Wasps & Hornets


Aside from fig wasps, whose presence is necessary for this fruit’s development, most wasps play a small role in pollination. Nearly all wasps are both predators and parasites. They occasionally feed on pollen, nectar or the bodily fluids of prey. Most species will either sting and paralyze other insects, arthropods or grubs and place them within the nest to feed young; others will paralyze the host and lay their eggs within it. (The hatching larvae then feed from the inside out.)

They may not be high-volume pollinators, but the unique habits of wasps provide a great natural pest control service as they prey on other potential pests. The farming industry has benefited from wasps, purposefully introducing some species to their crops to prey on boll weevils, caterpillars and grubs. Likewise, the study of wasp venom has contributed much to medical research and is being used in drug development studies.

Despite some of their potential benefits, most wasps aren’t highly revered when they nest in areas occupied by people. The most dangerous stinging wasps are from the family Vespidae. “Vespid” wasps include paper wasps, yellow jackets and hornets. They can be identified primarily by the lengthwise folding of their wings when resting; they also hold their wings separate and lengthwise to their body. These social insects are found throughout the United States and are typically most active in warmer weather. They can live in either paper-like nests that are visible, or in ground nests that are more difficult to detect (an unfortunate situation for anyone who unknowingly stumbles upon the nest).

Most people are surprised to learn that velvet ants are actually solitary wasps. Although the male velvet ant has wings, their female counterparts do not. This enables them to infiltrate and lay eggs in underground bee and wasp nests, where their young will feed on the native larvae. Velvet ants have a painful sting and are known to emit a high-pitched squeaking sound when threatened.