Wasps usually get a bad rap, with their reputation for painful stings. But these pollinators serve an essential role: Nature’s pest controllers. Wasps are carnivorous hunters, preying on insects–including the pests in your garden!
Like native bees, most wasps are solitary, provisioning their nests by themselves. And like solitary bees, they’re not particularly interested in us! Rather than stinging humans, these wasps use their stingers to capture prey as food for their larvae. (That articulated ‘wasp waist’ really comes in handy, allowing the insect to maneuver its stinger into just the right position to deliver the fatal blow.) Parasitic species use their ovipositors to lay eggs directly on a live host insect (such as a tomato hornworm).
What about pollination services? Although carnivores, wasps also need sugar, and often visit flowers in search of nectar (or insect prey). Since they’re not as hairy as bees, they are less efficient pollinators, but many species are generalists and visit a wide variety of plants.
Although a few social wasp species should definitely be treated with respect, remember that the majority of wasps can be a gardener’s best friend. No spraying required!
Photo: Amy Helser