Made up of perhaps 60,000 to 100,000 species worldwide, ichneumon wasps (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae) are one of the largest animal families on earth. Of all wasps I probably encounter these most often, and yet they’re easy to overlook. These insects are relatively small, slender, unassuming, and most are incapable of stinging people. At the same time they’re among the most beneficial organisms for humans.
Most ichneumons are parasitoids of other insects, laying their eggs inside living hosts. Many of these wasps target the larvae of moths, beetles, and flies, some of which are serious crop pests. Some ichneumons are reared and sold as biocontrol agents for farmers, helping to increase yields and keep food plentiful and cheap.
Ichneumons can be differentiated from their smaller cousins the braconids and other families by their distinct wing morphology. The veins and cells of their forewings are fused in such a way that they create a characteristic “horse head” pattern:
I suspect this individual was of the genus Ophion, one of the most common ichneumons in the United States. With thousands of species within the US, however, it’s nearly impossible for anyone but experts to identify them with any certainty.