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Entomology (Study of Bugs)/Unknown Large Flying Insect

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Question
Bug Burrow
Bug Burrow  
Hello,

A few days ago, I noticed this burrow next to base of Azalea adjacent to my front porch, thinking maybe it was a small animal burrow, but was wondering "why there".

Attached pic shows burrow (circled in white), which is approx. 1.5" in diameter, and pile of dirt removed from burrow.

I was sitting on porch early this morning watching Ruby-throat hummingbirds on front porch feeder. I was briefly started by what I thought was a hummingbird, but its wingbeat was noticeably louder. I only got a quick glimpse of whatever it is. It was approximate size of a hummingbird. In the early morning light, I didn't see any noticeable body color. It went directly to ground just out of my line of vision. Remembering the burrow there, I jumped up and looked to the burrow, but insect was nowhere in sight. All day, I've been watching and haven't seen it again.

I'm guessing it must be an insect. Is there a flying insect the size of a hummingbird that is quick and has a rapid, loud wingbeat that burrows in the ground? What could it be? We have a an orange hornet-like (but larger) insect in this region, but that's not what it is.

I'm no expert on either insects or birds, but I'm an outdoors person. I'm 71 years  old and yes, I can still see and hear well!

I'm hoping to get another look at whatever it is, and better yet, would like a photo of it. If I ID it, or get a photo, I'll send it to you.

If you have any idea what it could be, please reply.

Thanks and have a good day,
Lew

Answer
Dear Lew - My best guess is that the burrow was constructed by a large wasp known as a cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus, Hymenoptera: Sphecidae) - see http://tinyurl.com/kxk5e3a for an example. These wasps are not aggressive towards humans, and appear to tolerate close approach. See http://tinyurl.com/kuqa9er for more detailed information on these fascinating creatures.

Hope this helps,
Saugy

p.s. - I'm also 71, and I lived in Kentucky 1976-78 (stationed at Ft. Knox while in the Army)

Entomology (Study of Bugs)

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Ed Saugstad

Expertise

Will accept most questions in general entomology, including those related to medical entomology, taxonomy, ecology, arthropod surveillance, and pest management. If you are requesting a 'mystery bug' identification, PLEASE either attach an image to your question, or post an image on a web page (such as Flickr) so that I can look at it, as verbal descriptions frequently are insufficient for a definitive identification.

Experience

21 years in the U.S. Army as a medical entomologist; duties varied from surveillance of pest populations (including mosquitoes, cockroaches, ticks, and stored products pests) to conducting research on mosquito-virus ecological relationships and mosquito faunal studies. Ten years as a civilian analyst for the Department of Defense, primarily on distribution of vector-borne diseases worldwide. Limited experience on surveillance of agricultural insects in North Dakota and Indiana.

Organizations
Entomological Society of America, West Virginia Entomological Society, Society for Vector Ecology, National Speleological Society, West Virginia Association for Cave Studies.

Publications
American Journal of Public Health, Contributions of the American Entomological Institute, Japanese Journal of Sanitary Zoology, Journal of Economic Entomology, Mosquito News, and Mosquito Systematics.

Education/Credentials
B.S. in entomology from North Dakota State University in 1963, M.S. in entomology from Purdue University in 1967.

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