Sand Wasps: Pictures and Identification Help

picture of an Eastern Cicada Killer wasp, sand wasps

Sand wasps is the common name given to the species of wasps in the Crabronidae family. Formally they get categorized as the Tribe Bembicini in the subfamily Bembicinae. Close to two hundred species live in the United States, making them one of the common wasps in residential areas. Entomologists go to great lengths to insure that the species are properly differentiated by both outward physical traits and DNA. It’s important to note that sightings and pictures are only a second best identification guide, prone to inaccuracies

With those caveats in mind, this brief comparison of Sand Wasps uses some basic physical features as shown in the pictures to help wasp enthusiasts get a better understanding of how many of the members share some outward physical traits. At the very least, this helps identify many of the local sand wasps found in the neighborhood as belonging to the sand wasp tribe.

First up is a fairly easy identification based on size. Along with a native Scoliid wasp and the newly introduced Murder Hornet, Cicada Killers rank among the largest North American wasps, growing up to two inches in length. Four species have been documented in the United States, regionally divided between the Rocky Mountains. The Eastern Cicada Killer is pictured at the top of the page. The green button that says wasps leads to information and pictures covering additional types of wasps.

picture of a Stizus brevipennis, sand wasps
Of course, with such a large number of native sand wasps, it’s inevitable that many will look very similar. Compare the next picture of what appears to be the Eastern Stizus (Stizus brevipennis). Like the Eastern Cicada killer, it has brown eyes, brown legs and a pattern of spots and/or bands on the abdomen. A closer comparison shows it has four rows of spots on the abdomen and the thorax has a different pattern.

picture of a stizoides-renicinctus, sand wasps
Growing less than an inch in length, the orange band on the abdomen of Stizoides renicinctus might be an early identification clue of a Scoliid species. Nonetheless, it belongs to the Sand Wasps and is fairly common throughout the Western United States into the Midwest.

picture of an American Sand Wasp
The American Sand Wasp (Bembix americana) also ranks as a very recognized species. They are common in residential areas across most of the United States. They are also the most common of the seven native Bembix species. Note the curves bands on the abdomen. They can come in both a white and yellow color.

picture of bicyrtes Sand Wasps
Bicyrtes are another genus that look similar to Bembix, except the bands on the abdomen tend to be straight, not curved. The bands also do not touch down the center of the abdomen. Like the Bembix, most of the species come in white and yellow versions. Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus is the dominant species east of the Rocky Mountains.

picture of Bicyrtes capnopterus Sand Wasp
Bicyrtes capnopterus) has a range that extends along the southern border states. Note the brown legs and the two-toned antennae.

picture of sand wasp in the Nysson genus
Sure does look like Nysson plagiatus.

picture of a Sand wasp, bembecinus genus
At first glance the next wasp could easily be mistaken for Bicyrtes. The slight yellow color in the thorax suggests it belongs to the genus Bembecinus. They are small wasps, with the three species having very limited ranges in the Southwest, Florida and Midwest respectively. Usually the females have yellow bodies. Males bodies, like the one pictured can range from light yellow to black.

picture of a sand wasp in the genus Stenolia
Stenolia Sand Wasps might also be initially mistaken for Bicrytes. A close look at the them shows that as one moves from looking from the top to the bottom of the abdomen, the two white spots at the top eventually merge into bands at the bottom. Along with the yellow legs, they serve as initial identification clues for the species.

picture of a sand wasp in the genus Stenolia
They come in both black and white and black and yellow versions. Here’s a yellow version. The three species are found in the West and Southwest.

picture of a sand wasp in the genus Glenostictia
Sand Wasps genus Glenostictia. Probably Glenostictia pictifrons because it is one of two species found east of the Mississippi. All the others are Eastern species.