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Giant Ichneumon Wasp: Norton's (Megarhyssa nortoni)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Giant Ichneumon Wasp: Norton's



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Image Credit: Dennis W. from Battleground, WA
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Image Credit: Dennis W. from Battleground, WA
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The long, syringe-like ovipositor on female Ichneumon Wasps looks like a mean stinger, but it's really all about the babies.



Updated: 08/17/2020; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Most Ichneumon wasps are long and slender wasps that are not a threat to people. The size of M. nortoni may create anxiety in some people unfamiliar with Ichneumons, but this wasp is not aggressive and is most likely looking for a mate or a place to lay eggs when encountered. It has a long, slender abdomen, dotted with red and yellow ovals or hexagons on each segment. The mainly black body sports yellow legs. Females have long needle-like ovipositors that are mistaken for flexible stingers. This ovipositor doubles the length of the insect, and is not a stinger. It is a thin tube that females inject into tree bark where they suspect Horntail larvae have been implanted. She lays a fertilized egg inside the bark on or near the egg of a Horntail wasp. The Horntail larva becomes food for her own offspring once it hatches. M. nortoni seems to specifically parasitize Horntails.

Look for this species of Ichneumon Wasp on trees in deciduous forests and parks. Females are often seen standing on tree trunks or fallen wood with a curved abdomen and an ovipositor that pokes at the bark until it finds a suitable host. The process is long enough to allow an observer to linger and admire the colors and patterns of the wasp.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Insect stinger icon




Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Hymenoptera
        Family: Ichneumonidae
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          Genus: Megarhyssa
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            Species: nortoni
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Megarhyssa nortoni
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 25mm to 38mm (0.98" to 1.49")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black, yellow, red
Descriptors: needle, sting, thread, poke, tree, wasp, flying, multicolored
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 25mm (1.0in) and 38mm (1.5in)
Lo: 25mm
Md: 31.5mm
Hi: 38mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Giant Ichneumon Wasp: Norton's 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 Giant Ichneumon Wasp: Norton's. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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