I am an avid self-taught gardener (I learn as problems arise), bird watcher, and nature lover.
Wasp Control is Important
In most cases, the benefits of these winged insects usually outweigh the potential harm they may cause to humans. However, if nests are in high traffic areas, then humans will have a problem coping.
When a nest is not posing any immediate threat to pets or people, it can be left for the season and removed during cooler weather. However, there are times when control is necessary. I will elaborate on the following aspects about wasps:
- Social family wasps
- Solitary family wasps
- Benefits of wasps
- 4 methods to eliminating wasps
- How to eliminate nests
- Prevention tips
- A note on allergic reactions
Social Family Wasps
These social-winged insects can make nests in attics, under roofs, in cracks around the house, in hollowed-out logs, or even in objects that give them a nice opening with a strong shelter.
The broad comb made of wood fibers and saliva is where larvae are reared. The nest will look like an inverted umbrella with open ends. Workers will cling to the underside of the nest guarding, feeding, and performing housekeeping chores.
As you might expect, this insect is a carnivore, feeding on caterpillars and flies. Amazingly, the wasp will chew up their victims’ bodies into a paste and feed it to the larvae. In return, the larva creates sweet syrup that is consumed by the adults.
- Queen: Female, which is fertile and creator of the colony
- Drone: Male, which develops from an unfertilized egg
- Caste Worker: Unmated adult females
The caste structure is built around aggressive interactions. If the queen cannot sustain its dominant role, another fertile adult female will take over the responsibility of laying eggs.
Included in the social-winged insect's family are:
- Paper wasps build their nest under horizontal surfaces, which include eaves, tree limbs, overhangs, and abandoned structures. This insect is one of the most harmless species of this family. The only time they become a pest is when they establish a nest around human traffic.
- Hornets are the most fearsome looking and territorial, yet far less aggressive than the yellow jacket.
- Yellow Jackets are the most distinctive, having a thick waist and bright yellow patterns. These insects are aggressive and territorial. They will defend the nest until their own demise. Of all three in this social family, the yellow jacket is considered the ultimate pest. They are sometimes referred to as meat wasps.
Solitary Family Wasps
The solitary wasp is elegant in appearance, having a very long, thin body and waist, but yet, not particularly colorful. All adults are fertile.
Their nesting habits are diverse. Some will not build nests, while other females will build a nest solely for herself and her offspring. In other cases, she will lay her eggs in their prey's nest or attach them to the larvae of insects like butterflies and moths. This method allows the larvae a ready feast upon hatching.
They are the most docile, and their stingers are usually used for hunting and not for defense.
In most cases, they show little to no aggression towards humans or other large animals. Moreover, they are considered beneficial insects to the gardener, killing garden pests like aphids and beetles.
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The following are within the solitary family:
- Spider, Digger, Potter, and Pollen wasps
Benefits of Wasps
When these flying insects are swooping at you, it's hard to fathom that they can be beneficial to humans and the environment. Let me give you a quick sampling of some of their positive aspects.
- They are natural scavengers. For example, the yellow jacket may scavenge for dead insects to give to their young.
- The different species of wasps hunt white flies, beetle larvae, spiders, aphids, caterpillars, and other insects, either feeding upon or using the insects to provision their nests. For example, the blue mud dauber is considered beneficial because they help to regulate the population of black and brown widow spiders.
- They can pollinate plants and crops. The fig wasps of the tropics are responsible for pollinating almost 1000 species of figs.
As you can see, they do offer benefits for humans and the environment. When these insects maintain their distance from humans, all can co-exist. However, when these flying insects come swooping down at you or a member of your family is allergic to its sting, then you have a problem.
4 Methods to Eliminating Wasps
Though these insects are important to controlling the predatory insect population and as pollinators, you do have to draw the line when they become a danger to you in your own yard, house, or garden. Here are some simple methods used when these flying insects intrude into your domain and just won't go away:
- Citrus oil extract. However, some question the toxicity of the ingredients limonene and linalool have on mammals. My advice, use it with care.
- To get rid of hornets, use wasp killer spray that can kill them on contact.
- To keep them from the immediate area, you can use mothballs. In fact, I put four or five mothballs in a nylon sock, knotted it, and put it in the back of our mailbox and a side door that we don't use. Yes, I had these little beats trying to make a nest in my mailbox. I do know the mail carrier didn't like it because I saw my mail on the ground. That definitely did not make me happy. Though my mailbox does not smell very sweet, it solved my and the mail carrier's problem.
- Use wasp traps.
Getting Rid of Nests
Usually, the best time to get rid of a nest is in the late evening or every early morning. Some have even suggested going out when it is dark because they will be less likely to come out to fight.
To protect yourself, you should dress in multiple layers of clothing with gloves and a mask to protect you from inhaling the fumes.
1. Projectile Spray
Projectile wasp spray works for elevated nests. A projectile spray, like Raid, will allow some distance between you and them, usually 15-20 feet. Spray liberally. Once you are sure all are dead, you can remove the nest.
2. Use a Pressurized Bug Bomb
Standing a few feet away, aim the bomb right into the mouth of the nest. Even if the bomb falls outside the mouth, the wasps will be destroyed along with the nest. (Be sure to follow instructions).
A pressurized bug bomb works great for a fireplace or in an attic. Just be sure to cover all openings so the insects cannot escape. Then slip in a can of D-Con, Raid, or a Spectracide insect bomb. After you have bombed the area, be sure to air the area out well. As you might expect, the bomb can smell nasty. One final note, remember that this aerosol bomb is highly flammable so make sure you do not put a bug bomb in an attic that has a gas furnace.
3. Underground or Hanging Nest
For underground nests, you will want to use a wasp killer that is not labeled as a "projectile spray."
No matter where the nest is located, you will need to repeat the process two to three times to make sure that the wasps have permanently left. Once you see no traffic, it will be safe to knock down or fill the nest with dirt or gravel if it is in the ground.
Here are some simple ways in which you can keep these pests from taking up residence around your home.
- Keep your garbage bags tightly sealed and in the garbage can. They like to hover around garbage cans for food.
- Keeps lawns clean. They prefer to build nests where there is overgrowth. Thus, clean up the overgrowth.
- If you have fruit trees, pick up the fallen ones and pluck the fruit when ripe. They love the sweetness of the fruit. My husband can attest to their love of fruit when he got stung by one when he was picking some of our apples with his bare hands.
- Remove sources of food. In the spring and summer, they are attracted to anything that contains protein.
- Seal all points of entry. This means filling cracks in walls, around doorway entrances, and other possible openings.
A Note on Allergic Reactions
An allergic reaction to a sting can develop anywhere on the body. Some reactions to a sting, though painful, are not life-threatening. Some non-life-threatening symptoms are:
- Abdominal cramps
With non-life-threatening reactions to a sting, antihistamines can help fight the reaction. (Be sure to use the antihistamine according to a physician's instructions.)
On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who have life-threatening reactions to a wasp sting, such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the throat
With a life-threatening reaction, immediate medical care is needed. Sometimes an individual will react to the sting immediately, and in other cases, it may take 30 minutes before symptoms develop.
People who are aware that they are allergic to stings should carry a sting kit (which is a normal syringe or an auto-injector (Epi-Pen). It may seem like an inconvenience, but it can save a person's life.
Many people can successfully take care of their wasp problem. However, if you feel the job is too much for you to handle, enlist the help of a professional. Why? They have the equipment, tools, and poison that can get the job done quickly and without anyone being stung.
- Backyard Gardener - Wasps and Yellow Jackets - June 21, 2006
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County, Backyard Gardener
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Wasps have taken up residency in a little used Subaru parked in my driveway. We discovered them when I opened the driver's side door and they flew out at me, stinging my finger and side as I ran. How do I find their nest so I can bomb it or should I just throw one in the closed up car which they have no problem getting inside of?
Answer: I would nix bombing them. I would wait until the evening hours when it is cooler out to search for the nest. When it is around dusk, wasps will come back to the nest and it is during this time that they are less active.
Before looking for the nest, make sure you have protective clothing, gloves, and a hat on. Remember wasps can sting you over and over again. Do a search for the nest. They can be almost anywhere. Look in the door hinges, trunk if it leads into the car, any possible opening or crevice. Once you locate the nest, spray it with an aerosol wasp killer. The spray has a distance of 15 or 20 feet, so you can keep yourself far enough away to protect yourself. Wait a little while and check the nest. If you do not see any wasp moving about, cautiously remove the nest. If you feel it might be a little more than you would want to handle, look to a professional for help.
Question: These wasps make their home is a hole in a cinder block fence. I have sprayed directly into it but it is not making a difference. Given that this is in a children's play area, what else can I do to remove these wasps?
Answer: I would spray the hole with wasp spray, put in some moth balls (wasps do not like the smell of moth balls) and then seal it. I would do it in the evening when the wasps are not as active.
Question: What is the best way to rid my attic of yellow jackets?
Answer: It depends upon size of the nest(s). If it is small, you can vacuum them up or use pyrethrum aerosol to kill them. If you have a large infestation, I would look for a professional to handle the problem.
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