I live in Michigan. I just saw a bee that I think I've seen before, but only this time was I so struck by its uniqueness and - for lack of a better word - scariness.

I'll describe it. It was maybe an inch and a half long. Maybe bigger, maybe smaller (I'll admit that I was hurrying to get away from it). It looked like a queen bee, but longer and slightly thinner. However it had wings that were very profoundly orangish-red. Like burnt orange maybe.

I haven't been able to find any matching pictures online. It is theoretically possible that it was covered in pollen, and I am incorrect about what I think I saw, but assuming it wasn't (as I do believe this isn't the first time I've seen this guy or one of his friends), does anyone have any clues as to what this could be?


After considerable patience. I was able to capture some photos of this guy. One of these photos is post-processed a little to emphasize the color.

A couple things about these photos.

  1. They were extremely difficult to take because the bee never stops moving. I don't know if this behavior is useful for identification, but he is always in the same place (in front of one house), and he flys back and forth between a small crack in the sidewalk (a nest?), and between 5 and 10 feet away. He moves like a dragonfly (that's the best way I can think to describe it), and he doesn't stop - he'll seem like he is going to land, and then flies off. This morning was an exception.
  2. These photos do not fully capture the depth and vividness of the redness of his wings, nor do they adequately convey just how large he is. enter image description here

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ "Thin" and the red color of the wings makes it sound like a bit like a hornet, as Damien says. Here in Asia, I'd guess the Japanese Giant Hornet, but it doesn't range to the US, so maybe a similar species? Although if you do think it's a bee, often the scarily large bees you see in the US are carpenter bees. They're on the rounder side though, so perhaps not. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2013 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ Well - I've seen pictures of the scary Asian hornets, and the body type isn't all that far off. I only say thinner because it was longer, but the overall body shape came closer to a large furry bumblebee than to a yellow jacket. It resembles a big Queen bee in shape and overall appearance more than anything else. Definitely did not look like what I commonly associate with a hornet or wasp. Do carpenter bees match that description (with the red wings as well)? $\endgroup$
    – dgo
    Aug 18, 2013 at 15:27

1 Answer 1


Nice pictures! From the back pattern, size, and antennae shape, I'd say this is very likely a Cicada Killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus), cf., for instance, this picture taken at a similar angle to yours.

There are many good resources online about Cicada Killers, including this page from the MSU Extension Office, and the Wikipedia entry Sphecius speciosus.

It would be interesting to see if you could find the distinctive burrow (photo / video) of your resident wasp!

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting observation about the flight patterns seeming similar to a dragonfly. It's possible you're seeing flight strategies that are good for aerial predators, like dragonflies and Sphecius. I imagine a pollen-gathering insect's flight might look very different. $\endgroup$ Aug 30, 2013 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ Wow! That is almost certainly what it is. The links were great. I especially like how the first one mentions people having reactions just like my own. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – dgo
    Aug 31, 2013 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ And reactions like my own, in guessing that it was a Japanese Hornet! $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2013 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding the flight patterns - that's an interesting correlation. It sounds logical. $\endgroup$
    – dgo
    Aug 31, 2013 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ @hello_there_andy for SE I tried to avoid embedding pictures that were not creative commons shareable, see for example my answer to biology.stackexchange.com/questions/9576/…. However, I don't know whether there's now a meta consensus for this. I'd say best way forward if you want to embed is to ask for permission from GCMGA. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2017 at 14:24

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