Wasps and bees are beneficial insects, though they are often considered pests because of their sting. People tend to call all stinging insects bees. But wasps and bees look different and behave differently. Wasps are omnivores and as they prey on destructive insects such as caterpillars, they are beneficial. A few wasp species like the Mexican honey wasp produce honey. These wasps also pollinate avocado. Wasp sting is designed to produce intense pain but is only life threatening if multiple stings are received or if the individual is allergic to the venom in the sting. Towards autumn wasps are attracted to human food waste containing sugar, making them a nuisance to picnic parties.
FACT 1: There are 30,000 identified species of wasps. They come in every imaginable colour from the familiar yellow to brown, metallic blue and bright red. The brighter coloured species are in the Vespidae or the stinging wasp family.
FACT 2: The most familiar wasps are the brightly coloured, angrily buzzing ones who live in groups and have a painful sting. But most wasps are of the solitary non stinging variety.
FACT 3: Wasps can be distinguished from bees by the pointed lower abdomen and the narrow ‘waist’ or petiole that separates the abdomen from the thorax.
FACT 4: All wasps build nests. They use their hard mandibles to scrape wood fibre and chew it to a pulp. This makes the papery substance with which they build their nests. Bees on the other hand secrete a waxy substance to construct their nests.
FACT 5: Wasps are divided into two primary sub groups: social and solitary. Social wasps account for only about 1000 species and include the formidable colony builders like yellow jackets and hornets.
FACT 6: Social wasps colonies are started from scratch every year by a queen who was fertilized the previous year. By autumn all wasps in the colony die except the new queen. The new queen leaves the nest in the late summer to mate with a male. They then become dormant over the winter and become active only the next spring. They then start a new nest. They never re-use old nests.
FACT 7: Wasps do more good than harm. They are predators who feed insects and other arthropods to their young. These include caterpillars, flies and crickets. Thus they control the pest insect population.
FACT 8: Colorado is faced with a problem of trees in Denver being destroyed by invasive beetles. One in every six trees is threatened by these insects. Colorado has imported tiny predator wasps from China. These wasps are being deployed in a state experiment aimed at annihilating the beetles.
FACT 9: Digging wasps and mud daubers are examples of solitary wasps, since individual females construct and provision their nests. As a general rule, solitary wasps are unaggressive even if disturbed and seldom defend their nests. Their sting and venom is used as an offensive weapon to paralyze their prey, which consists of many insects and their relatives. The venom of solitary wasps has anaesthetic properties and usually is not a serious problem with man.
FACT 10: Social wasps such as yellow jackets, paper wasps and hornets use their jaws and legs to attack and subdue prey. Being social, their nests may contain up to thousands of individuals. Workers of the social wasps use their venom as a defensive weapon and often attack in large numbers any threatening animal or human. The venom is designed to produce intense pain and may cause a dangerous systemic reaction in allergic individuals.