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Order of the Month


Hymenoptera
by John Jackman


Common names:  Bees, Wasps, Ants, Sawflies and Horntails

Metamorphosis:
  holometablous

Mouthparts: chewing, chewing-lapping

Key Characteristics: Hymenoptera have membranous wings with few veins and the front pair larger than the hind pair. Some individuals are wingless. Mouthparts are formed for chewing or for both chewing and sucking. The body is usually constricted greatly between the abdomen and thorax. Immature stages are maggot-like or caterpillar-like and are entirely different from the adults.

Biology:  Habits of these insects are varied: some are predaceous, some are parasitic, some cause plant galls, and some feed on plant foliage. Others, such as bumble bees and honey bees eat plant pollen and nectar. This order includes some of our most harmful, as well as some of our most beneficial insects. The abdomen in the females is usually furnished with a stinger. These insects have a painful sting and should be avoided if possible.

Name derivation: Hymenoptera = Latin for "membrane" (hymeno); "wings" (ptera)

AN OVERVIEW
(This is a selected list of families that are important or commonly encountered.)

Class - Insecta

Order - Hymenoptera

Families

Diprionidae - conifer sawflies
Tenthrendinidae - common sawflies
Siricidae - horntails
Braconidae - braconids
Ichneumonidae - ichneumons
Chalcidoidea - chalcids
Cynipidae - gall wasps and others
Formicidae - ants
Mutillidae - velvet ants
Pomphilidae - spider wasps
Vespidae - paper wasps, yellow jackets, hornets
Sphecidae - sphecid wasps
Megachilidae - leafcutting bees
Anthophoridae - cuckoo bees, digger bees, and carpenter bees
Apidae - honey bees, bumble bees, and euglossine bees
 

A bit more about families...
Diprionidae - conifer sawflies
Sawflies have multiple segments on the antennae and a thick connection between the abdomen and the thorax. Otherwise the adults look much like wasps. The adults are more common in the early spring of the year. The larvae look much like caterpillars and feed on foliage. Sawfly larvae can be distinguished from the caterpillars because the prolegs on the abdomen do not have crochets or small hooks. This family feeds almost exclusively on conifers.

Tenthrendinidae
- common sawflies
Common sawflies look very similar to the conifer sawflies as adults and larvae. The immatures of this family typically feed on broad-leaved trees.

Siricidae - horntails
Horntails look like elongate wasps with a thick waist. Females have a short ovipositor which is used to lay eggs into logs or stumps. They are most likely to be encountered when the females rest on the logs or are ovipositing. Larvae are grub-like and develop in the dead wood which is a bit unusual for biology in this order. This is a small group of medium sized Hymenoptera.

Braconidae - braconids
This is a large family of parasitic wasps which are therefore considered beneficial. They are relatively small, usually under 15 mm, as adults. They tend to be stout bodied to elongate in shape. They parasite a wide variety of insects. Cocoons of braconids can be found on the outside of various caterpillars before they hatch. This group is well known for polyembryony which is an egg that develops into two or more (sometimes hundreds) individuals.

Ichneumonidae - ichneumons
This family is one of the largest in the whole class Insecta with over 3000 species in North America. They attack a wide range of larvae which they parasitize. They vary considerably but ichneumon wasps are typically medium to large sized, elongate, long legged, with long ovipositors which are often longer than the body. They can be found in almost any habitat but sometimes are attracted to lights and often can be found search log piles for wood borer grubs to lay eggs upon.

Chalcidoidea - chalcids
This is really a superfamily that has a variety of wasps. Most chalcidoids are parasites of other insects that attack eggs or larvae of the host, but there are some plant feeders like the gall wasps. Most of them are under 2-3 mm long so they are easily overlooked. They can be collected on flowers or in yellow pan traps filled with salt water. Some of them are minute and develop inside the eggs of other insects. There are several species in this superfamily that have been imported as parasites of our pests.

Cynipidae - gall wasps and others
Galls are misshapen plant parts that result from a plant reaction to feeding by arthropods.   Many types of arthropods insects including wasps, flies, caterpillars, aphids, mites, and other insects cause the plant to form galls. Galls can be growths on the leaves, leaf stems, or twigs. Galls can be various shapes: hard or soft, fuzzy or smooth. The family Cynipidae is one of the most important gall forming insect groups. Most galls are formed on woody plants. Oak trees and hackberry trees have a particularly good collection of galls.

Formicidae - ants
Ants are quite diverse in behavior and habitats. They can be general predators, seed collectors, foliage feeders, or even tend aphids to collect the honeydew as food. Ants nest in the soil, dead wood, hollow stems, inside homes, or just about anywhere. The colonies of ants have multiple generations and they exhibit care of the young. Young ants are grub-like and can be seen in ant mounds when they are disturbed. This abundant group is one of the most successful families on earth in terms of numbers.

Fire Ant
Carpenter Ant
Texas Leafcutting Ant
Pharoah Ant

Mutillidae - velvet ants
Velvet ants get their name because they are very hairy and females are wingless. Nevertheless, they are wasps. Males fly around low over foliage in search of females to mate with. They typically are black with red, orange, yellow or white markings. The females have a powerful sting. Velvet ants have hard bodies and do not crush easily. There are quite a few species.

Pomphilidae - spider wasps
These wasps are slender and shiny with long legs. They are typically ˝ to one inch in length, with dark body colors with dark or yellowish wings. The adults collect spiders as food for the larvae. Nests are in rotten wood or other cavities and usually have only a few cells for larvae.

Vespidae - paper wasps, yellowjackets, hornets
These common wasps are often found nesting under eaves of homes, in old buildings, or in the ground. The adults are often seen on flowers where they collect pollen or nectar as food. Some of these can be quite aggressive at defending their nests and this family accounts for a good number of wasp stinging incidents. Most papery wasp nests would be produced by members of this family.

Sphecidae - sphecid wasps
This family is a large one with diverse habits. They typically are medium to large in size and often have an elongate connection between the thorax and abdomen. They may nest in the ground, in natural cavities or make mud nests of various shapes. Many of them have specific prey that they use to feed their young.

Megachilidae - leafcutting bees
Leafcutting bees make small nests in hole stems or holes in wood. They cut nearly perfect circles out of leaves on roses and other plants which are used as nesting material. It is more likely that you will see the circles (about ˝ to 3/4 inch in diameter) cut from leaves than finding the nest or bees. These moderately sized bees carry pollen on the underside of the abdomen.

Anthophoridae - cuckoo bees, digger bees, and carpenter bees
This diverse family is sometimes divided into several families. The cuckoo bees lay eggs in other bee nests and let the host bees take care of their young. Digger bees typically nest in the soil. Carpenter bees nest in wood or hole stems. The nests typically contain small numbers of individuals.

Apidae - honey bees, bumble bees, and euglossine bees
Apidae are colonial nesters. They rear brood and provide parental care for their young. Honey bees live in hives managed by man or find hollows in trees or other nesting sites in the wild. Bumble bee colonies are smaller and often in the ground. Bumble bees store honey in “honey pots” rather than in comb. Typical bumble bee colonies only have a few hundred individuals. Bees feed on pollen and nectar.

RECOGNIZING GROUPS OF HYMENOPTERA
* Hymenopterists use a variety of characters to recognize families in this order. Wing venation, leg shapes, antennae types, general body shapes and other characters are used. Needless to say it is not easy to recognize very many families.

* Ants are typically recognized because they are colonial and most members of the colony are wingless. They can be separated from the termites because ants have thin waists and elbowed antennae that are otherwise straight.

* Bees tend to be very hairy. However, there are some wasps and velvet ants that can also be hairy as well. When recognizing bees remember that the there are many sizes and shapes of native bees in addition to the honey bees and bumble bees which most people recognize.

* Sometimes wasps can be recognized to least to group by the nest that they build. Note the nest before consulting a book on that group.

* Many Hymenoptera are so small that you can not recognize them with the naked eye. Some species are so small that they develop inside the eggs of other insects. Most of these go unnoticed except by specialists in those groups.

 


 

For questions or comments about this web site, contact Anna Kjolen or Dr. John A. Jackman

Texas A&M University ®
Department of Entomology
412 Heep Center, TAMU 2475
College Station, TX 77843-2475
979.845.2516

Copyright 2002 Texas A&M University
Last modified: February 21, 2003