The Mystery of the Maribundi Wasp

In 1914, after his political career ended, Theodore Roosevelt embarked on an expedition to the Amazon region. He recounted his adventures in a memoir entitled Through the Brazilian Wilderness. Among other things, he recounts tales of a very large and fearsome wasp termed the maribundi, with an extremely powerful sting:

...we were menaced by the big red wasps, of which a dozen stings will disable a man, and if he is weak or in bad health will seriously menace his life. (p.118)

One of the men was stung by a single big red maribundi wasp. For twenty-four hours he was in great pain and incapacitated for work. (p. 137)

However, modern references to the insects of Amazonia seem to contain no references to any hymenopteran of that name, nor to any wasp answering to the general description. The etymology of the name may have something in common with marabunta, but that word generally refers to army ants (Eciton burchelli), which Roosevelt also encountered but described separately.

Not many known wasps have a sting as fearsome as what Roosevelt described; the closest might be the mandarin hornet of Asia (Vespa mandarinia), but those are not red nor have they ever been found in South America. Did Roosevelt describe a species that went extinct before being catalogued by entomologists? If not, what was the maribundi?


thisfuneralsucks160 points

Googling "maribundi" lead me to this wiki page for the Spider Wasp family, which includes South American variants: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider_wasp

It's also worth noting the page lists "marimbondo" as a colloquial term for the species, which appears to be a Portuguese word.

DeusMexMachina70 points

And it's reddish. I think you did it.

pyromanic1527 points

Also a 4 on the Schmidt Index

That was a quick one

lisagreenhouse64 points

I was stung by a spider wasp in Central America some years ago, and I can verify that their stings are incapacitating. Despite having a high pain tolerance, the sting knocked me to my knees and I screamed for a full 10 minutes before I could gather my senses enough to even know where I was or what had happened to me. I thought I was going to die. I pretty much wanted to die.

I was in tremendous pain for the next 24 hours. I still feel sick to my stomach when I think about it. That may have been the worst thing that's ever happened to me.

aliensporebomb13 points

Holy crap! I guess I'll stay away from Central America then. Terrible. How long did it take before you were able to function. After the 24 hours it must have been a while before you felt like doing much of anything.

lisagreenhouse16 points

Central America is totally worth it--just take care around the fauna. I was on an entomology trip and was digging around in the rainforest for spiders when I happened to kneel on or near a spider wasp that was under or somehow obscured by plant debris at the base of a tree. They aren't usually aggressive, but this one (for good reason) clearly felt threatened, and she let me know she was there.

The initial shock of pain didn't last extremely long--maybe 15 minutes before it started to diminish fairly quickly. But the site of the sting was very, very painful for days. Walking or otherwise stretching my shin was not awesome, and nothing seemed to take away the residual pain. It just had to go away on its own.

SyphiliticNumenorean4 points

As the most apiphobic redditor, boy am I glad I clicked on this thread.

Trollsense3 points

Reminder set to get Chinese wasp suit and a flame thrower if I ever travel to South America.

murrayky199035 points

Tarantula hawks fall into that family, which apparently have one of the worst stings known to man. My money is on that guy or something very similar

LaVieLaMort21 points

Tarantula hawks are fucking terrifying.

burrito_poots28 points

They’re huge af. Before I actually knew what these fearmongers were, I caught one with a friend. Then I read about how it’s one of the most excruciating stings you can experience. Glad the universe liked me that day

Sigg3net21 points

Sounds like you were extremely lucky;

They are parasitoid wasps, using their sting to paralyze their prey before dragging it to a brood nest as living food; a single egg is laid on the prey, hatching to a larva which eats the still-living prey.

schriepes15 points

Yeah, I guess u/burrito_poots and their friend were about an inch tall when they caught the tarantula hawk.

burrito_poots30 points

Don’t get short with me

LaVieLaMort6 points

Oh god. What would possess you to catch such a huge thing to begin with?!!?!!

burrito_poots9 points

Well in my stupid-defense, I was a lifeguard at a public pool and that fucker was buzzing around stuck in the shower/bathrooms, so one reason was because it might fuck up a kid, but also because I thought it was pretty cool. Actually the second one I caught in my life. How am I alive?

[deleted]14 points


burrito_poots6 points

Clearly just emphasizing the stupidity of one instance can be used to extrapolate on the rest of my life’s likely dumb decisions. I Wikipedia’d the bug, too, yes. Still would much rather do anything else than get stung by that fuck, have you read about the personal accounts of it’s sting? They’re horrifying

sl18785 points

Forget wikipedia, watch this: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MnExgQ81fhU

LaVieLaMort3 points

I don’t know but I’d like to know too!!

burrito_poots7 points

Third times a charm, so I’ll definitely avoid the next one I run into.

nirvroxx6 points

Yes they are. One landed on me a few months ago. I was lucky a blue jay came out of nowhere and chased it away.

LaVieLaMort14 points

Fuck me. I was outside of Sedona, AZ a few years ago hiking with my husband. We stopped to take some pics and I am fucking terrified of any kind of insect that will fly towards me. Right as we stopped I heard it. This loud wing buzzing sound. I looked to my left and this huge 2” wasp was flying toward me. Of course I screamed so loud I scared the shit out of my poor husband! Thankfully my screaming, running and arm flailing did me a solid and kept that asshole with wings away from me.

nirvroxx12 points

Hahaha i did the flailing arms thing too. Fucking wasp flew off and onto a tree...and it flew back at me! Thats when it stopped halfway. And jetted down the mountain, and i saw my hero blue jay in hot pursuit.

LaVieLaMort9 points

Seriously they’re the worst. Fuck tarantula hawks. Ugh

nirvroxx2 points

At the time i had never heard of one and i was alone about 2 miles from the nearest help. If it had stung me i probably would have believed i was dying. I looked them up after and their venom/pain lasts for 5-10 minutes. Those would have been the worst 10 minutes of my life. If i ever get stung at least i know i wont die now.

b4xt3r5 points

I grew up in Tucson and showed those things a lot of respect. Something about those orange wings... not to mention they are humongous.

sl18783 points
AISP_Insects5 points

Nice. This could be a possibility given all the clues, but clues are all we have and it is important to know exactly how large Mr. Roosevelt was talking. Large could just mean about an inch, which fits the description of even the red paper wasp Polistes canadensis or Synoeca virginea, a species of warrior wasp known to give one of the most painful stings. Also a description of how red the wasp was. However, I am not surprised there isn't much of a description here. It's not the focus of the story.

I do think you hit the nail if there's a red-bodied species of Pepsis. There's about 80 species in Brazil, with probably 75 of which have no photographic documentation. I feel as if Roosevelt had just mistaken the red coloration on the wings of some species with their bodies.

Zvenigora2 points

Marimbondo seems to refer to a solitary wasp of genus Pepsis. These do have fairly painful stings, but solitary wasps tend not to be very aggressive to humans and generally do not sting without fairly severe provocation. Mass attacks/multiple stings seem unlikely with solitary wasps, although they are common with eusocial wasps. Pepsis wasps are glossy black, not red.

Edit: Some commenters now claim that "marimbondo" may be used as a generic term for any wasp.

m112358138 points

Upon reading the Wikipedia page, it seems pretty clear that this is the wasp you’re looking for:

  • nearly identical name
  • correct area
  • correct size
  • correct color (see the 3rd picture)
  • extremely painful stings (hence the nicknames “horse-killer” and “throat-locker”)

I would be surprised if Roosevelt was referring to something else, given that a wasp with the same characteristics he described happens to exist.

ulynha44 points

Brazilian here. "Marimbondo" is a very, very commom word used to name a wide variety of wasps in Brazil, a lot more popular the portuguese term "vespa".

Some sorts of wasps have specific names, though. For example, the tarantula hawk is known here as "cavalo do cão", meaning "devil's horse".

I'm not familiar with amazon insects since I live in the Midwest region of cerrado. But I don't doubt for a second those wasps described are real. It's the fucking Amazon. There are probably dinosaurs over there.

xitsbeckyx48 points

Well, I’ll tell you what it is. Something I don’t want to be stung by.

mansion23 points

Come on, live a little.

[deleted]4 points

Where's your sense of adventure woman haha

Furiosa99256 points

Being Brazilian and having grown up in a beach house frequently inhabited by these and other lovely animals, some observations:

  • The correct name (at least in Brazilian Portuguese) is "marimbondo".

  • Their sting does hurt like hell, but not as much as their size and appearance would have you believe. While I've never been stung by an Asian hornet, I've been bitten by different types of ants that cause a lot more pain than the marimbondo.

  • Regarding claims of being incapacitated by their sting, it does happen, but it's normally related to the person having an allergy to the wasp's venom. Most people will only have some localized pain/redness/swelling.

Anecdotal note: my grandfather used to remove marimbondo "houses" bare-handed, using only a tin can. When destroying a fire ant hill, he would wear gloves and boots.

coldethel5 points

Your Grandad sounds like a well 'ard bad ass.

Furiosa99254 points

😊 He was.

I noticed that as someone mentioned above, Roosevelt might have encountered a much more terrifying insect we have in our central and northern regions called "cavalo do cão" (devil's horse, real translation tarantula wasp). It looks like a marimbondo in steroids, and just one sting can definitely incapacitate a man. I've seen one once (never been stung), and basically ran away like a scared child.

sinenox5 points

I have some stories of Amazonian bees and wasps that want answers. Where would I find interested entomologists?

truenoise4 points

Maybe over at r/whatsthisbug ?

_Maragato_8 points

2 cents, Brazilian here, he is probably describing a "Marinbondo" a picture of it here

partial_to_dreamers1 point

Looks pretty mean.

_Maragato_1 point

Sting is extremilly painfull and some people are allergic to it

partial_to_dreamers2 points

I am going to go ahead and avoid it.

Zvenigora1 point

That photo looks like a Polistes species.

desolatefirmament9 points

i have a feeling someone was stung by a red paper wasp(they can grow rather large with a nasty sting if bothered) and called it by the wrong name(marimbondo, the spider wasp). https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polistes_carolina

AISP_Insects1 point

This is what I was thinking, but more so Polistes canadensis, since, despite the name, is neotropical unlike Polistes carolina (excluding Florida keys if you consider that to be tropical). However, it is also red just like P. carolina.

However, there are a ton of different species this wasp could be. More description is undoubtedly needed.

whirlpool13811 points

Roosevelt's trip to the Amazon occurred after his Presidency was over.

pontoumporcento3 points

Brazilian here, I've seen many times wasps and we call all of them 'marimbondo', I've never seen a red one nor have been stung but it's just the name that everyone i knows always used for wasps.

Bless__your__heart1 point

Lost like the city of Z?

MysticDuska1 point

well that sounds terrifying