Monday, August 5, 2013


Paper wasps favor eaves of buildings and the tops of exterior door frames for nest sites. These black paper wasps built
their home in the corner of a garage door and don't seem disturbed when we open it. They can stay. It was wasp like these
black ones that nailed my hand recently.
A couple of weeks ago, while deadheading a yellow flag iris that had shriveled up long before, a paper wasp stung the back of my hand. I assumed that I had squeezed it or something, until I saw the nest hanging among the foliage of the nearby honeysuckle vine.

The nest got knocked down, since the honeysuckle badly needs to be pruned. Paper wasps generally don't rebuild in the same spot. And they are welcome to rebuild in a more convenient place. I frequently see paper wasps cruising through the collards and other garden plants (my husband likened them to Blackhawk helicopters) searching for juicy lepitoptera (moth and butterfly) larvae.

The adult wasps don't eat the larvae themselves, as they feed on flower nectar, but they feed them to their own babies. Here is an interesting video of paper wasps, including footage of them shredding a caterpillar to feed their babies. The fact that they hunt down plant-munching larvae makes them beneficial critters in the garden. I do not begrudge them their ability to defend themselves and their nests.

Even though I frequently work among plants abuzz with hunting wasps and bees of all sorts, I rarely am stung. Accidentally crushing a stinging insect will get you stung, but most of my stings have come when I come too near the nest for comfort. Some bugs are quite testy, while others will suffer a great deal of disturbance before delivering a sting. Much of the time, they will give a warning buzz before going in to do damage.

Cloudy weather kept these ladies close to home in the blackberry bush. Often
these black and yellow striped ones are called yellow jackets. While related,
they are not, however, yellow jackets, but paper wasps.

While pruning the blackberries last week, I found a paper wasp's nest in one of the blackberry plants. They weren't terribly disturbed, I saw the nest before anyone buzzed me, and I'd rattled the plant with some pruning. A few days later I was able to pick berries off the plant and they simply buzzed out, but didn't head toward me. So they're cool. I will take the nest down once it is abandoned for the winter so they don't return next spring.

Wasps, like many native bees, have one dominant female who is generally responsible for at least starting the nest building and laying eggs. Her sisters, or more frequently, her daughters, expand the nest and feed the young. When winter comes, some females overwinter to start their own nests the next spring.

When stung by a wasp, immediately apply vinegar or lemon juice to neutralize the venom. A paste of baking soda works against bee stings, and also helps ease the pain and itching of wasp sting. Here is a link to a number of home remedies for stings.

Look to wasps as your friends in the garden. When they are around, stay calm and treat them with respect to maintain a friendly relationship. However, like all relationships, if you push the other person too far, you'll get stung. So, know the boundaries and keep the vinegar handy.


No comments: