The insects of order Hymenoptera are widespread, diverse, and easy to observe. Over 150,000 species have been described by scientists worldwide! This page shows an assortment of native ants and wasps (suborder Apocrita) from deserts of the southwest. Fun fact: New Mexico’s state insect is the tarantula hawk wasp. With over 1,000 species of bees in Arizona and New Mexico, those amazing pollinators get their own page:
Not all wasps are hairy enough to pollinate, but many visit flowers for nectar and pollen and all are important members of a healthy ecosystem. Worried about stings? If you avoid their nests and observe from a respectful distance, female wasps will not go out of their way to attack and male wasps have no stingers at all.
Please enjoy this visual guide and explore the links under the pictures. It is a work in progress to provide information and examples of the thousands of species of wasps in our area. Thank you for visiting!
Note: Uncredited pictures are my own and available for use with appropriate credit © Elliott Gordon
Parasitic and Gall-forming Wasps
Ants, Velvet Ants, and Flower Wasps
Ants, in the family Formicidae, are predators or scavengers, and have a sweet tooth, sometimes gathering nectar or fruit juice for their sugar content. Winged reproductives, also called alates, typically leave the nest in spring and early summer. [Source]
Flower wasps, in the family Tiphiidae, are solitary wasps whose larvae are parasitoids of various beetle larvae. [Source]
Velvet ants, in the family Mutillidae, are parasitoids of immature insects, esp. bees and solitary wasps (also flies, limacodid moths, beetles, and cockroaches). Females are wingless, tend to be more active in cool weather or at dawn and dusk, and are well known for an intense sting. [Source]
These 3 different families of Hymenoptera occasionally look quite similar:
Paper, Pollen, and Potter Wasps and Yellow Jackets
Scoliid and Thynnid Wasps
Thread-waisted Wasps and Mud Daubers
Sand Wasps and Cicada Killers
Weevil Wasps and Bee Wolves
Cuckoo and Spider Wasps