Arthropods 4
Wayne's WordIndexNoteworthy PlantsTriviaLemnaceaeBiology 101BotanySearch
     Index        Spiders1        Spiders2        Spider Allies       Mites        Butterflies       Wasps       Caddisflies       True Bugs        Homoptera  
    Dragonflies      Grasshoppers      Neuroptera      Flies       Beetles1        Beetles2        Beetles3       Termites      Miscellaneous 
Southern California Arthropods #4 (Mostly): Wasps, Bees & Ants (Order Hymenoptera)
© W.P. Armstrong 15 April 2009
See Various Arthropod Images On Wayne's Word T-Shirts
View Wayne's Word Gift Stores: #1  #2  #3  #4  #5  #6  #7 

Wasp Families In Southern Calif. & Elsewhere

Spider Wasp Family
An adult tarantula hawk wasp (Pepsis).

The tarantula hawk is a large, hard-bodied wasp that actually attacks a kills tarantulas (Aphonopelma) in southern California. Females have conspicuously coiled antennae, as shown in this photo. The female wasp stings the tarantula on the underside between the legs, in a vulnerable unprotected area. With her powerful mandibles, she drags the paralyzed tarantula to her burrow and lays a single egg on its body. The egg hatches into a larva which feeds on the tarantula. At maturity, the larva spins a cocoon and undergoes metamorphosis. The adult wasp may emerge from the burrow during the same year or the following spring, depending on when the cocoon was spun. The sting of a female tarantula hawk is described as "excruciating." See following hymenopteran pain index:

Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt has created a 4 point ranking system to compare the pain of hymenopteran stings. It is called the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. I have summarized his ranking system in the following table:

Schmidt Sting Pain Index

Sting Rating
Comparison Analogy
Sweat Bee
Like a tiny spark has has singed a hair on your arm.
Fire Ant
Like walking on a carpet & getting a static electricity shock.
Bullhorn Acacia Ant
Like someone fired a staple into your cheek or hand.
Bald-Faced Hornet
Like getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
Like extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
Honey Bee
Like a burning matchhead that lands on your skin.
Red Harvester Ant
Like using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
Paper Wasp
Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
Pepsis Wasp
Like dropping a running hair drier into your bubble bath.
Bullet Ant
Walking on hot charcoals with 3 inch rusty nail in your heel.

In general I would tend to agree with the ranking order of Schmidt's Sting Pain Index; however, I am not sure about his comparison analogies. An electric hair dryer falling into your bubble bath sounds more serious (fatal) than walking on hot coals with a rusty nail in your heal! Having been stung repeatedly by the acacia ant (Pseudomyrmex ferruginea) while photographing the swollen thorns of the Central American Acacia collinsii I can attest to the potency of the sting. In fact, multiple stings are sufficient to deter large browsing mammals. The odds of being stung by only one fire ant are unlikely, so the pain index for this ant species should probably be increased. It would be interesting to see where Schmidt would place the sting of a velvet ant (a wingless female wasp of the family Mutillidae). Entomologist Christopher Starr rates the velvet ant with a value of 3.0, the same as the paper wasp.

In his book The Sting Of The Wild (2016), Dr. Schmidt added the warrior wasp (Synoeca septentrionalis) to his category #4. He describes pain as "Torture--You are chained in the flow of an active volcano." This wasp forms nests on the trunks of trees in Central and South America. Several comments on the Internet have suggested the potent sting of the giant Asian hornet (Vespa manandarina), the largest of all stinging insects, should be high on Schmidt's pain chart. In addition to its very painful sting it has huge mandibles and a painful bite capable of removing a small chunk of flesh.

  See Trivia Note About Giant Asian Hornet  

A freshly killed tarantula found on Owens Peak north of Palomar College.

A large Pepsis with orange antennae on Owens Peak. According to some references, male Pepsis have straight antennae, compared with the coiled antennae of female wasps. If it is truly a male, I could have held it my hand; however, I have read that females can occasionally straighten their antennae!

Tarantula Hawk Wasps In Twin Oaks Valley

Wasp-Tarantula Encounter In My Neighborhood!

Apparently the wasp was trying to drag the tarantula up a vertical wall!

Tarantula Hawks On Rush Milkweed Asclepias subulata

As I have stated above, I am not certain about the species of following wasps or their sex. In general, males are apparently a little smaller than females; however, several species are listed for this area. I am not about to allow one to sting me just to see if it is a stinging female or nonstinging male! Females often have coiled antennae; however, they can apparently also straighten their antennae like wasps in photo. I also don't trust antennae color to determine their sex. According to, Pepsis mildei has orange antennae. Other species in the Twin Oaks Valley area have black antennae. In addition, females can have coiled or straight antennae.

  Images Of Pepsis mildei on Bugguide.Net  

Pepsis mildei With Red Antennae!

  Taranantula Hawks On Milkweed In Joshua Tree National Park  

Velvet Ants (Family Mutillidae)

Two species of "velvet ants" (Dasymutilla sp.) from the author's entomology collection in the early 1960s at CSULA. Red and white velvet ants are occasionally seen in the dry foothills of San Diego County. This attractive, furry insect is actually a wingless female wasp. She scurries around on the ground presumably searching for prey. This insect can inflict a painful sting that reportedly subsides quickly. According to entomologist Christopher Starr, it is on the same pain level as the paper wasp.

Velvet "ants" are hairy, wingless female wasps with a painful sting. Winged males look very different, a good example of sexual dimorphism. This male showed up in my kitchen!

Wingless Wasp (Family Myrmosidae)

  Go Back To Table Of Ant Images From Owens Peak     Click Here  

Myrmosula: Another genus of small wingless female wasps that superficially resemble ants.

End of year visitor to my home (Day 6936 Of 3rd Millennium): This tiny ant look-alike is a wingless (flightless) ichneumon wasp. With more than 60,000 species in this enormous wasp family I am lucky to identify it to level of subfamily! Wasps On Wayne's Word

Pincer Wasp (Family Dryinidae)

This tiny ant-like wasp is only about 5 mm in length.

A minute, ant-sized dryinid wasp. Wingless females have pincer-like appendages at the tips of the front legs that are used to catch leafhopper grubs (family Cicadellidae) which act as hosts to the larvae of these wasps. The pincer claw on foreleg is a remarkable adaptation that I was unaware of in my biology career. In fact, I never saw this small wasp until Mr. Disparti found one at his home in southern California. Like the preying mantis (order Mantodea) and mantispid (order Neuroptera), pincer wasps have evolved grasping forelegs; however, they are structurally quite different from raptorial forelegs of mantids and mantispids. Dryinids are very important agents of biological control.

Virla, E.G., Moya-Raygoza, G. & Guglielmino, A. 2023. "A Review of the Biology of the Pincer Wasps (Hymenoptera: Dryinidae)." Austral Entomology:

Chalcid Wasp (Superfamily Chalcidoidea)

This tiny parasitic wasp is only 2 mm in length.

Yellow Jackets & Hornets (Subfamily Vespinae)
Yellow Jacket (Vespula pensylvanica).

This wasp is about 14 mm long, roughly the size of a honey bee. Like a honey bee, it packs a powerful sting, but unlike a honey bee it can sting repeatedly. Barbs on the honey bee's stinger catch in human skin. The stinger and connected organs remain in the elastic skin when the bee pulls away, a fatal injury to the bee. Yellow jackets live in colonies up to 15,000 individuals, which are differentiated into haploid males, the diploid queen, and diploid female workers. Like the paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus), the nest is made from a mixture of saliva and chewed fibers from dead wood, resembling papier-mâché. Yellow jackets are very fond of meat and fruit. Their appetite and painful sting make them a serious nuisance to picknickers. In addition, yellow jackets can be quite aggressive if their nest is disturbed.

A yellow jacket (Vespula) on fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).

A yellow jacket (cf. Vespula pensylvanica) portrait view!

Japanese Giant Hornet (Subamily Vespinae)

A Japanese giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia japonica) sent from Stephanie in Japan. With their powerful mandibles, several dozen of these giants can annihilate 30,000 European honey bees (Apis mellifera) in a few hours by quickly decapitating them! The native Japanese honey bee (Apis cerana japonica) has evolved a clever strategy for killing this predator if it invades their nest. A mob of several hundred worker bees envelop the invader and vibrate their flight muscles, thus raising the hornet's body temperature by a lethal 2 degrees Celsius. See the following two YouTube videos:

Paper Wasp (Subfamily Polistinae)

A paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus).

  See The Nest Of A Paper Wasp  

Thread-Waisted Wasps (Family Sphecidae)

Thread-waisted wasp (Ammophila sp.)

A digger wasp (Chlorion sp.)

A thread-waisted wasp (Ammophila) In Anza-Borrego Desert

Ichneumon Wasps (Family Ichneumonidae)

A common southern California ichneumon wasp (Enicospilus sp.). It parasitizes the larvae (caterpillars) of various larger moths. Some smaller ichneumons parasitize aphids. These are ecologically beneficial wasps.

It never ceases to amaze me what I find in my insect pitfall traps set in Twin Oaks Valley. The type location for this tiny wingless wasp is the Congo region of Africa! I escape from all the trials and tribulations of southern California in my world of insects! Of course, iNaturalist is a marvelous website for identifying difficult & little known species.

  See Matching Images For This Wasp On  

Square Headed Wasps (Family Crabronidae)

My latest tiny wasp visitor. This is where I find a lot of my interesting insects at my home. I have pitfall traps set throughout this area.

Fig Wasps (Family Agaonidae)

A. Close-up view of a male and female fig wasp (Pleistodontes imperialis) that inhabits the syconia of the Australian rustyleaf fig (Ficus rubiginosa). The slender ovipositor on female wasp is too short to penetrate the ovary of long-style flowers; therefore she does not lay eggs in these flowers. The smaller, wingless male has large mandibles and a greatly reduced body which has two primary purposes: (1) Inseminating the female and (2) Chewing exit tunnels through the syconium wall through which the females escape. The "eye" of an ordinary sewing needle is shown for a size comparison. These wasps were collected from trees growing by the old Life Science building. The biology students were always amazed when I brought them into my laboratory classes.

B. A non-pollinator "bogus" fig wasp collected from the syconium of the Baja California wild fig (Ficus palmeri, or possibly Ficus brandegeei). [Note: latest research treats the two previous fig binomials as synonyms of F. petiolaris.] The ovipositor is much longer than the symbiotic pollinator wasp. In fact, some non-pollinator wasps can penetrate the entire syconium wall from the outside. They can also lay eggs in long-style fig flowers reserved for fig seeds. Consequently, no seeds are produced in these flowers. In addition, these "bogus" fig wasps do not pollinate fig flowers. Although they do not benefit the fig tree, non-pollinator wasps of the families Torymidae and Eurytomidae are common inhabitants of New World monoecious fig syconia. Their coexistence with natural fig pollinator wasps is a complex and perplexing coevolutionary problem in fig biology.

Complete Index Of On-Line Fig Articles On Wayne's Word

  1. A Petrified Fig Syconium From The Cretaceous Period
  2. An Introductory Lecture On The Biology & Diversity Of Figs
  3. Bogus Nonpollinator Fig Wasps With Long Ovipositors
  4. Calimyrna Fig & Its Amazing Pollinator Wasp
  5. Calimyrna Fig Overwintering Mamme Crop
  6. Cauliflory In Tropical Species Of Figs (Ficus)
  7. Coevolution Of Fig & Fig Wasp: Vicarious Selection
  8. Evolution Of Dioecious Fig Species
  9. Ficus dammaropsis: A Remarkable Fig From New Guinea
  10. Fig Pith Sculpture: Microscopic Carvings From The Azores
  11. Figs Of The Holy Land (Their Role In World Religions)
  12. Gall Controversy: Do Fig Wasps Really Induce Gall Formation?     
  13. Hybrid Between Common Edible Fig & Creeping Fig
  14. Multiple Fruits Of The Mulberry Family (Moraceae)
  15. Pollination Patterns In Dioecious Figs
  16. Sex Determination & Life Cycle Of Common Fig (Ficus carica)
  17. Sexuality In Figs--Plant Sexuality & Political Correctness
  18. Strangler Figs & Banyans: Truly Remarkable Trees
  19. Summary Of Common Fig (Ficus carica) Life Cycle
  20. The Amazing Fig/Fig Wasp Relationship
  21. The Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila)--Source Of Grass Jelly
  22. Vicarious Selection In Figs (Richard Dawkin's Model)
  23. Reference Articles Cited In The Above On-Line Pages

Bees (Family Apidae & Anthophoridae)

Honey Bee (Family Apidae)

Worker female honey bees (Apis mellifera) on their wax honeycomb. The hexagonal cells are used to store honey and to incubate larvae. The remarkable geometric structure of the cells provides for maximum utilization of space.

The wax honeycomb of the honey bee (Apis mellifera) is composed of two layers of hexagonal cells. Beeswax, the construction material for the wax cells, is secreted by special glands in the abdomen of worker bees. One layer of cells can be accessed from the front side, and another layer can be accessed from the back side. This ingenious construction of the two layers of cells provides for the maximum utilization of space. The cells are used to store honey and larvae. Larger cells are constructed by the worker bees to accommodate the male drones which develop from unfertilized eggs. Extra large cells are used for larvae of fertilized eggs which are fed "royal jelly." These special females develop into sexually mature queens.

  Parthenogenesis & Sex Determination In The Honey Bee  
See Mysterious "Yellow Rain" In Southern California
Sexual Suicide Of The Male (Drone) Honey Bee

Valley Carpenter Bee (Family Anthophoridae)

A female worker carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta). Carpenter bees bore into wood and make tunnel-like nests. They inhabit a variety of wood objects, including fence posts, building timbers and telephone poles. This species exhibits sexual dimorphism because the males are golden-brown and very different in appearance.

Digger Bee (Family Anthophoridae: Genus Anthophora)
These Solitary Bees Make Circular Holes (Burrows) In The Ground

A solitary bee burrowing into the ground (white arrow in top image). After hovering around to find their burrow, they quickly dart into the entrance with surprising speed. These bees are very wary when a photographer is standing near the entrance to their burrow. They are aware of the objects and spatial relationships around the entrance. In fact, this is how they locate the entrance to their nest.

A solitary burrowing (digger) bee of the genus Anthophora (Family Anthophoridae).

Sweat Bees (Family Halictidae)

A metallic sweat bee (possibly Augochlorella sp.). This family includes several genera of beautiful metallic bees. They are named sweat bees because they are attracted to the salt in human sweat. Their sting is rated 1.0 the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. Specimen from the author's entomology collection in the early 1960s at CSULA.

To my surprise, this was not the entrance to an ant nest. It is a ground-nesting metallic sweat bee. I collected one of these for my entomology class at CSULA almost 60 years ago. I have kept it all these years.

Brodiaea santarosae visited by a small sweat bee of the genus Lasioglossum.

On 16 Nov 2019 at 12:00 noon I spotted a small, black, solitary flower bee on an alula flower in the Palomar College Polynesian Garden. I originally thought it was in the family Megachilidae, but according to Karl Magnacca at University of Hawaii, it belongs to the genus Lasioglossum in the family Halictidae. Bees in this family are important pollinators in San Diego County, particularly the Anza-Borrego Desert region. This bee was definitely interested in the alula flower and was in the apex of floral tube collecting pollen grains from the anther column and from corolla throat. I collected the bee and flower and placed them in a closed vase with water for observations. I watched the bee move about on the flower and it appeared mostly interested in the pollen-bearing anther column; however, after several days it landed several times on the stigma. My observations are substantiated in the following images.

  Flower Bee On Hawaiian Alula In Palomar College Polynesian Garden  

Note: Ants Have Been Moved To Another Page


  1. Evans, A.V. 2007. Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. New York, New York.

  2. Hogue, C.L. 1993. Insects of the Los Angeles Basin. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Return To WAYNE'S WORD Home Page
Go To Biology GEE WHIZ TRIVIA Page