I Dig These Wasps
No need to fear these two beneficial insects.
Wasps, hornets, and bees strike fear into the hearts of many gardeners who are terrified of getting stung. But it's wrong to lump them all together as vicious, dangerous maulers. Some wasps, in fact, do good work in the garden and pose no threat to you, unless you attack them. Here are two I've discovered in my yard that I've come to view as allies.
The first, shown up top, is the great golden digger wasp. It's easy to identify by its vivid, golden-orange legs, orange-and-black abdomen, and black wings. It's a little less than an inch long. I see it every day patrolling my lawn, flying low over the grass, hunting for bugs. It shows no interest in me as I walk by, and won't sting unless I step on it by mistake. Even then, the sting would be mild.
The great golden digger wasp is a solitary wasp. It lives alone in small holes it digs in the ground. When the female finds suitable prey, she stings it to paralyze it, but not kill. She flies off with it, drags it into her burrow, lays an egg on it, and seals the entrance. When the egg hatches, the wasp larva has a ready-made meal. Soon, a new digger wasp emerges to continue the mission.
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The great golden digger wasp is more than a hunter, though. It also drinks nectar from many garden flowers. In doing so, it pollinates them. We all love pollinators, right?
Another digger wasp you may encounter is the fearsome-sounding cicada-killer. Like the great golden digger wasp, it's solitary, drags paralyzed prey into a burrow, and lays an egg on it. It gets its name from it's very specialized menu. It preys on loud-mouthed cicadas.
This is a large wasp, 1 to 2 inches long, with brownish wings and creamy white and black stripes on its abdomen. A sting can be quite painful, but the cicada-killer is focused on hunting cicadas, not you, and isn't aggressive. I suspected I had some around because of these little volcanoes of excavated soil surrounding dime-sized holes I found in my backyard, like this one. They're often found near deciduous trees where cicadas hang out.
I confirmed their presence when I came upon a dead one that had probably drowned during a major downpour. They'd been sharing my garden with me all along and we never had a disagreement.
Yes, some wasps you need to fear, but these are social wasps that build large nests, like paper wasps, yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and European giant hornets. Solitary wasps won't bother you unless you bother them. I don't plan on doing that.