Sonoran Desert Hymenoptera

All wasps, bees and ants have four distinct life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Only the adults can have wings, and with the exception of wingless forms there are always two pairs of wings. Many species possess a stinger at the posterior of the abdomen, but most sting only when provoked. Chewing mouthparts. Bees usually have also a specialized proboscis for gathering nectar and body setae (hair) for gathering pollen. Many important pollinator species belong to this order. There are thousands of species inhabiting the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. This guide shows only a select few.

Carpenter Bee

Xylocopa californica

 © by Mike Plagens

Large, black fearsome-looking bees found especially around urban settings. Not dangerous. Frequent at paloverde flowers. More info

Leaf-cutter Bee

Megachile sp.

 © by Mike Plagens

Very common bees at lantana and other urban flowers in the Sonoran Desert. Oval and round cuts from leaves used to build nests. More info

Honey Bee

Apis mellifera

A relatively large bee (as compared to most native bees), golden, orange-brown in color and abdomen banded orange and brown. Common everywhere. More info

Sonoran Bumblebee

Bombus sonorus

Large yellow and black bee with conspicuous pubescence. Fairly common at sunflowers, trumpets and snapdragons. More info

Cactus Bee

Diadasia spp.

photo © by R Shantz

Various shades of silvery-gray pubescence. Closely associated with cactus flowers. More info

Centris Bee

Centris sp.

 © by Mike Plagens

Large bee with gray-haired thorax and nearly all black abdomen. Digs tunnels in soil to make solitary nest. More info

Digger Bee

Anthophorula ?

Distinctly banded abdomen on bee about the same size as a honeybee. This one at Larrea flowers. More info

Green Sweat Bee

Agapostemon texanus

Medium-sized bee with emerald-green thorax. Abdomen is banded yellow and black. Common around lantana. More info

Sweat Bee


Many, many difficult to separate species, but also very common in native habitats. Small (< 8mm) dark bees with sometimes a metalic sheen. More info

Sweat Bee #2

Lasioglossum sp.

 © by Mike Plagens

This bee looks so much like the previous. But there are many, many species of sweat bees in the Sonoran Desert More info

Four-banded Nomia

Nomia tetrazonata

Medium-sized bee with four white bands on the dark abdomen. This female is gathering pollen from a mallow flower. More info

Long-horned Bee


Long-horn refers to the rather stout and long antennae. A number of similar species. Males have very big antennae. More info

Cuckoo Wasp

Chrysis ?

Gaudy emerald green all over. Many similar species. Often on flowers. More info

Mallow Bee

Diadasia ?

Dense aggregation of solitary bee nests in soil. Common near irrigated fields. Each bee constructs its own tunnel and provisions it solely. More info

Sand Wasp

Steniolia sp.

Sand Wasp © by Mike Plagens

Lively insects hunt flies and need sandy soil to nest. Males and females visit flowers. More info

Paper Wasp

Polistes spp.

 © by Mike Plagens

Builds papery colony nests under eaves and other protected spots. Hunts on foliage and visits flowers for nectar. Comes to water to drink. More info

Potter Wasp

Eumenes bollii

Abdomen appears double jointed. Also has dark markings on rich red and yellow abdomen. Makes small pots of mud. More info

Potter Wasp

Euodynerus pratensis

Nectar and pollen are important energy sources of pot-building and hunting activities. More info

Mexican Tarantula Hawk

Pepsis mexicana

Very large wasp with long legs. This species is all blue-black. Frequents flowers and often seen hunting running along ground. More info

Tarantula Hawk

Pepsis chrysothemis

 © by Mike Plagens

Large, long-legged, blue-black wasps. Wings orange or reddish. Males patrol hilltops and rocky slopes in search of females. Females hunt large spiders. Also come to flowers. More info

Pompilid Wasp

Notocyphus dorsalis

Orange and blue-black pattern warns of the hard sting. This is a medium-sized spider-hunting wasp. More info

Cricket Hunter Wasp

Chlorion aerarium

Large irredescent, green-blue wasp hunts along banks of washes and ravines. Frequently enters burrows and crevices in soil. More info

Katydid Wasp

Sphex lucae

 © by Mike Plagens

Medium sized wasps typically 12 mm long. Thin thread 'waste' between reddish abdomen and thorax. Digs tunnels in bare soil areas. More info

Katydid Wasp (male)

Sphex lucae

 © by Mike Plagens

Medium sized wasps typically 12 mm long. Thin thread 'waste' between reddish abdomen and thorax. Digs tunnels in bare soil areas. More info

Thread Waisted Wasp


 © by Mike Plagens

Elongated, very narrow, first and second abdomenal segments. Often black marked with orange or red. Digs tunnels in loose soil. Beneficial. More info

Mud Dauber Wasp

Sceliphron caementarium

Tubular chambers of mud are cemented to rain-protected surfaces and filled with paralyzed spiders. More info

8-Spot Scoliid Wasp

Trielis octomaculata

Long, slender, bee-like wasp with eight yellow marks on abdomen. More info

Grub Hunter Wasp

Triscolia ardens

Blue-black and brilliant orange-red. Visits flowers and hunts on ground for subterranean grubs. More info


Dolerus tejoniensis

Two pairs of wings as in all winged hymenoptera, but no stinger. More common species in Sonoran Desert are orange/red and black. Upper elevations in riparian habitats. More info

Red Ichneumon


Hundreds of kinds of ichneumons in the Sonoran Desert, this one showy red with black bands on wings. More info

Ophion Ichneumon

Ophion (male)

Male ichneumons wasps like this one lack the characteristic egg-laying organ called the ovipositor. More info

Chalcid Wasp

Conura (?)

Many of kinds of small chalcids in the Sonoran Desert, this one parasitized an insect that was in dead ocotillo branch. More info

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Magnificent Velvet Ant

Dasymutilla magnifica

Wingless wasps that look like an oversized fuzzy ant and pack a powerful sting. Males are infrequently seen and have wings but no stinger. More info

Thistle-down Velvet Ant

Dasymutilla gloriosa

Ant-like, but with powerful sting. Crazy fast runner. Looks like a wind-blown ball of cottonwood fluff. More info

Native Fire Ant

Solenopsis xyloni

Frequent stinging ants found especially in and near urban lawns in the Sonoran Desert. More info

California Harvester Ant

Pogonomyrmex californicus

Harvester ants partial to sandy soils. Often red-colored. Fast moving on longer, thinner legs. More info

Red Harvester Ant

Pogonomyrmex barbatus

Large, conspicuous ants with wide, cleared nest areas. Gather seeds. Painful stings. Several species. More info

Rough Harvester Ant

Pogonomyrmex rugosus

Usually dark red to nearly black. Conspicuous striations on head. More info

Desert Harvester Ant

Veromessor pergandei

Harvester ant of low, hot desert. Jet black, slightly smaller than common harvester ants. More info

Spine-wasted Ant

Aphaenogaster albisetosa

Large, funnel-shaped nest holes. Legs very long and slender. More info

Arizona Leaf-cutter Ant

Acromyrmex versicolor

The most common leaf cutter ant in Arizona's portion of the Sonoran Desert. More info

Leaf-cutter Ant

Atta mexicana

Seen in columns carrying leaf pieces. Big range of sizes together. In Arizona found only at Organ Pipe Monument. More info

Big-headed Ant

Pheidole xerophilla

© by Dale Ward

Gathers seeds like harvesters, but nests less conspicuous and most species smaller. Majors with greatly enlarged heads. More info

Carpenter Ant

Camponotus festinatus

Large, tan-coloured ants are almost entirely nocturnal. Emits formic acid when disturbed. One segmented petiole. More info

Carpenter Ant

Camponotus ocreatus

Nocturnal foragers on cacti, trees and shrubs. Large and distinctly two-colored. More info

Wood Ant

Formica perpilosa?

This ant is tending psylid bugs on stems of Fremont Cottonwood. Agile runners on woody plants. More info

Bicolored Pyramid Ant

Dorymyrmex bicolor

About 2 to 3mm in length. Nests are distinct pyramids in loose soil. Malodorous gas emitted when disturbed. More info

Acrobat Ant

Crematogaster spp.

Small ants usually on plants and with a spade-shaped abdomen (gaster). Several species. Small stinger is harmless to people. More info

Forelius Ant

Forelius pruinosus

Straw-colored ants that run fast and occur especially on cactus and shrubs. More info

Minute Ants


These ants are ubiquitous in the urban Sonoran Desert. Feed on honey dew and bird droppings. More info

Wasp-Like Ant

Pseudomyrmex pallida

Small, very slender ants most often seen moving quickly along plant stems. Small colonies. More info

Bear-trap Ant

Odontomachus clarus

Mesic habitat only including orchards. Long mandibles held open when foraging. More info

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Copyright Michael J. Plagens, page created 12 Aug. 2009,
updated 20 Jan. 2019.