Types of Wasps Around the Home and Garden
One hundred thousand plus species of ants, bees, sawflies and wasps constitute the order Hymenoptera, the second largest order of insects next to beetles. Hymenoptera taxonomy constantly changes to reflect scientific consensus regarding the proper way to categorize such a large group of insects.
Home and garden interests, along with enthusiasm for the natural biological control work wasps provide on a global basis explains much of the wasp's popularity. Discussions about different types of wasps often begin by defining them as all Hymenoptera that are not ants, bees or sawflies.
Entomologists differentiate between wasps that are related to bees and those wasps that evolved separately from bees. Formal groupings for the bee related wasps remains a topic of discussion. However, today, many entomologists recognize two different wasp families, Sphecidae and Crabronidae, as being related to bees.
Sometimes the phrase sphecid wasps versus vespid wasps acts to differentiate between the wasps related to bees and the wasps in the superfamily Vespoidea, which are related to ants.
Within the superfamily Vespoidae, perhaps the Vespid wasps (family Vespidae) pose the greatest concern to humans because of their habit of building nests in residential areas. Of specific concern is the fact that Vespid species tend to sting (multiple times) as a defensive mechanism, when their nests are threatened.
The slide show presents examples of the types of most common vespids found around residential areas and gardens. The video at the top of the page shows a pollen wasp (Masarinae), so named because of their practice of feeding their young pollen, rather than insects or spiders, the traditional young wasp diet.
Most homeowner tend to associate members of the subfamily Polistinae, paper wasps, with vespid wasps. Three genera represent the subfamily, but for all intent and purposes, paper wasps and the Polistes genus usually represent the group.
Their appetite for caterpillars and other garden pests often translates into their being welcome guests in many back yards, with some limits. Paper wasps, stinging insects that defend their nests, explains homeowner concerns about their presence around the doorways. At the same time, their appetite for caterpillars and other garden pests often translates into their being welcome guests in many back yards.
The standard Polistes story posits them as semi-eusocial insects, whose nests are built on a annual basis and tended by a queen and workers.
Approximately twenty native poliste species, most regionally based, inhabit residential areas, fields and forest across North America. A quick yard check during the warmer moths of the year provides a good opportunity for identifying local poliste species.
Most people recognize yellow jackets (Paravespula) as the uninvited guests at many picnics.
They are all social wasps that build, and vigorously defend, ground nests. As the colony grows over the course of a summer, the need for food expands. The presence of a sweet tooth partially explains their scavenging ways at picnics and barbecues.
Many homeowners opt to remove them when they nest around the home because their sting is painful.
Over one dozen different Vespula species live in the United States. Most of them share the bright yellow body of the species in the picture.
Potter and Mason Wasps (Eumeninae), the most diverse of the five vespid subfamilies (family Vespidae), receive their name based on their pot shaped mud nests. The approximately twenty in North America species get described as solitary, predator wasps and beneficial insects because of their use of caterpillars and other insect larvae as their principle larvae hosts.
Potter wasp appearance varies slightly from genera to genera. Pachodynerus erynnis in the picture is a small, colorful potter wasp species with a range limited mostly to the South East and Gulf Coast states. They have a habit of nest building in wood structures such as benches, fences and sides of houses.
Baldfaced hornets, named for their white face, are large paper nest making insects. Despite the name, they are more closely related to yellow jackets than to hornets.
Most people become familiar with them when they build a large oval paper nest on a tree in their yard. They are social insects, with the annually constructed nests consisting of a queen, workers and drones.
While they are not characterized as aggressive bees, they do sting when defending their nest. Nests located in close proximity to high traffic locations around the house and yard often need to be removed.
In the other wasp category, superfamily Pompiloidea, sixteen Mutillidae genera, better known as Velvet Ants, live on North American soil, especially sandy soils. Population levels peak during the summer season and female nest building. Dasymutilla, the largest genus, with some fifty species, can be tough to identify. The top picture might show dasymutilla lepeletierii.
The red body signals danger, and the sting of many species is described as one of the most painful stings in the wasp family.
Speaking of stings, the Cow Killer perhaps the most recognized velvet ant, often makes the wasp legend list.
Sometimes the name Cow Killer is used loosely to apply to any one of the fifty or so native Dasymutilla species. Used in a stricter sense, the Cow Killer refers to a single species, Dasymutilla occidentalis, and the name come from the story that the sting of the wingless female is so severe that it could kill a cow.
Spider wasps (family Pompilidae), predate on spiders, using their bodies as larval hosts. North American species numbers approach the 150 mark, divided into a dozen and one half genera.
Agriculture specialists have always invested time trying to understand and leverage their utility as natural biological control agents.
© 2005-2015 Patricia A. Michaels