If the underside of your deck, the deck’s roof, the awnings of your house or the crevices of outdoor structures are like mine, they are filling up with fledgling wasp nests as you read this. Wasps, like hornets, yellow jackets and, yes, honeybees, are very industrious creatures. They work fast and work hard. But many people don’t like them simply because they fear being stung—and understandably so. With allergies common, stings can be a dangerous prospect. Safety always comes first, especially when kids are involved, but there’s a way to live with wasps harmoniously. The first step to doing that is understanding more about the common wasp.
Here are some fun facts about wasps.
1. Wasps & Honeybees Have Similar Social Structures
Like those of honeybees, wasp colonies are each led by a single, fertile queen who lays all the eggs for the group. Wasps have a caste system similar to honeybees also, with females called workers and males called drones. The young, mated queen overwinters, emerges in the spring alone, and single-handedly starts the colony anew—much like the bumblebee.
2. Wasps Are Scavengers
Unlike honeybees, wasps are omnivores. Just like yellow jackets, they’ll feed on plant products as well as meat from other animals. They feed their young “meat” in the form of insect larvae, too. They’re determined and ruthless scavengers.
3. Wasps Eat “Bad” Bugs
On that note, wasps perform an important role in the ecosystem, and you gardeners out there may be encouraged to learn that wasps feed on many insects that are harmful to the garden—such as aphids. Of course, wasps don’t discriminate, and they will eat grasshoppers, ladybugs and even bees, but the important takeaway is this: Wasps perform certain crucial tasks and belong in the natural world. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here.
4. Wasps Are Used as Pest Control
In some agricultural systems, wasps are deployed by the thousands on farmland to control pests on crops.
5. Wasps Have Unlimited Stinging Power
Unlike honeybees, wasps can sting repeatedly without dying.
6. Wasps Use Natural Construction Methods
Wasps make their papery nests from tree bark. They strip the bark from certain trees, chew it up, add certain enzymes and regurgitate it in a pulp form to then create their nests.
7. Wasps Are Prevalent
Wasps live in every corner of the world—except for Antarctica.
8. Wasps Come in Many Colors
Wasps are colorful—they boast nearly every color of the rainbow, but we’re most familiar with black-and-yellow or brown wasps.
9. Wasps Are Generally Not Aggressive
If you’ve read our other column on yellow jackets, you’ll know they’re incredibly family-oriented, which accounts for their defensiveness and aggressiveness, particularly in the late summer and early fall when food sources are scarce. But there’s good news about wasps, particularly paper wasps, if you can distinguish the difference. Unlike yellow jackets, wasps are rarely aggressive unless provoked. Simply walking in the proximity of a yellow jacket might be enough to provoke its ire, but wasps will generally leave you alone if you leave them alone.