From the subreddit that brought you a two-headed carp and a swirling birdnado of starlings comes viral footage that will make anyone who’’s been stung by a wasp shiver in fear. The short clip, posted on r/WTF, is aptly named by Reddit user TheNeutralParty “Holding onto a wasp fight,” and appears to show just that: a rolling scuffle between two wasps that quickly escalates into a fluttering tangle of anthropods on a person’s hand.
But if these are fighting wasps, then why isn’t that human palm a cluster of swollen stings?
It comes down to what type of wasps we’re looking at. Keen Reddit commenters realized that these bugs are cicada killer wasps, which, as far as wasps are concerned, are pretty chill. Technically called Sphecius speciosus cicada killer wasps live in the eastern and midwestern states of North America and southward into Central America. At about two inches long, they are one of the largest wasps in North America and have a robust black body with yellow or white stripes.
Like their name suggests, they kill and feast on cicadas, which they paralyze and hoard in burrows they dig in the ground. If you ever go to Washington, D.C.’s National Mall in July, you’ll probably see them digging in the soil.
In a discussion of the species, David Shetlar, Ph.D., an entomologist at Ohio State University, writes that the wasps “rarely sting humans unless someone tries to handle one.” University of Kentucky entomologist Lee Townsend, Ph.D. describes the wasps as “mild-mannered” and states that the greatest damage they cause are the extensive tunnels they dig up in people’s yards.
Male cicada killers lack stingers; they’re territorial and may aggressively get up in your business, but they can’t actually cause harm. They do, however, fight with each other a lot, as the Atlantic wrote in 2013:
Meantime, the males are trying to win mates. Each claims about a square yard of territory. But because the bare ground on which these territories are established is basically featureless, the boundaries are impossible for the other males to determine. The result is a constant war of all against all.
Females, meanwhile, do have “significant stingers,” says Townsend, which they use to plunge paralyzing venom into cicadas. But despite the fact that their bodies are literal weapons, they aren’t aggressive and don’t have the nest-guarding instincts that hornets and honey bees have. “You can walk through areas where they are active without attracting attention,” Townshend writes.
The person in this video is likely involved in one of two scenarios: Either he’s just dealing with aggressive but stinger-less males, or he’s been lucky enough to encounter female wasps with better things to do than sting. Nevertheless, while the footage looks cool, we still wouldn’t recommend trying this at home. Unless, of course, you’re a Marvel executive looking for something viral to release with Ant-Man and the Wasp — to which we say, good luck.