The Sphecid Wasps of Michigan
(Hymenoptera: Sphecidae: Sphecinae)

Mark F. O'Brien

These web pages are derived from my 1989 paper, "Distribution and biology of the Sphecine wasps of Michigan (Hymenoptera: Sphecidae: Sphecinae)," which appeared in The Great Lakes Entomol. 22:199-217. I have updated the information that appeared in that paper and added the Ampulicinae to the list, too. I hope this resource will prove useful to people. If you do find it informative and useful, please send e-mail to

These pages are copyright 1997, Mark O'Brien

Introduction Species list Distribution Maps About Distributions References

Originally, I had transferred the distribution maps and information about the sphecines of Michigan to a HyperCard stack. Although I had it mostly completed some time ago, it languished in the "unfinished projects" bin as I went on to other areas of interest. What I hope to do with this web resource is to take previously published information - updated with new information -- some published and some not, and make it more widely available to a broader audience. There is a lot of "data" available on the web, but little real "information." My goal is to make this an educational and scientific resource.



The thread-waisted wasps, or Sphecinae (sensu Bohart and Menke 1976) are conspicuous inhabitants of sandy areas, vacant lots, and human residences (mud daubers). They have long been a favorite group for ethologists and naturalists because of their large size and easily observed nesting habits. Early authors such as Peckham and Peckham (1898) Fabre (1915), Rau and Rau (1918), and Reinhard (1929) gave much attention to various sphecines such as Sphex, Chlorion, and Ammophila in their accounts of wasp behavior. Although much has been printed about the sphecines in technical and popular works many species have been only sparingly studied, and others not at all. Much of the North American sphecid fauna is still poorly studied ethologically (Krombein 1979).

The sphecines are behaviorally diverse, and a general outline of their nesting habits is presented in Table 1. No attempt has been made to list all the references that pertain to each species in the text, as Krombein (1979) provides citations up to 1976. Only pertinent references are given in the species accounts that follow.

Most sphecine genera are fossorial, but Podium, Chalybion, Sceliphron, and Isodontia nest aerially, either in preformed cavities (as do the Ampulicines) or in mud nests. Prey selection is diverse, ranging from spiders to various groups of Orthoptera and lepidopterous larvae. Wasp genera usually specialize on a given order or family, with the various species differing in prey selection at the family or genus level, stage of prey, size of prey, or site of prey capture (arboreal versus fossorial caterpillars). Evans and Eberhard (1970) provide an excellent review of all types of sphecid behavior, and Bohart and Menke (1976) provided behavioral synopses for each genus on a world-wide basis.

Owing to the effects of glaciation, Michigan abounds in sandy areas. As a consequence, there exists a wide range of habitable areas for sand wasps. Dreisbach (1944) provided the first key and annotated list of the thread-waisted wasps of the state. Due to later taxonomic revisions and extensive collecting, his paper has been long outdated. Michigan has representatives of all the l l genera of North American Sphecinae, and 26 of the 127 North American species. Some of these species reach their easternmost or northernmost distribution in the state. Other species that are transcontinental are similarly widespread in Michigan. These distributions are discussed under the species accounts.

The sphecines are a taxonomically well-studied group in North America. For identification of North American taxa other than the Ammophilini, Bohart and Menke's reclassification of the subfamily (1963) is recommended. On a world-wide level, Bohart and Menke's 1976 generic revision of the family Sphecidae is the definitive work. For the Ammophilini, Murray ( 1940) is the best taxonomic reference for Podalonia, and Menke (1964) for Eremnophila. Keys to Ammophila published prior to 1964 are either incomplete or unreliable. Only Menke's (1965) revision of North American Ammophila is recommended for identification, but it is only available on microfilm or microfilm based reprint from University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, MI. Additional information on biology and taxonomy was given by Krombein (1979).

The following annotated list of the Michigan sphecines is based upon the examination of over 2800 specimens from various collections (see Acknowledgments), and from personal observations in the feld. Voucher specimens for those species upon which behavioral data are based are deposited at The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Flower records are based upon personal observations or label data and do not include previously published records. Localities given as Livingston County are from the Edwin S. George Reserve (ESGR). Abbreviations for sections of the state of Michigan are LP for Lower Peninsula, UP for Upper Peninsula, SLP and NLP for the southern and northern regions of the LP. The number of specimens examined is given as an indicator of relative abundance for the various species, and to indicate the sample size.

Species List

Family Sphecidae

Subfamily Ampulicinae

Dolichurus greenei Rohwer
Ampulex canaliculata Say

Subfamily Sphecinae
Tribe Sceliphrini

Chlorion aerarium Patton
Podium luctuosum Smith
Podium rufipes Fabr.
Chalybion californicum (Saussure)
Sceliphron caementarium (Drury)

Tribe Sphecini

Sphex ichneumoneus (Linn.)
Sphex pensylvanicus Linn.
Isodontia auripes (Fernald)
Isodontia mexicana (Saussure)
Palmodes dimidiatus (DeGeer)
Prionyx atratus (Lepeletier)

Tribe Ammophilini

Podalonia luctuosa (Smith)
Podalonia robusta (Cresson)
Podalonia sericea Murray
Podalonia violaceipennis (Lepeletier)
Eremnophila aureonotata (Cameron)
Ammophila azteca Cameron
Ammophila cleopatra Menke
Ammophila evansi Menke
Ammophila harti (Fernald)
Ammophila kennedyi (Murray)
Ammophila leoparda (Fernald)
Ammophila mediata Cresson
Ammophila nigricans (Dahlbom)
Ammophila pictipennis (Walsh)
Ammophila procera Dahlbom
Ammophila urnaria Dahlbom

Sphecid Wasp Videos - From Brown Bag Productions - Dick Walton has some video clips of several species of sand wasps, including Eremnophila aureonotata and Sphex pensylvanicus. Excellent video of nesting behavior! (08/31/2006)

Added color photos of pinned adult females on most of the pages. The specimens were placed on their side on a UMAX S-6E color scanner and scanned into Adobe Photoshop at 300 dpi at 200 percent resolution. They were edited and saved to 72 dpi and resized for the web. (01/21/1998)


This page last updated 08/31/2006