Why Wasps are Beneficial for the Garden!

Why Wasps are Beneficial for the Garden!

Early on in life, we're instilled with fear at the sight of a wasp buzzing anywhere near us! While it is good to teach kids to respect and avoid them, for those of us that are allergic - it is a must! After all, Ma Nature gave these creatures intimidating, angry faces and warning stripes for good reason! You know very well (or can imagine) the nasty sting that is in store for you if you don't give them their well-deserved space!

But these are incredibly beneficial creatures that have a very niche role to play in the garden landscape! These pollinators may not get the spotlight that bees and butterflies receive, they are also a venerable air force and the first line of defense when it comes to devouring many destructive pests and caterpillars that wreak havoc on the garden and agricultural crops!

All About Wasps!

All about Wasps

Wasps and Hornets belong to the Hymenoptera order and are in the Vespidae family. There are nearly 100,000 known species! All Hornets are Wasps, but not all Wasps are Hornets. The largest can exceed 2 inches in length and the smallest is around 0.13mm! There are hundreds of species of social wasps and even more solitary species in the US! 

Hornets typically have wider heads and larger, rounded abdomens, while Wasps are brighter in color, and have a slim waistline, narrowing at the thorax. Some are wingless, some dig in the ground or make mud pots and papery nests, but nearly all prey on, or parasitize other insects so their larvae can eat.

You've certainly noticed the nests in the eaves of your home built by social Wasps or the holes burrowed into the soil by solitary Wasps. Social wasps (like honeybees) have a queen who lays the eggs and lots of workers who raise the brood. Solitary Wasps and Hornets are just a queen who works diligently to tunnel and burrow into wood or the ground where they lay their single egg. Other solitary varieties don't burrow at all, instead flying from victim to victim, laying a single egg and flying away.

The Business End

The stinger of a Wasp evolved from an ovipositor and many female solitary Wasps still use it to lay eggs. Bees, Wasps, and Ants developed stingers to defend themselves and their nests, and to stalk their prey. Males do not have a stinger.

While one painful sting isn't going to do more than give you a bad day, those sensitive to the venom can have an allergic reaction. Repeated stings over time can create sensitivity to the venom and those that have been exposed over time can develop allergies! Sometimes to deadly outcomes. The business end

If the Wasp's nest is where it can be a nuisance or even a health concern, it is best to contact a licensed pest control service to remove it. If the nest is in an out-of-the-way area, then leave it be for free pest control! A nest that isn't an immediate concern can be left alone until winter when the adults die, leaving the dormant larvae inside it to winter over. Next year adults hatch and start a new nest elsewhere.

The paper hives themselves aren't damaging to your home or structure, rather they are glued in place with some special saliva the adults excrete. Made of a series of chambers and layers, these nests are very well organized!

Beneficial Bugs

Wasps provide us with free, environmentally-friendly pest control! Wasps and Hornets have vital importance in nature because these airborne predators hunt prey including flies, aphids, caterpillars, and spiders to feed their larvae. Adult Wasps eat pollen while their larvae feast on the captured insects. Hornets however can eat both nectar and insects alike. 

These voracious predators drastically reduce the destructive pests that eat our crops and vegetables and destroy the flowers and leaves of your landscaping plants. They are widely considered beneficial. In exchange for this pest control service, the adults also feast on pollen and nectar while pollinating as they go from flower to flower. 

They also love the sugary nectar that flowers provide, but also from fruit and your soda at summer barbecues. Maybe not as efficient at pollination as bees, but the double-duty pest control they provide more than makes up for their shortcomings. In fact, they save farmers and homeowners pest control costs worth as much as $416 billion a year! Beneficial Bugs

Solitary Wasps are mostly parasitoids - meaning they inject or lay an egg on a hapless victim they've stung and immobilized, possibly even drug into its burrow still alive. The eggs, once laid in the body of the chosen parasite-host, are left to be eaten by the larvae once they hatch. No doubt you've seen a Tomato Horn Worm with many little white cocoons sticking out from their skin - that is the work of a Parasitic Wasp!

Widely distributed and very adaptable, Wasps are showing promise as backup pollinators in habitats that are becoming hostile to the Honeybee. They also don't mind coexisting with humans or living in urban environments without fail.

Types of Wasps and Hornets

Social Vespidae build their nests or hives from chewed wood fibers mixed with saliva, essentially creating paper! Found in tree hollows, logs, or hanging in the branches of trees. Solitary Wasps and Hornets burrow in loose sand and soil, in holes in wood structures and logs, or in any crevice they can find.

Both Hornet and Wasp females can sting - and sting repeatedly! But typically males don't have stingers but can be hostile when defending themselves - they can still deliver a bite if needed.


  • Aggressive
  • Sting repeatedly
  • Thicker abdomens & Larger than Wasps
  • All are social
  • Larger than wasps
  • Eggs are laid in high nests in trees, shrubs under overhangs
  • Adults eat nectar and hunt insects for their larvae
  • Hives can host 100-700 members

Common members of the Hornet family include: 

  1. Asian Giant/Japanese Hornets are the largest in the family and pack a 6-mm long stinger! These are the ones in headlines being called 'Murder Hornets' and have a sting that can easily kill humans and livestock.
  2. It also includes European Hornets, who are omnivores, eating insects as well as tree sap and leaves, sometimes stripping the bark, causing damage to trees and shrubs. They can and will sting repeatedly when they or their hive is threatened.
  3. Bald-Faced Hornets have white faces and black and white bodies - and a very bad attitude. A nest can house 100-400 hornets! They have a painful sting and won't hesitate to sting repeatedly when threatened.


  • Aggressive when compared to bees, but not as aggressive as Hornets
  • Can sting multiple times
  • Long and thin
  • Long legs
  • Bright colors
  • Some Wasps are solitary while others are social 
  • The largest nest found was 18 feet around!

The Wasp family includes a lot of different species!

  1. The Spider Wasps, like the Blue-Black Spider Wasp, can be seen searching the ground, and in nooks and crannies as they hunt for spiders and other insects to sting and drag to their underground nests. As their name suggests, they hunt mostly unsuspecting spiders and arachnids. Blue Winged Wasps are especially effective against the Japanese Beetles!
  1. Digger Wasps create burrows in the ground, mulch or straw, or any gap at their disposal. Using mud and dirt that they carry to the burrow to create chambers for their eggs and the paralyzed victims. Digger WaspSimilar to Digger Wasps, Mason Wasps have similar colors as Bald-Faced Hornets but have slimmer bodies and are nowhere as aggressive. Potter Wasps, Thread-Waist Wasps, and Mud-Dauber Wasps are solitary, building their nests out of mud, laying a single egg inside on a caterpillar or other kind of insect, sealing it up and flying away - leaving it to their own devices. Either creating little 'pots' out of the mud worthy of a ceramics artist, others create mud tunnels high up in protected areas. Feeding on plant nectar, honeydew, and body fluids of the spiders, caterpillars, and other insects, plus they rarely sting.
  1. Tiny Tiphiid, Scoliid and Braconid Wasps that almost look like flies, and larger Horntail Wasps all have a long stinger that is actually an ovipositor the females use to lay their eggs deep inside tree bark where their prey feast on the larvae and borers that can destroy your trees. 
  1. German Yellow Jackets and Southern Yellow Jackets, and all other Yellowjackets are vivid black and yellow banded, highly aggressive Wasps that are common around summer barbecues. The unmistakable black and yellow pattern is a warning that they won't hesitate to sting you, seemingly out of sheer spite. Often invading nests of bees and weaker Wasps, devouring their larvae and raiding their honey stores. Usually making paper hives up high, or in the ground. Which can make mowing your lawn dangerous.
  2. Yellow Jacket
  1. Paper Wasps, including Northern Paper Wasps, Red Paper Wasps, are great pollinators that make umbrella-shaped nests. Mostly brown or red with yellow markings, they are typically not aggressive. These are the most common Wasp you'll find making nests under the eaves of your home and flying from flower to flower to eat the pollen.
  1. Ground Digger Wasps, also known as Cicada Wasps, are one of the largest wasps but despite their size are very passive. With rusty heads, yellow and black stripes, and a fearsome look that belies a nectar and fruit juice eating, ground-nesting Wasp. Females are most active in the summer as they hunt for their namesake - Cicadas!

Live And Let Live

Live and Let Live

While it's difficult to remain calm while these feisty insects are checking you out and maybe even getting too close for comfort, remember - unless you are threatening them or their nests - they shouldn't sting you. Knowing which kind of Wasp or Hornet you are dealing with is important, especially when determining if you should leave them alone to eat their bounty of destructive pests, or if you need to call pest control. 

Obviously, if you have severe allergies, you need to get rid of the nest in areas you frequent for your own safety. But be sure to call a professional and take precautions to protect yourself and your family. 

If you can let these voracious carnivores buzz around your garden, you and your landscape will reap the rewards with fewer holes in your cabbage leaves and healthier plants all around, not to mention fewer insects 'bugging' you!

Head over to Nature Hills Nursery for all you need to keep your landscape beautiful and learn how to co-exist with even the scariest insects out there!

Happy Planting!

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