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Banded Horntail (Urocerus gigas flavicornis)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Banded Horntail



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Image Credit: Dan and Catie B. from Ketchikan, AK
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Image Credit: Taken in Kelowna, BC
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A Banded Horntail seems like its a mean wasp with a long, nasty stinger, but its looks don't do its passive nature justice.



Updated: 01/26/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Though adults appear menacing to humans, Banded Horntails are not aggressive and do not sting nor bite. Long, tubular bodies have prominent yellow bands at the end of the abdomen. The alarm coloration is often the precursor to unnecessary panic thanks to the stiff 'horntail' at the tip of the abdomen. Females have what appear to be two 'stingers'. The longer, syringe-like one is actually an ovipositor. This strong organ is used to punch holes into hard tree trunks and then inject eggs into the wood. The hope is that burying the eggs deeper into wood will offer them more protection. The larvae of Banded Horntails have enemies. They are sought out and eaten by the growing larvae of other parasitic wasps that were laid on the same tree trunk. If the Horntail larvae survive the hunt, they will feed on the interior wood of the tree, tunneling through vascular tissue, and eventually emerge as adults.

Males have been seen clustering together at high ground while they wait for females to come and mate with them. This behavior is called "hilltopping". Once they have mated, adult females work tirelessly, boring as many holes and laying as many eggs as they can before dying. Adults only live for about 3 to 4 weeks. In that short life span, a female can lay over 300 eggs, each in their own hole. The whole life of a Banded Horntail, from larva to adult, can last 3 years.

Because this species prefers conifer trees like pine, it is not uncommon to see young adults indoors as they emerge from wood that was harvested years prior and used to build things (like furniture) while they were still developing larvae. The tunneling can impact the beauty of the wood, affecting its usability, so Horntails are generally considered a nuisance in the lumber industry.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Harmless insect icon
Striped or banded insect icon




Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Acari
        Family: Siricidae
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          Genus: Urocerus
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            Species: gigas flavicornis
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Urocerus gigas flavicornis
Other Name(s): Greater Horntail
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 12mm to 40mm (0.47" to 1.57")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black, yellow, brown
Descriptors: band, stripe, tail, spine, flying, harmless, wasp, clusters, wood wasp
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Range Between 12mm and 40mm
Lo: 12mm
Md: 26mm
Hi: 40mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Banded Horntail may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Banded Horntail. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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