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Horntail Wasp (Urocerus spp.)

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

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Image Credit: David M. from Seattle, WA
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Image Credit: David M. from Seattle, WA
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Horntail Wasps may look like they can deliver a wicked sting, but that stout syringe is actually for laying eggs.

Updated: 01/04/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Despite the warning colors, Horntail wasps are generally non-aggressive and (one source says) harmless. Adults drink nectar and water. Both genders of Horntail Wasp species have short spines at the tip of their abdomen, but females appear to have two menacing stingers. The thicker, longer one is actually an ovipositor. The ovipositor is a tube used by the female to directly inject eggs into tree trunks and other durable wood where they are less likely to be found and eaten by other insects. That sturdy spine aids in splitting the wood before the eggs are laid, placing them deeper into the protective tree trunk.

Larvae hatch inside the wood and then tunnel through it, emerging as adults. Despite the female's efforts to use deep wood to protect her Horntail larvae, they get eaten by the larvae of other tree-savvy parasitic wasps that have also hatched in the same tree. Those Horntail Wasps that survive will emerge from the tree in their adult form. If the tree gets harvested and used for building material before then, it is not unusual to see these adults inside homes or buildings when they finally come out of the wood.©InsectIdentification.org

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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: Siricidae
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          Genus: Urocerus
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            Species: spp.

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Urocerus spp.
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 18mm to 40mm (0.70" to 1.57")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; yellow; orange; brown
Descriptors: stinger; stinging; flying

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 18mm (0.7in) and 40mm (1.6in)
Lo: 18mm
Md: 29mm
Hi: 40mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Horntail Wasp 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 Horntail Wasp. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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