Welcome to Maryland wasps identification made fairly easy. Unlike many states, Maryland documents all their wasp species online via the Maryland Biodiversity Project (MDP), a citizen science initiative that invites the public to take pictures, upload them to the web site and contribute to an ongoing, already established checklist. In total the list documents over 1,500 wasp species.
That large number of wasp species divides into families. According to the checklist, close to three quarters of all Maryland wasps fit into the Superfamily Ichneumonoidea, that consists of Braconid and Ichneumonid Wasps, better known as the wasps with large ovipositors. Practically speaking, only entomologists with the proper tools could identify all those wasp species. They use that information to determine which species might be most useful as pest control agents. Maryland, for example, used a Braconid wasp species to determine if it could establish a continuous predatory presence in Emerald Ash Borer territory in the state.
Source: Monitoring the establishment and abundance of introduced parasitoids of emerald ash borer larvae in Maryland, U.S.A. Biological Control Volume 101, October 2016, Pages 138-144.
In fact, the MDP only has pictures of about one hundred of those eleven hundred species. The picture shows a relatively easy to identify Black Giant Ichneumonid Wasp. The yellow face, yellow antenna and an ovipositor that can reach five inches in length are great identification clues.
This introduction focuses on the more easy to identify groups or families of wasps that constitute the remaining one quarter of the Maryland wasps species. Visitors can then follow up with the Maryland Biodiversity Project because it provides both a filter their to further look at broader geographical groups by using the “Coastal Plain only” and/or a button for viewing county records. The wasps links points to additional information on wasp species according to family to help individuals with additional questions.
Because of the concerns for health and safety, the stinging wasps of the Vespidae family, commonly called Vespids rightly receive considerable attention. The MDP documents close to seventy different vespid species that fit into the following categories:
- 8 Ground Yellowjacket species (Vespula)
- 4 Aerial Yellowjacket species (Dolichovespula)
- 10 Paper Wasp species (Polistes)
- 1 Hornet (Vespa)
- Potter and Mason Wasps (remaining species)
As most people already know, the yellowjackets and paper wasps also get described as social wasps that build large nests around residential areas. While both are seasonal phenomena, often yellowjackets attract attention as the summer proceeds because they invite themselves to back yard picnics in search of sugar and protein rick foods. Knowing their nesting habits, either ground or aerial, can help residents in need of nest removal services. The anchor like marking at the top of the abdomen usually helps with identification of the Eastern Yellowjacket. It’s a common ground nesting species.
Common Aerial Yellowjackets can be found in fields and residential areas. Typically they build their nests on low hanging branches.
Bald-faced hornets, another aerial yellowjacket species generally build larger nests found higher off the ground compared to the Common Aerial species.
Paper wasps can be a nuisance around the house. On the bright side, their nest sizes tend to be around ten times smaller in size compared to yellowjacket nests. Using a broom and knocking the nests from outside areas when the nests are at the building stage in spring often serves as a sufficient management tool.
Potter and Mason wasps are solitary wasp predators that can be considered beneficial because they feed on a variety of yard and garden pests. One of the few species with a common name, the Four-toothed Mason Wasp, can be found throughout the state from late April through early October.
Approximately two dozen species of Thread-waisted Wasps, also inhabit Maryland. Their above average size makes them easily noticed in the yard and garden. The Great Golden Digger wasp pictured is one of the more colorful Spex species.
Black and Yellow Mud Daubers can often be found near water sources. While they are solitary wasps, they can be found in small gathering mud for their individual nests. Yellow legs and marks on an otherwise dark body make them easily identified.
Four species of Grass Carrying Wasps, another group of common wasps with dark bodies, often visit residential areas. The red markings on the Elegant Grass Carrying wasp, pictured makes it one of the easier species to identify. Hair color on the body helps with other species identification. For example, white hairs serve as a good clue for identifying the Mexican Grass Carrying wasp.
At first sound, the Crabronidae family might not be familiar to anyone but wasp enthusiasts. With over one hundred and twenty five different s species, they have a considerable presence throughout the state. The familiarity with the family comes into focus with the different groups in the family who go by common names such as sand wasps, beewolves, weevil wasps. Think of the beewolves and weevil wasps as some of the smaller yellow wasps that visit neighborhoods throughout the summer season.
The picture shows a Hump-backed beewolf, one of the most common species in the United States. The pocked marked body and blue eyes are good initial identification clues.
The smaller top segment on the abdomen of a weevil wasp, pictured, helps identify it as a weevil wasp.
The Eastern Cicada Killer wasp fits at the other end of the size spectrum. Growing up to two inches in length, they rank among the largest wasps in the United States in terms of body size.
More Maryland Wasps
Velvet ants are probably the only other group of wasps that potentially cause problems with stings. In terms of sheer numbers. Maryland hosts about ten different species. By far, the Cow-killer Dasymutilla occidentalis is the most common. They nest in dry sandy areas. Also, males have wings so they can be found nectaring of nearby flowers.
The approximately two dozen species spider wasps come in a variety of colors with the overall dark blue species the least colorful. Other species come in various shades or red and black or blue. In comparison, may are also smaller than the paper wasps and thread-waisted wasps.
Residents with lawn grub problems from common garden pests such as the June beetle, might notice the presence of Scoliid Wasps flying low across the lawn. They are on the lookout for their prey, beetle grubs. They don’t pose any stinging problems.
Five species of Thynnid wasps keep the Scoliid wasps company in the yard searching for beetle grubs. Depending on the degree of beetle infestation in the yard, the presence of the wasps can act as natural pest control help.