length, and females are larger than males. As a rule, they tend to go about their business and do not act aggressively towards people.
Wasps-gold miners live in North, Central and South America. They gather around parks and meadows where flowers grow. Unlike eusocial species, gold-digging wasps are solitary insects. Their diet mainly consists of nectar from flowers, but they also catch and paralyze catidids and crickets. Gardeners often show affection for them, because they ventilate the soil and remove pests with their tunnels. At this point, IUCN has not yet assessed its conservation status.
8. Big black wasp
As the name suggests, the big black wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus) is a large species of wasps. It can grow up to 1.5 inches in length, although it is 0.8-1.4 inches in most cases. Like most wasps, females are usually larger than males. Their bodies are coal-black, and their wings appear bluish-purple. Although their bite is quite painful, they do not pose much of a threat to humans.
The great black wasp is found throughout most of the United States and northern Mexico. Its scientific name indicates its American origin, since the word pensylvanicus translates as “native of Pennsylvania”. They belong to the digger wasp family and build their nests in underground tunnels. Their diet includes grasshoppers, cicadas, locusts and katidids, which they also feed to their larvae. The great black wasp is currently not listed as a special species by the IUCN.
7. Long-tailed giant ichneumonoid wasp
Long-tailed giant ichneumonoid wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) is one of the largest species of the Ichneumonidae family. Females can grow up to 2 inches in length and their ovipositor can grow up to 4 inches in length. It got its scientific name from Greek words macro which means “long”, and oùráwhich means “tail”. Their body is reddish brown with black and yellow-orange stripes, and their wings appear transparent. Unlike most wasps, they do not sting or pose a threat to humans.
Long-tailed giant ichneumonoid wasps live in the eastern half of the United States. Their most distinctive feature is the ovipositor, which females use to lay eggs. As a parasitoid, it reproduces by injecting eggs into pigeon horn larvae. After a few weeks, the wasp larva will eat the host and pupate before becoming an adult. The IUCN does not list the conservation status of long-tailed giant ichneumonoid wasps.
6. The cicada killer
Also known as hawk cicada, cicada killer (Sphetius) is a large solitary species of the mole rat wasp. It is sometimes referred to as the oriental cicada killer or sand hornet, even though it does not belong to the hornet family. Sizes vary greatly, ranging from 0.6 to 2.0 inches in length. Reddish hair covers their striped ribcage, and their wings appear brown. Despite their intimidating name and appearance, they do not pose a direct threat to humans. They rarely attack humans, and their bite is less painful than other, more venomous species.
Cicada killers are found in the eastern and central United States, Mexico, and Central America. They get their name from the fact that females hunt cicadas, which they feed to their larvae. Meanwhile, adults feed exclusively on nectar from flowers. Through their efforts to reduce cicada populations, cicada killers indirectly benefit the deciduous tree populations that cicadas feed on. Due to their large numbers, IUCN does not grant them special status.
5. Asian giant hornet
Also known as the Japanese giant hornet, the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is the largest hornet in the world. They can grow up to 2.2 inches in length and have a wingspan of over 3 inches. Their distinctive orange head and brown body make them easily recognizable even among thousands of wasp species. In addition to common and scientific names, they are also known by the more sinister “killer hornet”. This is due to their venomous bite, which is enough to kill a person at the correct dosage.
The Asian giant hornet lives in East and Southeast Asia, as well as in the Far East of Russia. However, confirmed observations in North America over the past few years show that its territory is expanding. They prefer to build their underground nests in forested and low mountain areas. Its diet consists of large insects, honey, and tree sap. The IUCN lists the Asian giant hornet as endangered due to habitat loss caused by deforestation.
4. Mammoth wasp
Mammoth Wasp (Spotted megascolia) is the largest wasp found in Europe. Females can reach 2.4 inches in length, although males are usually much smaller. Similar in appearance to an elongated bumblebee, shiny black hair covers their yellow-black striped bodies. Despite their large size, their bite is relatively harmless to humans, and they rarely act aggressively towards humans.
Populations of mammoth wasps live in southern Europe and Russia, North Africa and the Middle East. It prefers Mediterranean habitats such as oak forests and dense bushes. You can also often find them near compost heaps and sawmills that attract their prey. The adults feed on the nectar of the flowers, while the females lay their eggs on the larvae of the European rhinoceros beetle, its only known host. The IUCN does not endow mammoths with a special status.
3. Giant scaled wasp
Giant Scale Wasp (Princess Megascolia) is one of the largest wasps in the world. A solitary species belonging to the Scoliidae family, they can reach 2.5 inches in length. In addition, their wingspan can reach 4.5 inches in length. Their bodies tend to appear black with yellow and orange markings. Like most other parasitoid wasps, they will only sting people if they feel threatened.
The giant scaly wasp lives on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. Females hunt the Atlas beetle, which they paralyze and bury in an underground cage. The female’s egg grows inside the beetle until it hatches, and continues to eat its still living host. At this time, the IUCN has not assessed the conservation status of the giant scaled wasp.
2. Dalara Garuda
Named “King of the Wasps” after opening in 2011, Dalara Garuda (Megalara) is one of the largest wasps in the world. No living specimens have been found, but some remains are found to be up to 2.5 inches in length. Unlike most wasp species, males appear noticeably larger than females. Their massive bodies are coal-black, and the males have long, powerful jaws. The jaws can be used for self-defense or for holding females during mating.
Today the only known habitat of Dalara Garuda is the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. It gets its name from Garuda, the mythical half-human, half-eagle creature that is the national symbol of Indonesia. They belong to the family of digging wasps, which means that females can sting other insects and use them as hosts for their eggs. Due to its recent discovery, the IUCN has not yet assessed the conservation status of Dalara Garuda.
1. Tarantula hawk
The tarantula hawk is arguably the largest wasp in the world. These wasps are a species of arachnid that specializes in hunting tarantulas. Many species can often reach 2 inches in length, but Pulsky’s tarantula (Pepsis pulski) are perhaps the largest of them. They can grow up to 2.7 inches in length with a wingspan of 4.5 inches in length. Their coloration is usually blue-black with rust-colored wings. Although they rarely attack humans, they inflict one of the most painful bites of any insect. Fortunately, the pain of their bite only lasts about five minutes. Few animals prey on tarantula hawks because of their large sting, with the exception of the roadrunner.
The tarantula hawk’s territory includes India, Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia and America. Adults, both males and females, feed on flowers, while only females hunt spiders. They use their sting to paralyze tarantulas before laying an egg inside their living host, which becomes food for their larvae. The tarantula hawk is currently classified as the species of least concern by the IUCN.