Are Yellow Jackets Beneficial in the Garden?
Yellowjackets rank as pests in most parts of the world due to their feeding behavior which brings them close to human settlements. Like bees, wasps enjoy eating sweets, fruits, and even rotten meat, among other things, and they don’t shy away from lurking near people’s homes and properties.
This is obviously less than ideal given their painful venom, ability to sting repeatedly, and eusocial behavior leading to swarms.
But yellowjackets are not exclusively harmful. Today, we will discuss the beneficial effects of yellowjackets on the environment, hoping to present these feared insects in a warmer light.
Benefits of Yellowjackets in Garden
Yellowjackets’ dualist nature can seem confusing to people who are used to considering them pests. But they actually have positive impacts on their environment as well, and some of these benefits humans along the way. Here are the most noticeable positive aspects of yellowjackets that few people are aware of:
Bees and butterflies are the most excellent pollinators in nature, but they are not the only ones in the job. Other insects and even mammals take part in the process unwillingly, the yellowjacket being one of them.
Unlike bees, yellowjackets don’t have their bodies covered with hair, and they don’t have a mechanism for gathering the pollen in leg pouches. That’s because wasps aren’t really interested in consuming pollen or bringing it to their nest.
It makes sense for wasps to lack these abilities since they don’t make food reserves like bees. Wasps die as soon as the cold season comes, with only the queen hibernating through the winter. That being said, wasps do love to consume flower nectar, and they will spend a lot of time flying from flower to flower to feed.
Their feeding behavior allows them to transport some pollen between various flowers, bringing their mediocre contribution to the surrounding environment. Their effects on the pollination process may not be as significant as the bees,’ but it still counts for something.
– Pest Control
Few people are aware of the fact that wasps function as pest control agents and quite effective ones at that. They hunt and feed on insects that we consider pests for their effects on crops and human agriculture. These include aphids, spiders, flies, and even other wasps.
Depending on their species, wasps fall into several different categories, like hunters, scavengers, parasitic insects, etc. Depending on their profile, they will display a slightly different behavior in relation to their prey. Hunter wasps will kill living insects, including caterpillars, masticate them with their powerful mandibles, and bring them to the nest to feed their larvae.
Adult wasps rarely eat insects, but wasp larvae require the surplus of protein to grow.
Parasitoid wasps are a special breed of insects whose reproductive cycle relies on a living host. These insects will inject their eggs into living hosts, like spiders or caterpillars, paralyze them, then drag them into their nest and block the entrance. The victim will remain alive for weeks, during which the eggs will hatch inside their bodies, giving birth to hungry wasp larvae.
The latter will feed on the host’s insides and make their way out once they’ve grown. This reproductive behavior ranks parasitoid wasps like the Orussoidea as pest control agents thanks to their beneficial effects on the environment.
One such infamous parasitoid wasp is the Tarantula Hawk wasp, whose reproductive cycle relies on infesting tarantulas. This black wasp has one of the most excruciating stings in the insect kingdom, capable of delivering a powerful paralyzing agent. Once stung, the tarantula will become paralyzed indefinitely but remain alive for weeks while the wasp’s larva eats it from the inside.
– Food Source
Finally, contrary to what you may have thought, wasps don’t sit at the top of the food chain. They also have natural predators, including birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. These creatures have evolved to feed on venomous insects, which makes the wasp an essential presence in the natural world.
Some worthy mentions include the black bear, the weasel, the thorny lizard, the chameleon, the Praying Mantis, a variety of spiders, roadrunners, etc. The latter bird is the only known predator of the Tarantula Hawk wasp since no other creature dares to challenge this insect’s status.
It’s interesting to see how various animals have evolved to avoid the insect’s painful sting:
- Mammals – Most mammals consume wasp larvae, attacking their nests at night when adult wasps rest and are less aggressive. Other mammals, like the badger, use their powerful claws to uncover wasp burrows and eat the eggs and larvae.
- Insects – Spiders cover the insect in the web while keeping their distance to avoid the stinger. They will then inject it with venom to paralyze it and liquefy its organs to prepare the meal. On the other hand, the Praying mantis relies on its long and agile arms to catch the wasp and bite its head off to deliver instant death.
- Reptiles – The chameleon uses its tongue as a projectile to catch and suck the insect into its mouth. The 60-mph meat projectile is often enough to crush the wasp on impact, neutralizing its ability to sting. If that doesn’t work, the chameleon will crush it in its mouth anyway, with a similar outcome. Reptiles’ thick skin is impervious to stings, which pretty much neutralizes the wasp’s sole defense mechanism.
- Other wasps – Many wasps will display cannibalistic behavior and may invade other wasps’ nests. Larger wasp species will typically attack smaller ones, killing their larvae and feeding them to their own young.
As you can see, wasps are an important part of the food chain, ranking as both predator and prey, like most creatures.
Should You Kill Yellowjackets?
The answer depends on your situation. You don’t necessarily need to kill solitary yellowjackets, especially if they don’t hover too long around you. They will most likely go away to find more flowery areas and mind their own business. The problem arises when wasps stick around because they’re attracted to your food. Or you discover a nest near your home.
At that point, killing them almost becomes an obligation. If the nest is small, you can handle it yourself. Wear protection and use an insecticide to spray the nest, which is usually enough to kill adults and larvae and make the nest unusable. Another good alternative would be using water and soap, which will disorient wasps and sterilize their nest, forcing them to leave.
If the nest is too big or overcrowded with wasps, I advise against adopting any DIY tactics. Call professionals, so they can handle the situation safely and proficiently.
How to Not Get Stung By Yellowjackets in Your Garden?
If you have a flower-rich garden visited by bees and wasps regularly, you might have an issue to solve. Nobody likes insect stings, especially as painful as the yellowjacket’s. You can avoid attracting the insect’s attention by avoiding brightly-colored clothes or strong perfumes, but these methods aren’t failproof.
If you notice yellow jackets coming in your garden regularly, they might have a nest nearby. Check the trees and structures close to your home, locate their nest, and take action to remove it.
Refer to the previous point to learn how to do it safely and effectively.
Yellowjackets play important roles in the world’s fauna and flora, and reducing them to pests doesn’t do these amazing insects justice. You don’t need to panic and kill yellowjackets on site, especially if they don’t have a nest nearby.
Just keep your distance, observe them from afar, and only take action if things get too heated up.