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Golden Digger Wasp

The golden digger wasp is a solitary wasp common in many areas of North America as well as south into Mexico, Central America, South America and other areas of the Caribbean.  Size ranges from over ½ inch to up to 2 inches in some reported sightings.  Golden digger wasps have large amber colored wings that make noise as they fly.  A relative of the giant cicada killer and other digger wasps, the golden digger is often spotted in parks, gardens and fields that provide open, sunny areas in which to build their nests and hunt for prey for their young and a food supply for the adults.  Golden digger wasps are one of the larger of the thread-waisted wasps, their head, and thorax and back half of their abdomen is black.  The front half of the abdomen and legs are a reddish-orange color.  The head and thorax are covered in short golden hairs.

Being solitary wasps, females live independently and do not share in nest maintenance or caring for young.  From May to August each year, female golden digger wasps dig nests in clay or sandy soil.  The nests consist of a main tunnel that is nearly vertical to the surface which leads to secondary tunnels leading to individual larval cells.  A nest may contain multiple cells for larvae and a female may construct as many as half a dozen total nests.  Nesting sites are typically exposed to the sun in an open location.  Once the nest is complete, the female wasps will temporarily close the nest while she hunts for prey for her young.  Crickets, grasshoppers and katydids serve as food sources for developing larvae.  The mother wasp will paralyze prey and return it to the nest either by flight if the prey is small enough or by dragging the prey along the ground.  The female golden digger wasps will place the prey near the entrance of the nest, re-open the entrance and return for the prey only after inspecting the nest.  Studies have shown that if prey is moved even a few inches from the entrance the female will pull the prey back into place and inspect the nest again before dragging the prey below ground into one of the larval cells.

This process is repeated until all cells contain prey for the young.  At that time, the female enters the nest to lay eggs closing the entrance behind her.  One egg is laid on each of the paralyzed prey in the cells. Larvae hatch within 2 to 3 days and begin to feed on the prey provided by their mother.  Overwintering occurs within the nest tunnels and adults emerge the following year.  Adult golden digger wasps produce only one generation each year and die within a few months of emerging.  Golden digger wasps are not aggressive and do not defend their nests.  Although they are capable of stinging, they typically only do so when provoked or handled.  Digger wasps are considered to be beneficial to many gardeners due to their hunting habits.