Now that I have my handy-dandy Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, I am ready to make a more educated guess as to just who this might be. The closest thing I can match it to according to the pictures and size key given in the book is a wasp, species Podium luctuosum (no common name that I can find). According to the field guide, these are wasps of the woods, and they "scour the ground and logs for prey," their prey being wood roaches.
If my guess is correct, and this is indeed a wasp that should be scouring the ground and logs for roaches, what is it doing flying around in my house (and in my car, even!) and landing in my kitchen and on my furniture? Why must it intercept my arm on its path from the sink to the stove? Why must it dare me to sit down on the couch and rest my back on the spot where it is frantically darting about on the cushion?
The business end
Aside from not having a positive ID for this critter, I have another dilemma. I am not fond of this wasp, and am leery every time I see one flying around. I have been stung by them on numerous occasions (although not at all so far this year). The pain at the time of the sting is sharp and pronounced, and feels like a harsh pinch more than anything (just up until this year I was convinced it was a bite I was receiving, not a sting). The pain subsides rather quickly, but it leaves a tiny welt, and the whole experience is one that is not easily forgotten. Leave it to Nature to put me on the investigative trail of something because it has caused me injury. Is it her sly way of luring me closer, encouraging me to get a better look so that I may, in some way, become more accepting of this creature?
When I managed to trap this specimen, I felt bad because I injured it in the process of capturing it, and its death was probably slow and painful. After it had... "expired"... I took the requisite photos. The act of holding the wasp in my hand, and of studying the photos up close, certainly pushed me to have a greater respect for this creature, despite the differences we have had in the past.
My relationship with insects has changed over the last few years as I have started to REALLY look at them. For example, spiders (for the most part, unless they are big and hairy and resemble a Wolf spider) have free reign in our house. I even found myself in a position one day to be holding a live captive of the mystery wasp, basically grasping it by the antennae, and watching the stinger protrude and retract. Does this mean I won't kill the next one I see? No. However, I am finding that, more and more, my curiosity is starting to take over when normally I would feel fear of some animal that would usually be viewed as intimidating, such as a wasp or a snake (no, I'm not handling snakes... yet!).
Even the antennae are a delicate work of art
Rest in peace, unknown one. May my quest for getting to know you help me to make my peace with you.
If anyone out there can confirm or correct my ID of this wasp, it would be much appreciated.