Blue Wings To Die For

The Great Black Wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus) is a katydid and grasshopper hunter. As with the spider hunters and others I’ve been detailing this summer, the prey provisions the nests of their young. In between wrestling paralyzed katydids to the nest, these wasps sup on nectar. Like most solitary wasps, this generation never see their progeny beyond the egg stage.The basic insect plan is to have four wings. See the dragonflies and damselflies for perfect examples. Beetles, most of which can fly, albeit awkwardly, have their upper or forewings adapted as the hard elatyra, covering fragile underwings below. Flies are the exception and hence are in the order Diptera, which means two-winged (many have vestigial wing stubs called halteres, which help them keep stable while flying; these basically are wings that don’t get the gene code expression to sprout). In the wasps and bees, the underwings are usually hard to see. One of this wasp’s underwings is visible here and looks slightly damaged. The more you look at winged insects, the more damage to the wings you’ll witness; butterflies (yes, four-winged) are often such wrecks you wonder how they can still fly.

Another thing to note about this wasp is that it’s been bushwacked by milkweed. Note the pollinia stuck to its legs:If you’ve been following my vespidophilia (did I just make that up?*) of late, you’ll know that the Great Golden Digger Wasp held my primary affections until it was surplanted by Isodontia elegans. But all pale in comparison to this giant wasp with these spectacular blue wings.

By the way, the Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) in Brooklyn Bridge Park has been pollinator heaven for weeks now. These photos were taken just before 6pm, and several of these wasps were the only thing working these little flowers. I wonder if they are late day workers, considering that katydids are most active at night?

*The fear of wasps is called spheksophobia. So how appropriate, given this genus name, that spheksophilia is then the love of them.

4 Responses to “Blue Wings To Die For”


  1. 1 Fork in My Eye August 3, 2012 at 8:57 am

    He does have beautiful wings. I went for a walk last week and saw a ton of black swallowtails, many of them damaged. And yes, I was amazed that some of them could still fly.

  2. 2 Paul Lamb August 5, 2012 at 5:11 am

    “most of which can fly, albeit awkwardly”
    That describes just about the whole of my life.

    Nice post. Nice blue wings.

  3. 3 rockerBOO July 21, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Nice post!

    Look how effective that wasp is at pollinating milkweed. (all the pollinia on the legs)

  4. 4 pugeretto August 8, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    I’ve seen this wasp in my yard for the past 5 years & never knew official name. Tonight I saw someone on Twitter ID “great black wasp,” & look what I found when I googled! Must have missed this post several years back!


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