By Charlotte Wilson, Hopkins County Master Gardener
While gardening or playing in the yard, it is easy to get alerted if you see wasps, or “bees,” as many people call a flying insect. However, the flying insects do us all an enormous favor in pollinating our fruits, vegetables and flowers. Many of these insects also keep unfavorable insects and caterpillars under control.
Wasps that you see on your vegetables and flowers pollinate the flowers, feed on the fruits, or eat smaller insects. They rarely sting away from the nest unless they are pinched or pressed against the skin. You can easily pick produce while the wasps are in the same plant, as long as you are aware of their location so that you don’t try to “pick” the same vegetables as the wasp.
Two stinging insects, red paper wasps and yellow paper wasps, are social insects. Red paper wasps have long red-brown bodies and dark brown wings. Yellow paper wasps, which many people call yellow jackets, are slightly smaller than red wasps and have yellow and dark brown stripes. Both species live in nests that they build and defend together. Nests are made of a paper-like material and can be found either above or below the ground.
The social wasp’s stinger is primarily a defensive tool designed to protect both the nest and the colony. However, when defending their colony, multiple wasp stings can quickly occur, with a wasp stinging one or more times. The spines of the bees are barbed and stay in the victim, pulling the bee apart. Wasps and bees sting their victims and inject poison from the back of the abdomen. The sting in all wasps and bees is a modified egg-laying organ, so only women can sting.
Wasps and bees are most likely to sting when their nest is disturbed. Wasps and bees are instinctively attracted to the animals’ upper bodies. Therefore, in the event of an attack, it is best to cover your head and run away quickly. Victims standing in place trying to hit their attackers continue to receive stings when the wasps use chemical communication to summon reinforcements. While pain is usually localized at the site of the sting, large and systemic (allergic) reactions are also possible. Large local reactions are not life threatening, but can last two to seven days. About 5 percent of people who experience a large local reaction will have an anaphylactic reaction (severe systemic hypersensitivity) when they are stung.
The only true “hornet” reported in Texas is the bald-headed hornet Dolichovespula maculate. It’s also a social insect. Hornets build a round or pear-shaped paper nest up to 3 feet long. The gray nest has ridges inside with an entrance near the bottom. Hornet nests are almost always above the ground, often high in trees. A mature colony can contain 200-400 adults. While hornet stings can be very painful, hornets are less likely to attack than paper wasps because their nests are in remote locations.
The Vespa mandarina murder hornet has only been reported in Washington state and Canada on the North American continent.
Mud daubers are tiny solitary wasps that build small, tubular mud nests under eaves, in attics, and on many items that you keep in a shed or barn. Adult mud swabs are 3/4 to 1 inch long and vary from dull brown to iridescent blue-black. As they develop in the mud tubes, young larvae are fed spiders. Since mud swabs don’t defend their nests, they are usually not a problem for humans. Their structures can easily be removed by hand or with a spatula.
If you work or play outdoors, you should keep in mind that all of these insects are valuable to our landscape and we can usually avoid close contact. They won’t bother us if we don’t bother them.
– This information is taken from the brochure “Paper Wasps, Yellow Jackets, and Lone Wasps” written by Glen C. Moore and Mike E. Merchant, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.