By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

Because of all the publicity about pollinators, especially bees, most people will, at least, tolerate them. Wasps, not so much. Some people’s first thought is spray them, swat them or at least, wave them off.  The last two actions are liable to get you stung. 

Scientists who study wasps say they need an image makeover.  “Wasps are incredibly important to the world’s economy and ecosystems,” says Seirian Summer of the University College of London, a biologist and wasp champion. He says, “Without them, the planet would be pest-ridden to biblical proportions.”

Jeff Hahn, an Extension Entomologist is our go-to guy to identify bugs. He will give you its Latin name, who it hangs around with, and its life history. This is what he has to say about wasps. 

Wasp is a general name for social insects in the family Vespidae, usually referred to as vespid wasps. There are also solitary wasps in this group, hermit wasps as it were.

Social wasps are divided into two groups, Yellowjackets and Hornets, and Polistinae or Paper Wasps. There are eleven species of Yellowjackets here. We have no true hornets in Minnesota even though one of the Yellowjackets is named a Bald Faced Hornet. And if that isn’t confusing enough, she isn’t bald but has a white face. She is also a very laid-back insect. She will just watch as you pick berries, that is, unless you take a swat at her. Most wasps aren’t as friendly, however. A paper wasp nest can hold thousands of workers all equipped with a nasty weapon. Some wasps nest in trees, some under eaves or even inside buildings. If the nest is remote from human activity, just leave it alone. If you don’t bug them, they won’t bug you.  Most of them are like Garbo, they just Vant to be alone. If you must kill them, wait until dark when they are all watching T.V. and resting for the next day’s work. With a ground nesting wasp, start with a gallon or so of soapy boiling water poured into the hole. Go for a wasp spray if this doesn’t work. Spray the whole underside of a paper wasp nest. You may have to do this again as some of the stingers may have been out carousing.

People hate wasps because a few of them sting (only 1.5 percent of them) and because they don’t know how important they are to the ecosystem.   

Wasps are not only pollinators they also disperse seeds and kill many garden pests. About 80,000 wasps lay their eggs on or in the body of another insect so that their larvae can eat the host after hatching. Wasps either eat or kill many crop-devouring pests such as white flies, cabbage loopers, and brown marmorated stink bugs. They are nature’s pest controllers.

Professor Summer presented evidence of wasps visiting more than 960 plant species including 164 that depend solely on them for pollination. More than 100 orchid species rely on wasps as pollinators. In fact, some orchids have evolved flowers that look like the backside of girl wasps. Pretty sneaky.

Wasps have a split personality, as larvae they are carnivorous, as adults they switch to the carbohydrates found in nectar, sap and fruit. Their favorite plants are golden rod, mountain mint, and button bush. Other than goldenrod, the other two aren’t native so if you don’t like wasps, don’t plant them. If you are outside, watch your pop bottle as wasps just love the sweet liquid and will fly into the bottle and sting you when you attempt to drink. Your picnic watermelon will also attract them. Best to have your picnic in a screened porch.