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!
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 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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
Common members of the Hornet family include:
The Wasp family includes a lot of different species!
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!