For those who want a natural pest control and also want to support pollinators, both can be found in the insect most love to hate – the wasp.
Let’s face it – bees get all the love. Illustrations of idyllic summer scenes have bees buzzing pleasantly around flowers, while scenes of a summer time gone wrong will most likely show wasps invading a picnic.
It’s an unfortunate stereotype. Bees and wasps are two of humanity’s most ecologically and economically important organisms. Bees may be the go-to mental image of a pollinator, but they are both essential pollinators of our flowers and crops. But here’s the kicker – wasps also play an important role in regulating populations of crop pests and insects that carry human diseases. Bees, not so much.
As Dr. Seirian Sumner says in the article Why do we love bees but hate wasps?:
“It’s clear we have a very different emotional connection to wasps than to bees—we have lived in harmony with bees for a very long time, domesticating some species, but human-wasp interactions are often unpleasant as they ruin picnics and nest in our homes. Despite this, we need to actively overhaul the negative image of wasps to protect the ecological benefits they bring to our planet. They are facing a similar decline to bees and that is something the world can’t afford.”
A number of recent studies have tried to turn the tide and raise the awareness of their importance.
“Wasps are understudied relative to other insects like bees,” says Professor Seirian Sumner in another article, Wasps are valuable for ecosystems, economy and human health (just like bees). “We are only now starting to properly understand the value and importance of their ecosystem services [and are finding] that wasps could be just as valuable as other beloved insects like bees, if only we gave them more of a chance.”
Here are a few reasons to reconsider how we feel about wasps and begin to appreciate their role in keeping our ecosystem balanced.
- They are one of the best forms of natural pest control. Without wasps, the world could be overrun with spiders and insects. Wasps eat ticks, houseflies, blowflies, and many other insects we regard as pests.
- A study was done in the UK showing that each summer, wasps capture an estimated 14 million kilograms (31 million pounds) of insect prey.
- They aren’t the selfish savages many think: wasps don’t eat the prey they kill – they feed it to their young.
- Adult wasps only feed on sugars. In the wild, sugars come from flower nectar and honeydew produced by aphids. So they’re not trying to annoy you by dive-bombing your sweets and sugary drinks, they’re taking advantage of a quick source of food.
- Solitary wasps do not sting.
What can you do to be kinder to wasps (or avoid them):
- To avoid contact with wasps, avoid wearing yellow or white when working in the garden, as these colors attract insects. Many insects cannot see red, making it a good color to wear when working in the yard.
- You should also smelly enticements such as perfumes, colognes, hair sprays, and other fragrances, which will attract wasps.
- Outside lights attracts insects and everything that eats them like wasps. Only leave them on when necessary.
- Never squish a wasp – it causes the wasp’s dead body to release a chemical alarm that signals other wasps in the area to attack.
How can you support the health of your local wasps and, yes, attract them to your garden to do their work?
- Put a wasp-friendly structure near your garden.
2. Create Shelters for Social Wasps. To create new nesting opportunities for social wasps, construct shelters consisting of wooden boxes that are open on the bottom. More details here.
3. Sections of bamboo or reeds can also be used as nests. Use plants with hollow stems that are divided into sections by nodes, since these nodes will serve as the closed end of the tunnel nest. You can buy bamboo poles or stakes from garden centers at minimal cost, or collect dead reed stems from wetlands or marshes.
By embracing the role wasps play as natural pest control, you are well on your way to making your yard a spray-free zone.