Notice: This post has been bombarded with comments from my dear friends overseas who insist that this kind of wasp occurs in their area (it very well may), and is often present in large numbers, and stings without provocation. Please understand I am not an authority on any species occurring outside of North America and cannot advise on how to keep your wasps at bay. Thank you for understanding.
Surprisingly, you may find some wasps at your porch light after dark. Among the more common nocturnal hymenopterans are ichneumon wasps in the subfamily Ophioninae. They are large, gangly wasps, usually uniformly orange in color with long antennae and large ocelli (“simple eyes” arranged in a triangle at the crown of the head, between the compound eyes). The ovipositor is very short, if it is even evident at all.
If you see a slightly smaller orange ichneumon with a longer ovipositor, it is likely to be a wasp in the genus Netelia, in the subfamily Tryphoninae. There are currently 73 species in six subgenera in North America north of Mexico (Carlson, 2009).
Unlike many ichneumon wasps, the females of Netelia can sting painfully if handled carelessly. The sting is mostly used to temporarily paralyze the large caterpillar hosts of these parasites. The female then lays an egg on the stunned victim, puncturing the body wall of the caterpillar in doing so. The egg is stalked, and in newly deposited eggs the coil of the stalk is elastic. It later becomes rigid. The egg holds firmly to the flexible exoskeleton of the host larva by means of a plug or anchor.
The larval wasp that hatches from the egg remains attached to it via specialized bristles on its posterior end. The wasp larva feeds on the caterpillar as an external parasite. Parasites that do not arrest the development of their host, but allow it to grow normally instead, are called “koinobionts.” Netelia ichneumons are placed in this category.
Below is an example of an ichneumon in the subfamily Ophioninae for comparison to Netelia.
Note in particular the absence of an obvious ovipositor at the end of the abdomen. More on the Ophioninae in a later edition of “Wasp Wednesday.” Look for both species coming to outdoor lighting near you!
Sources: Carlson, Robert W. 2009. "Database of Hymenoptera in America North of Mexico: Superfamily Ichneumonoidea, Family Ichneumonidae," Discover Life
Goulet, Henri and John T. Huber, eds. 1993. Hymenoptera of the World: An identification guide to families. Ottawa, Ontario: Agriculture Canada. 668 pp.
Kasparyan, D. R. 1989. Fauna of the USSR: Hymenoptera vol. III. Brill Archive. 414 pp.