Great Golden Digger

Great golden digger wasp on spreading dogbane (photo by Kate St. John)

I always look for birds when I'm outdoors but they just aren't as conspicuous as the bugs are in July.

Last weekend on the Montour Trail I found a large black-and-orange wasp feeding on spreading dogbane.  It attracted my attention because it was huge and had bright orange legs and abdomen.

My search at identified it as a great golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus).

The name is apt.  They are huge, golden (their foreheads are gold!), and they dig a hole to create their nests.

Great golden diggers are solitary.  To make a nest a female digs a vertical hole with lateral chambers.  For each egg laid, she captures and paralyzes a katydid or grasshopper, then drags it into one of the chambers, lays an egg on it and seals the chamber.  The larva feasts on the paralyzed insect and emerges as a wasp.  Read more of this amazing story here.

I tried to get a good photo showing her orange body.  Below she flaps her wings to perch on an unstable flower.

Great golden digger wasp (photo by Kate St. John)


Was I afraid she'd sting me?  No.  She was too busy feeding.

Later I learned I had nothing to fear.  Though intimidating, this species is not aggressive.


(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Check the video link at "Art from Hershey, PA"s comment below to see what the digger's nest looks like from above.

6 thoughts on “Great Golden Digger

  1. Great post! I’ve come across forest clearings (old building foundations in State Forests) that were full of short-toothed mountain mint. I could stand there for hours just trying to see all of the pollinator diversity. Never ceases to amaze.

  2. Can’t miss this one…looks like it was on dogbane? (Indian Hemp is what I call it). My mountain mint was full of tiny smaller than sweat bees to huge bumblebees, a white M hairstreak, and some huge hairy flies…need to see what they are…scary looking up close in the photos…the mint blossom didn’t look like much, but it was and still is busy all day…

    You are getting very, very nice photos Miss Kate…guess you won’t be needing us for photos…

    1. Marcy, oh yes I will need photos! I’m inspired to research new topics by the photos you send.

  3. all these wonderful photos of flowers and bugs (some ughs) they are all beautiful in their way and made that way I am sure in order to survive Mother Nature. I so appreciate all your hard work Kate as I am still trying to cope with life. Older I get the more time I have to do whatever I want and somedays I don’t want to do anything but I always walk & love to see what bugs are out. A weird summer for sure with the large amounts of rain & the higher temp and humidity. Even the birds I noticed were quiet during the 90s week but they sure were out early in the day. But I see that the poison ivy is more poisonous during this heat & humidity so you have to be a little more careful. Faith.

    1. Faith, it’s good to hear from you. I’ve noticed the quiet birds and poison ivy too. The poison ivy is growing like gangbusters and reaching out across the trails. I have had to be extra careful in Schenley Park where it almost touches me as I walk by.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *