17 Examples Of Wasps That Dig And Nest In The Ground

Some types of wasps dig in the ground for different reasons. Some wasps only dig in the ground to find food. Others dig to create a safe place for laying eggs. Other wasps live in the ground where they are sheltered from common wasp predators such as robins.

Not all types of soil are ideal for ground-digging wasps. It’s only soft or sandy soil that’s suitable for wasps to live in.

Given there’s soft soil around, wasps can dig burrows of up to 6 inches and use them as shelter.

Some wasps cover these holes with the ground, especially when used to lay eggs.

Various species of wasps can also fight over the same ground holes. It’s believed parasite wasp species use existing holes created by other wasp species to lay their eggs and avoid having to dig their holes to lay eggs.

Some wasps can be observed at these holes, particularly when returning to lay food for the larva when the holes are used to lay eggs. But a large percentage of wasps never return to the holes they lay eggs in.

wasp nest in ground
A wasp with its nest in the ground

The following types of wasps are known for digging in the ground. They can dig in the ground once or return to dig in the same place again for multiple generations if the soil is right.

1. Cicada Killer Wasp

Sphecius speciosus
Sphecius speciosus

Black with yellow strips, Cicada Killer Wasps (Sphecius speciosus) are some of the largest that dig holes in the ground. These wasps dig holes as they hunt cicadas. Homes in areas with cicadas are subject to large populations of Cicada Killer Wasps.

Most of these wasps grow anywhere between 1 and 3 inches. They tend to dig multiple holes in the same area. Female Cicada Killer Wasps dig multiple holes at a time. They dig up to a few inches in the ground where they live their short lives.

2. Golden Digger Wasp

Sphex funerarius
Sphex funerarius

The wasps are identified by their black bodies with an orange band. Gold Digger Wasps (Sphex funerarius) are some of the most prolific wasps that dig into the ground. They dig deeper than Cicada Killer Wasps and they create entire underground nests.

It’s underground that these wasps lay eggs and carry sufficient supplies for a larva to survive.

Grasshoppers and locusts are some of the most popular types of insects that are carried underground as a food source by adult Gold Digger Wasps for the larva. Otherwise, these ground diggers solely feed on flower nectar.

3. Ammophila urnaria

Ammophila urnaria
Ammophila urnaria. Image by Susan Blayney via inaturalist

This black and red wasp is native to the Eastern parts of the United States. It has been documented as a ground-digging wasp, particularly for laying eggs. In adulthood, the wasp eats flower nectar. But it digs holes in the ground to lay eggs.

Caterpillars are the favorite type of food for the larva. This species paralyzes the caterpillar as it never kills it.

Caterpillars are stung at least once so they can’t escape. They are then taken to underground chambers for the larva to consume.

4. Norwegian wasp

Dolichovespula Norwegia
Dolichovespula Norwegia

The Norwegian wasp (Dolichovespula Norwegia) lives in Norway, Sweden, Scotland, and Iceland. It’s a versatile wasp that typically builds shelters just off the ground. If conditions aren’t right, the wasp also builds shelters in the ground.

This wasp feeds on the nectar of various fruits and plants such as blueberries, specific to Northern European climates.

5. Auplopus carbonarius

Auplopus carbonarius
Auplopus carbonarius

This wasp species don’t dig holes in the ground directly but it uses existing ground cavities as a habitat and to lay eggs in a sheltered area. Part of the Pompilidae family, the female wasp is responsible for identifying suitable ground cavities to lay eggs.

One of the distinct characteristics of this wasp is that it feeds spiders to larva, unlike most wasps that feel caterpillars to larva.

Research shows this wasp also has the ability to amputate the legs of spiders so that dragging the prey to the ground cavities is easier.

6. Thisbe’s Tarantula-hawk Wasp

Pepsis thisbe
Pepsis thisbe

This large species of wasps grow to about 2 inches. It’s common in arid climates such as the Grand Canyon. This habitat is seen in the way it looks since this dark wasp has bright orange wings.

The wasp is among the few that live in the ground digging and looking for shelter.

It gets its name from killing tarantulas. These large spiders are killed by the wasp which then drags the tarantula into an underground burrow. An egg is laid on the tarantula’s abdomen as food for the larva.

The female wasp is highly dangerous but some animals risk being stung by the female. Roadrunners are among the wasp’s natural predators.

7. Western Cicada Killer

Sphecius grandis
Sphecius grandis

This species of wasp is similar to the Cicada Killer Wasp. The Western Cicada Killer (Sphecius grandis) lives in the Western territories of the United States and Mexico. It has a distinct amber color with yellow markings.

It normally hunts cicada and for this reason, it lives underground.

The wasp needs cicada as a nutritional reserve for its eggs. But unlike the Cicada Killer Wasp, the Western Cicada Killer also prefers grounds that are clear of vegetation.

It likes to be in direct sunlight for warmth and it only digs in grounds directly exposed to sunlight.

8. Australian Cicada Killer Wasp

Exeirus lateritius
Exeirus lateritius

This species of cicada wasps are found in Australia. There are over a few hundred variations of the wasp in Australia, mostly found in the hottest climates with trees as well as in mainland Australia and around Sydney.

The Australian Cicada Killer Wasp (Exeirus lateritius) spends most of its time on the ground. This is where it roams for food and shelter.

It goes up in trees only to hunt and paralyze Cicadas. Once Cicadas are paralyzed they fall to the ground. The wasp can then drag them up to a few hundred feet away in ground holes where they are used as food for the larva.

9. Tree Wasp

Dolichovespula sylvestris
Dolichovespula sylvestris

The Tree Wasp (Dolichovespula sylvestris) is a versatile Vespidae family member. Unlike its name suggests, it doesn’t exclusively live on trees. It also lives on the ground and in the ground.

It’s mostly found in rural and suburban areas as it’s not attracted to human activity or the food humans consume.

This wasp appears similar to bees with black and yellow body coloration. It’s not dangerous to humans when nesting around homes but it can attack children or anyone disturbing its nest.

When it builds an underground nest the Tree Wasp seeks some types of over-ground protection. This can be a large rock, a log, or any other large object which can offer some type of overhead structural safety and protection from potential predators.

10. Cerceris fumipennis

Cerceris fumipennis
Cerceris fumipennis

This type of wasp is found across the US, particularly in Eastern territories. It’s one of the species that like to build complex underground nests.

The female starts by digging a hole that has a clear entrance of a few inches wide at ground level. This entrance is easily visible as it’s mostly found in soft ground.

The nest itself is rather complex. The female wasp builds tunnels and underground chambers for each wasp. It uses these chambers to lay eggs and as a sheltered habitat.

It’s believed this wasp doesn’t fly more than a couple of miles away from the nest at any time during its life. It prefers to fly close distances, mostly looking for prey to paralyze and bring back to the underground nest.

11. Two-Spotted Scoliid Wasp

Scolia dubia
Scolia dubia

These wasps have a distinct red, black, and white body with stripes. It’s a type of small wasp normally reaching a size between 0.8 and 1 inches.

This is a ground-level wasp mostly interested to dig in search of grubs and beetles. Once it finds beetles it stings them paralyzing them on the spot. It then digs deeper dragging the prey and laying an egg on top of it. A large cell or chamber is created for the final place of the egg and grub.

12. Pacific Cicada Killer

This type of Cicada killer is identified by its red-amber body with yellow stripes. These are some of the most prolific Cicada killers, using it as prey for the larva.

Unlike other Cicada killers, the Pacific Cicada Killer wasp has multiple enemies to fear. Its prey is often hunted by other insects. Even when the Cicada is buried underground, the Pacific Cicada Killer Wasp can’t be certain it will stay there.

Other wasps and predators seek it out unearthing it and eat the prey.

13. Pepsis grossa

Pepsis grossa
Pepsis grossa

These large wasps are known for their painful sting and hunting tarantulas. It’s believed this Pepsis wasp has the second most painful sting in the insect’s world.

If stung by the wasp humans feel excruciating pain immediately. This pain can last minutes, hours, or even a day.

The intensity of the pain is severe due to the venom inserted by the wasp. However, venom is not life-threatening to humans.

The wasp uses this powerful sting against large spiders such as tarantulas. They sting these spiders in soft tissue spots such as on the abdomen. They paralyze the tarantula dragging it underground to use as live food for the larva.

As many powerful sting wasps, it still has a few natural predators. Roadrunners are the most feared Pepsis grossa predator.

Further Reading:

14. Triscolia ardens

Triscolia ardens
Triscolia ardens

With black and amber body coloring, the wasp is easy to recognize. It’s found all over North America with little differentiation between the male and the female. The male Triscola ardens has long antennae while the female has short antennae.

This wasp also lives underground. It looks for beetle grubs which it stings and paralyzes. Grubs are used to feed larva. The wasp builds entire chambers around the grub so that the larva has enough space to develop.

15. Yellowjacket

Vespula squamosa
Southern yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa)

The Vespula Yellowjacket family builds underground nests as opposed to the Dolichovespula family that builds aerial nests. The Yellowjacket wasp has black and yellow stripes on the body, resembling bees.

These wasps can build complex underground nests with sufficient space for larva and all other wasps.

It’s believed a good Yellowjacket underground nest hosts around 1.000 wasps. In some cases where food is abundant these nests can host up to 3.000 wasps. In parts of the world with mild winters, this nest grows becoming a home for up to 10.000 wasps.

16. Ornate Tailed Digger Wasp

Cerceris rybyensis
Ornate Tailed Digger Wasp (Cerceris rybyensis)

This type of wasp that digs into the ground has a black body with irregular yellow stripes and markings. It mostly lives in areas with soft ground such as coastal locations with sandy beaches as it needs to dig deep.

The female wasp creates long underground galleries for its larva and as a nest. These galleries start with a nearly vertical tunnel which then spreads out.

At times, the tunnels run almost horizontally to the surface of the ground which means they are complex and hard to reach for predators. The female wasp then starts hunting insects which are then brought straight to the nest.

17. Great Black Wasp

Sphex pensylvanicus
Sphex pensylvanicus

The Great Black Wasp gets its name from its all-black body. Sometimes confused with a fly, this wasp grows to 0.8 to 1.4 inches.

It lives underground where it lays eggs providing sufficient food for its larva. It hunts orthopteran insects such as Microcentrum.

These insects are stung distinctly 3 times. They are stung once behind the head and twice in the body to become paralyzed and easy to transport to the underground nest.

This wasp has seen considerable population growth in the 20th century in North America. Since then, it has been reported almost in every corner of the US.

Apart from digging into the ground, the wasp is also an important pollinator, similar to bees. Various types of milkweeds are pollinated by the Great Black Wasp as adults of the species prefer to eat pollen instead of insects that are fed to larva.

Its larva can consume anywhere between 2 and 6 insects until it reaches a pre-pupation size. This larva growing stage lasts around 10 days and takes place entirely underground.

Further Reading: