There is a vast number of red wasps in the United States. Some are mainly red, while others have some red coloration.
In order to be able to identify the red wasps, we have created a list of the most common red wasps in the United States. Continue reading to find out more.
Table of Contents
1. Dark Paper Wasp
The Dark Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus) can grow up to 21mm in length. They are mainly back or a dark red/brown color, usually with yellow markings on their abdomen. Their colors vary, as do their markings, especially when it comes to their facial patterns. Females have a venomous sting.
The easiest way to identify these wasps is how they fly, hanging their slender legs below their body when in flight. Adults feed on nectar and they catch caterpillars, grasshoppers, and other small insects, which are used as food for their larvae.
The dark paper wasp has a one-year lifespan and builds umbrella-shaped nests. The queen lays eggs in individual cells. The first generation is infertile females and workers, while the second generation includes queens.
You are more likely to encounter the dark paper wasp in temperate North American climates. They are common in Florida, West Virginia, British Columbia, and Quebec.
2. Hunter’s Little Paper Wasp
The Hunter’s Little Paper Wasp (Polistes dorsali) is a social wasp that is found throughout North America. The male and female have yellow v-shaped markings on their head. They are found in sheltered nests, which are located close to the ground.
If they feel threatened, they will produce a painful sting. The sting is not deadly to humans and their venom has become an interest for antimicrobial uses. This is a small wasp species with two sets of wings, the fore wings, and the hind wings. They grow to around 17mm in length.
The Hunter’s little paper wasp is mainly dark brown, red, or black with yellow banding. Inside the yellow markings is mainly black. The stem of their antennae tends to be a dull orange color. Females’ coloration can vary, sometimes being a dull orange/red, yellow, brown, and black, comprising of segments.
These wasps are common in the southeastern areas of the United States, where they prefer sheltered areas. They usually create their nests in hollowed-out logs, rock piles, and open fields.
3. Fine-backed Red Paper Wasp
The Fine-backed Red Paper Wasp (Polistes carolina) is common in the eastern United States. This is a social wasp species and is a red/brown color on the head and body. They choose to build their nests in protected areas.
These social wasps can grow to 32mm in length and have long black wings. You will often encounter them near hollowed trees and in woodlands. They will often construct their nests near humans, including under the roof of a building. They are common in Texas, Nebraska, Ontario, Canada, New York, and Florida. They have also been introduced to Bermuda.
4. Coarse-backed Red Paper Wasp
The female Coarse-backed Red Paper Wasp (Polistes rubiginosus) can grow to 21.5mm, while the male can grow to 18mm. They are a rusty red color with several dark brown to black markings. The markings are well developed.
These are the only large red wasp species in the Eastern United States. They are endemic to the United States and are often encountered in Georgia, Maryland, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. They can also be found in Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, Arizona, and Arkansas.
5. Long-tailed Giant Ichneumonid Wasp
The female Long-tailed Giant Ichneumonid Wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) has a long ovipositor and they will strike a human if they feel threatened. Their ovipositor is double the length of their body and is tube-like in design. The good news is that while they will try and sting you, their ovipositor isn’t rigid enough and therefore they cannot sting you.
These wasps are parasitic on other wasp species. The female usually searches holes that already have a Horntail larva, she then injects her egg onto it. The larva then feeds on the Horntail, emerging as winged adults.
The long-tailed giant ichneumonid wasp is common in the eastern parts of the United States, all the way to southern Canada, close to the Great Lakes.
6. Rusty Spider Wasp
Rusty Spider Wasps (Tachypompilus ferrugineus) are also known as red-tailed spider hunters and red-tailed spider wasps. They prey on wandering spiders and have a preference for wolf spiders. They are a red/brown color with four narrow bands that circle their abdomens.
The wings are a violet-blue color and they can grow to 25mm in length. They are commonly encountered throughout the United States, Canada, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
7. Great Golden Digger Wasp
The Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) is not an aggressive species, though it does have a vivid color, which could alarm you. They are happy to go about their own business and are often seen on a flower, sipping on the nectar.
The females dig into the loose soil to create deep tunnels, which she then covers. She then finds a small insect and paralyzes them, introducing them into the tunnels to feed the larva when they hatch. She holds the prey in her legs below her body as she flies and it’s not uncommon to see small birds try and steal the insects from her.
These wasps are of great interest to scientists for their unique behavior. If their insect prey is moved away from the tunnel, she will inspect it and relocate it, bringing it back to the entrance. All the females of this species exhibit the same behavior.
The great golden digger wasp is a beautiful orange/red to black and is docile when it comes to wasps. They are common from Canada to South America.
8. Southern Paper Wasp
The Southern Paper Wasp (Polistes bellicosus) has yellow abdominal segments. These wasps create paper for their nests, which they take from exposed and weathered wood. The wasps compress the wood fibers into thin sheets using their mandibles, which are used to create cells.
These wasps are known to establish colonies in Texas, though they have been seen in Florida and North Carolina. They prefer a range of habitats including oak forests and short grass prairies.
9. Euodynerus pratensis
The Euodynerus pratensis is a potter wasp that is found in the United States, including Hawaii. The adults feed on flower nectar and pollen, which gives them the energy to hunt and construct their nests. They create pots from moist mud, mixed with saliva, and are placed to protect them against the elements.
They hunt caterpillars, paralyzing them with their sting and then inserting them into one of their pots. The female then deposits one egg in the pot with the paralyzed caterpillar, before she seals it.
10. Trogus pennator
This is a parasitoid wasp and tends to be a parasite of the swallowtail butterfly family larvae and pupae. These wasps can grow to 18mm in length with rectangular blocks on their abdomens, complete with thick edges and cuts.
11. Greene’s Giant Ichneumonid Wasp
The Greene’s Giant Ichneumonid Wasp (Megarhyssa greenei) can be found throughout the United States and Canada. They are often confused with the Megarthyssa macrurus, but they have a longer ovipositor, which is double the length of their body. Their wing marketings are also more extensive. They do not have a dark stripe on their face.
12. Arizona Paper Wasp
The Arizona Paper Wasp (Polistes arizonensis) is unique to the Sonoran Desert and is only found in Arizona, Sonora, and Mexico. These are small wasps that are graceful and bright in color. They are mostly red with some yellow markings.
The female flies between grasses and reeds looking for fibers that she can turn into paper, which is used to create a nest, where she can then lay her eggs. Do not be fooled by their small size, they can give a nasty sting if they feel threatened. As long as you keep a fair distance and don’t threaten them, they are completely harmless.
These wasps have streamlined bodies with stunning colors. They have a single pair of wings and tend to be slow in flight, often hovering. They have five eyes, two large compound eyes on either side of the head, and three eyes that create a triangle on top of the head. They have excellent vision up to several feet.
They are social wasps and females live in a hive that is dominated by a queen. The male spends his time searching for a female to mate with. Interestingly, they can recognize their hive mates and can quickly identify intruders that may come from another hive.
13. Western Red-tailed Spider Wasp
The Western Red-tailed Spider Wasp (Tachypompilus unicolor) is endemic to North America. They have red bodies with dark yellow wings. You are likely to encounter this wasp in Southern California from Baja to the Channel Islands, and on to British Columbia. They have also been seen in the Okanagan Valley, northern Utah, and South Dakota.
14. Unstable Paper Wasp
The Unstable Paper Wasp (Polistes instabilis) is found in subtropical and tropical areas in Central and South America. They are identified by their red, yellow, and brown markings. Their nests are created by chewing plant fibers and making paper.
They live in a hive with a queen and the colonies are imitated in the springtime. The queen’s primary role is to lay eggs, while the workers gather materials to create the nest, search for food, and tend to the young. Their diet comprises of flower nectar and anthropods, especially caterpillars.
These large social wasps can grow to 25mm in length with a large 145mm wing span. The males are smaller than the females with yellow faces and curled tips on their antennae. Females’ antennae are straight and they have darker faces.
The unstable paper wasp is common in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Belize. They are known to migrate to higher elevations during the winter months.
15. Compsocryptus texensis
The Compsocyputus Texensis is an ichneumon wasp, that belongs to the Ichneumonidae family. There are eighteen species described under this wasp, which is commonly found in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico.
These are not large wasps and they will sting to defend themselves. They tend to be a rusty orange/red color with black markings, two sets of wings, and rusty-red colored legs.
16. Zeta argillaceum
The Zeta Argillaceum is the most common potter wasp species you will encounter in South America. They are found from Mexico through to the southern United States. They can adapt easily to new habitats and it’s not uncommon to see their nests on the side of buildings in urban areas.
They create round nests, around 18mm in diameter with a single entry hole. The female lays a single egg in each cell and stocks the cell with insects.
17. Western Cicada-killer Wasp
The Western Cicada-killer wasp (Sphecius grandis) creates nest aggregations. These wasps grow to 30mm in length and have yellow rings on their abdomens. They are not an aggressive species and their venom is used to paralyze cicadas, which are then taken to their nest as food for their young.
They are endemic to Mexico, the western United States, and Central America. They are found at high altitudes. They have a large wing span with their fore wings growing to 30mm. The females are larger than the males with a one-year lifespan. Males are smaller and only live a few days.
They tend to create their nests in gardens, sidewalks, and backyards. This means that they are often encountered, but they tend to ignore humans with females not being aggressive. They prefer to save their venom for cicada prey.
Don’t be fooled, they will sting if you accidentally step on them or grab them.
18. Metric Paper Wasp
Metric Paper Wasps (Polistes metricus) are native to North America and can be found from the southern Midwest to as far as New York. They have also been observed in Ontario. They are dark in color with black tibia and yellow tarsi. They are often seen on the side of buildings, in shrubbery, and on trees.
They are eusocial and will share a nest with other Polistes species. They reuse their nests over a few seasons. They fill their nests with soft-bodied prey, which includes caterpillars, which are food for their young.
These wasps are a rusty red color with black markings. Their abdomen is predominantly black. The female has six abdominal segments, whereas the males have seven. Females have red coloration on their heads with limited yellow markings. The males tend to have more yellow coloration.
The metric paper wasp is common in Canada, Maine, Ontario, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Texas, south Florida, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
19. Red-marked Pachodynerus Wasp
This wasp (Pachodynerus erynnis) is also referred to as the red and black mason wasp and belongs to the stinging wasp family. They are predators of caterpillars, butterfly larvae, and moth larvae. They create communal hives with solitary nests in the holes. They tend to live in tree crevices, man-made structures, and abandoned nests.
Their red and black coloration makes a red triangle, which can be seen when you view the wasp from the side, there is a red horseshoe shape on their thorax, which can be seen just behind the head. They are most commonly observed in the southeastern United States, though they are widely distributed from Florida to North Carolina and Texas.