The Wasp Apologia

An unknown to me species of wasp on Goldenrod.
In defense of the humble wasp, so hated and feared by most humans, I put forth the following argument: the wasp is better than the mosquito.

Every spring our old farmhouse is invaded by gentle brown paper wasps. They hibernate in the walls and roof through the winter, and a few become confused and make their way into the house, rather than outdoors, where they meant to emerge. I usually do kill them, because the children panic and make unappealing noises. But in the 20 years the family has been living here, there have been no cases of unprovoked brown paper wasp stings. We did have one summer when very aggressive Yellow Jackets came indoors and stung everyone at least once, so we kill those on sight.

As a scary sight, the yellow jacket is right up there for inducing screaming and running.

Wasps are interesting, intelligent (relative to an insect, mind you) little creatures. Most important to us, they are voracious insectivores. No doubt you were thinking that the wasp, like the honeybee, lived on nectar and pollen. While they do to some extent, as well as fruits and anything sweet they can find, small insects like mosquitoes form a large part of their diet.

Feared for their sting, most species won’t use it unless provoked by a swat. Our little brown invaders usually just fly into windows and stare disconsolately out at the unreachable fresh air. Last summer I picked berries in company with hungry little wasps that looked like tiny, fuzzy yellow jackets, and who moved aside with the gentle nudge of a fingertip. Generally, wasps will leave you alone if you leave them alone, and it can be argued that they are good to have around. Mosquitoes carry disease, wasps don’t.

A wasp on the fingertip of my cleaning glove.

I’m not attempting proper identification of my wasp species, partly because I can’t. There are so many species of wasps, and they interbreed prolifically, that it’s almost impossible to be certain. Here in New Hampshire, we have several common ones.

  • Yellow Jackets, the bully of the wasp world
  • Brown Paper Wasps, the gentle ones
  • Bald-Faced Hornets, the giant wasps
  • Spider-Killers, the most fearsome predator I’ve ever watched in action.

Spider-Killers are well worth observing if you are lucky enough to have them in your area. Gorgeous creatures, metallic blue-black and with a long wasp waist, they even look lethal. When you realize that they hunt, paralyze, and then feed the still-living spiders to their larvae, you will respect them as well. Watching them fly nape of the earth, looking for all the world like a military helicopter on maneuvers is a fun thing to do on a warm summer day.

This is a honeybee, not a wasp. Their venom is also different, and a bee dies after one sting.


3 responses to “The Wasp Apologia”

  1. Thank you for the interesting and informative “Wasp Apologia.” I have been stung many times by yellow jackets, and developed an allergic reaction the last couple of times. Another time, we were chased a quarter of a mile down a mountain (fortunately we were in the pickup) by a vicious sounding swarm of black hornets.

    1. I can remember Maranatha and I being chased and stung by Bald Faced Hornets at your place when we were little, too!

  2. Poor wasps, they do go unappreciated!