Science at home: the Pelecinid wasp

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

This afternoon I spotted a type of wasp in the museum’s courtyard that I’d never seen before. I grabbed my camera and took some pictures, knowing that I could compare the images to insect books and websites to help me in my identification. After some careful research I think that what I saw was … drum roll please … a pelecinid wasp!

“Why the excitement?,” you might ask. Well, let me tell you, these are some pretty nifty wasps. For example:

Worldwide, there’s only one extant (living) genus, Pelecinus, and three species, only one (Pelecinus polyturator) of which lives in North America.

The earliest fossil record of Pelecinid wasps was just found in Easter Inner Mongolia, China, dating to the Middle Jurassic (176-161 million years ago!).

Pelecinids are parasitoids. Parasitoids are organisms that spend a significant part of their life attached to or within a host organism that they eventually kill and usually consume. In the case of Pelecinid wasps, the female takes her ovipositor (the last segment of her abdomen, which she uses to lay eggs) and sticks it into the soil looking for beetle larvae. When she finds a larva, she lays an egg on it. The Pelecinid larva that hatches out of the egg will use the beetle larvae as its host and food source, ultimately killing the beetle.

In North America, male Pelecinid wasps are rare. As a result, most females reproduce by parthenogensis. Parthenogensis is basically a natural cloning process in which a female can lay unfertilized eggs that will hatch into replicas of the mother.

Where there’s one insect there’s always another, so keep your eyes out – you might just spot a Pelecinid wasp. Here’s how to identify it if you do:

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14 Responses to “Science at home: the Pelecinid wasp”


  1. 1 tburton1004 August 17, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Jason Wolvington (Assoc. Director of the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center) and I spotted one of these wasps over by City Hall on Laporte and Mason last week — very distinctive with that long tail.

  2. 2 Amanda McGregor September 5, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Hi I have spotted one of these females in my garden, on two seperate occasions. I live in Nova Scotia, are they native to this area?

  3. 3 kbowell September 7, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Hi Amanda,

    Pelecinid wasps’ range is through most of the Western Hemisphere. A friend of mine has seen them in Quebec, so I wouldn’t be surprised that they’re in Nova Scotia, too.

  4. 4 bonnie August 2, 2011 at 8:51 am

    We’ve got one in our Magnolia tree in Birch Run, Michigan!

  5. 5 Sharon Lee August 9, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Found the female Pelecinid wasp this am on my back stoop. Wolfeboro, NH ~Sharon

  6. 6 Duane August 17, 2011 at 8:01 am

    My wife and I saw one yesterday on our front door. She also said it looked like a flying scorpion – seemed fitting with the segmented abdomen. We live in Sarnia, Ontario. Great to find out what it really is – glad we got to see it live and in person- guess they are quite rare to see.

  7. 7 VAL August 23, 2011 at 8:43 am

    my mom found one inside her pajama pant leg this morning on manitoulin island!!!!creeepyyyyyyy!!!!!

  8. 8 Bill August 27, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Tonight I found one in my kitchen in Dublin, Oh. I went for the fly swatter because it looked so scary. My wife went for google and found out it is good for the garden and kill grubs. In the end she went in a jar and was set free outside again.

  9. 9 Ed August 29, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    we have tons of them at our cabin in lac du bonnet manitoba

  10. 10 Terilyn Drake September 14, 2011 at 7:27 am

    I also see them here in Nova Scotia, I live In Cape Breton and am after spotting one a couple times now. Today makes three in the past month.

  11. 11 pete September 15, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    i have also seen one ottawa ontario flew up to my porch light 10 in the evening

  12. 12 Bethany Lauzon August 1, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    These things are everywhere in one spot surrounded by trees in my backyard. All they do is fly around and land on trees or the grass. I’ve seen many of them at one time but spread out. I live in northwestern Ontario.

  13. 13 tory October 2, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Saw my first in PEI today! Little scary


  1. 1 A Pelecinid Wasp in Fort Collins? | Directory of Fort Collins Trackback on August 19, 2009 at 1:17 pm
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