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Since murder hornets were discovered in the US for the first time in Washington a few months ago, local entomologists in every US state have been receiving overwhelming numbers of winged insect specimens in the mail from people who seem sure that their submitted specimen is a murder hornet. Of course, none of these specimens turned out to be a murder hornet, as citizin scientists in Washington only recently managed to capture the first murder hornet specimen in the country, and with great difficulty. Most specimens that have been submitted are large solitary wasp species, most notably cicada killer wasps, tarantula hawk moths, and some cricket hunter wasps.

When it comes to wasps, many people are only familiar with colony-dwelling eusocial wasps that nest on properties where they frequently sting humans. These wasps include paper wasps (Polistes spp.), yellow jackets (Vespula and Dolichovespula spp.), and hornets like the non-native European hornet (Vespa crabro) and the recently introduced “Asian giant hornet,” or as the species has become known in America, the “murder hornet” (V. mandarina). Solitary wasps account for the majority of wasp species, and most wasps encountered on residential and commercial properties are solitary species that are considered turf-grass pests or structural pests. These solitary wasp pests include mud dauber wasps (Sphecidae or Crabronidae spp.) that construct mud nests on the exterior walls of structures, and species that excavate damaging and unsightly ground nests on turf-grass landscapes like cicada killer wasps (Sphecius speciosus) and digger wasps (Sceliphron sp.).

Solitary wasps are relatively large in size, and while they possess stingers that can inject venom into the human bloodstream, they are not defensive and they will not sting humans unless they are handled or sufficiently provoked and/or disturbed. Even when solitary wasps do inflict stings, the resulting sensation has been reported as relatively mild and tolerable. The only exceptions are tarantula hawk wasps (Pepsis and Hemipepsis spp.), which are said to inflict the most painful stings of any venomous insect known to humankind, but luckily, they are docile and absent from Massachusetts. Enormous spider hunting wasps from various families are also notorious for their extremely painful stings, and three harmless species can be found in Massachusetts. Despite their painful stings, venom from these solitary wasp species will not harm humans. The solitary wasp pests that are managed on properties most frequently by pest control professionals are mud daubers and cicada killers.

Have you ever sustained a sting from a solitary wasp?