NHM Vienna: Mammoth wasp re-discovered in Austria
The mammoth wasp (Megascolia maculata) is the largest wasp species in Europe with a body length of up to 4.2 cm. In Austria, some specimens were found in Vienna and Lower Austria at the end of the 19th century, which are preserved in the scientific collection of the Natural History Museum Vienna. Since 1893, the wasp species could not be documented in Austria and was thus considered lost for more than 100 years.
Now, NHM Vienna scientists Sabine Schoder and Dominique Zimmermann, as well as biologist and nature photographer Sylvia Wanzenböck, have succeeded in confirming a recent occurrence of the mammoth wasp. In the last years, sporadic sightings have been reported in eastern Austria, but without corresponding documentation. In 2019, Citizen Scientist Günter Gaß from Hohenau an der March observed this species in the garden of his house and reported it to Dominique Zimmermann, the responsible curator at the Natural History Museum Vienna. As the wasps can only be observed for a relatively short period of time, the confirmation of the occurrence subsequently succeeded this year.
The mammoth wasp has a head with a striking yellow to orange-red coloration on the upper side and a black body with yellow markings. The females have a stinger, as is common for stinging wasps, but they are very peaceful and do not sting easily. This wasp species does not form colonies, each female takes care of her offspring individually. It prefers dry warm biotopes and is found mainly in southern Europe, for example in Italy and Greece, where it can be observed frequently in the summer months.
„In the east of Austria there are many sites with warm conditions. The warm summers of recent years also promote the spread of species from the south to Austrian regions,“ says NHM Vienna curator Dominique Zimmermann.
The adults are nectar feeders and prefer blue and red-blue flowers of various plant families. At the current site in Hohenau an der March, they mainly visited the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which is not native to Austria. The wasps provide their offspring with larvae of the European rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes nasicornis), which is also found in the area.
Commonly found in Austria is the closely related bristly dagger wasp (Scolia hirta), which also has a black body with yellow markings, but with a black head and much smaller body size.
Citizen Science participation:
In order to support science with sightings of the mammoth wasp (Megascolia maculata), further finds are welcome to be reported to the Natural History Museum Vienna with a photo and information about the location of the find.
Further press material for download:
Contact for scientific information:
Dr. Dominique Zimmermann
2nd Zoology, staff scientist and curator
Phone: +43 1 52177-316
Mag. Magdalena Reuss
Press & Marketing
Phone: + 43 (1) 521 77-626