Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pigeon Horntail


This bug eyed creature is a Pigeon Horntail (Tremex columbia). They are found throughout North America. The one pictured here was photographed in St. Joseph, MO. We were at my husband's uncles place cleaning out sheds when this very large wasp-like insect began hovering around my leg. It was about ready to land on my leg so I could finally identify what it was when my brother-in-law took his hat off and swatted it. He knocked the poor think loopy and it hit the ground dazed! Fortunately he didn't kill, it was only stunned. I was able to pick it up and was thrilled to discover that it was one of the most beautiful specimens of this species I had ever seen. I captured several images of it and decided to add it to my insect collection.

This particular one was very large at approximately 2 inches in length. This one is a female, which is evident from the stinger-like projection at the end of her abdomen. This projection is called an ovipositor and it is used to drill into decaying timber and to deposit eggs. The female typically chooses Silver Maple, Cottonwood, Ash and Elm more often than other varities of trees. The young larvae will bore into the wood and feed on the wood pulp. It will take the larva several years to reach full size, at which time they will pupate and emerge as adults a few weeks later. The adults feed on nectar, and are often seen hovering about flowers in gardens. Especially if these gardens are near a stand of timberland.

As adults they can vary a lot in coloration, and may be blue, black or even brown. The legs will have yellow coloration on them.This one was predominantly yellow and orangish-red. Males are smaller than females and usually only measure up to one inch.

This species is often parasitized by the Giant Ichneumon Wasp. The females of these large wasp-like creatures will investigate a decayed piece of wood, and if she senses that there is a horntail larvae burrowing within, she will take her extra long ovipositor and drill into the wood and deposit an egg on the horntail larvae. It seems an impossible feat for her to be able to detect that worm-like creature tunneling underneath the bark without being able to see it. Her egg will hatch and the young larvae will burrow into the body of the horntail larvae. It will feed until it is ready to pupate. This ultimately kills the horntail larvae.


(Giant Ichneumon Wasp-Female (note the LONG whip-like ovipositor at the end of her abdomen)


The Pigeon Horntail is often called the Wood Wasp, for obvious reasons, they not only look likes wasps, but they are associated with woodlands. They are harmless to humans, and will not sting. The projection at the end of the abdomen is hard and sharp, but she will not burrow it into your skin. These are interesting insects to have around and if you are lucky enough to find one ovipositing into a tree trunk I'm sure it would be a sight you wouldn't soon forget.

18 comments:

  1. Wow, that's a nice find. I've only seen those in collections.

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    1. Yoo i got a stump full of them you want them.

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  2. Thanks, it was a beautiful specimen.

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  3. This is quite an interesting and beautiful insect.

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  4. what a beauty, and great photographs, as ever. =)

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  5. I agree that they are very interesting, they are one of my favorites. Thanks for stopping by

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  6. Thanks Bio I appreciate the compliments. I love these guys.

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  7. Thanks for the great photos, Shelly. A new insect for me.

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  8. You're welcome Marvin, and thank you for stopping by, been awhile since I've seen you around here. These horntails are incredibly beautiful aren't they?

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  9. Hi we have had the Giant Horntail in our garden today, beautiful looking creature, had to Google a description to find out what it was

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  10. ok the insects are cool looking but someone dropped me off wood from a tree they cut down in their yard that was dying and i use wood to hear my house all winter. Well as soon as it was dropped off we starting finding these holes and they were filled with bugs and larvae in all different stages. Now the problem is I live on a fruit and vege. farm I have a variety of trees and I dont need these things boroughing into my trees so now how to I get rid of them just start a fire and burn all the wood now. there is no way i can go through each whole. I make maple syrup from my maple trees and I dont want them destroyed by these insects we have pulled out over 40 already so please this is and urgent question how do i get rid of them before they come out on their own they seem lethargic till I sprayed some sevin on them and then they all came crawling out and waking up.

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  11. Anonymous.....do u know for sure that they insects infesting your firewood are pigeon horntails? I believe that pigeon horntails use only wood that is already decaying like the tree your neighbors had to cut and so generously supplied you with. I don't think they will infest your maple or fruit trees if they are healthy. The key is to identify the insects accurately to know the best way to proceed.

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  12. is this thing native to Nova Scotia, Canada? I found one with its wings ripped off the day after the last hurricane blew through here from the States. I have never seen one in my life and have lived in the Country/wooded areas for most of my life

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  13. every fall in alexander nd we see hundreds in yards. jest cut down a tree that had many of them about it

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  14. we had one of those huge female wasps in my front yard last year she had 2 stingers not one. She got stuck in the tree trying to sting us and could not pull herself out cuz over half her 2 inch long stinger was stuck in that tree. i would not want to be stung by her or her off spring let alone any bees. i don't like hospital visits.

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    1. Fortunately these wasps do not sting people or anything for that matter. No worries of a hospital visit from one of these guys. She was actually using that long stinger-like projection to lay eggs in the tree and was not stuck at all. I am envious of you witnessing such a wonderful natural phenomena.

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  15. I just saw one of these in my back yard last week as I was cutting down a small tree. It really was pretty amazing to see I tried to take several pictures of it with my phone. After reading this though I hope I didn't interrupt it laying eggs while I was cutting the dead tree down.

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  16. This is a very incredible insect, My uncle found one of these insects by a half dead tree hit by lightning .. It was a amazing sight and find...

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