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Felder’s Pollinators

Felder Rushing

Donuts on Cake

Just what we need - another invasive new type of hornet spotted in Georgia. As if we don’t have enough grabbing bits of barbeque ribs out of our hands this time of year.

So far, this one, like the “murder hornet’ found in the Pacific Northwest, isn’t a problem. Might even get it under control before it spreads. Meanwhile, the ones in my to-a-point wildlife-tolerant garden are doing just fine, judging by the numbers I am trying hard to not swat away from my

What’s the point in wasps, anyway? Keep in mind that I am somewhat unscientifically lumping together paper wasps, guinea wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and other “social” wasps, those generally long-bodied, fast-flying species that congregate in above or below-ground hives or nests made of chewed up wood and paper. The kinds that can sting repeatedly when provoked and, as most of us have experienced, can give off a pheromone that attracts their sisters to the defense of their nests.

Truth is, like many solitary wasps and bees, they are both super predators and super pollinators.

For the protein needed to raise their young, they devour tons of caterpillars, spiders, young grasshoppers, flies, beetle larvae, and anything else small they can catch; they even help strip dead animals. Without wasps, we’d be buried under all those other critters.

And while sipping sweet nectar for energy their bodies get coated in pollen, which they spread far and wide. Without them a lot of our flowers and veggies would go unpollinated. So they are super beneficial all around.

Problem is, in addition to their good deeds in the garden, they will try to grab crabmeat dip right off your cracker. And instead of finding all the sugar they need from flower nectar, or plant-sugary sap weeping from tree wounds or drippings from leaf-feeding insects, they also go for split-open fruits, and sugary drinks. Anyone trying to pick ripe figs, blackberries, pears, or muscadines, or who leaves a sweet drink unattended, knows the drill: Look before you grab or sip.

Ever wonder why wasps are more aggressive this time of year? Nature has dealt them a cruel blow. Unlike honeybee clans, which survive year to year in honeycomb splendor, wasps are unable to store food even week to week, much less all winter. And they die every fall. In fact, they stop flying when temps dip into the 40s, then easily freeze to death.

The only survivors are young, fertilized queens which hibernate in protected places and emerge in the spring to build little walnut sized nests and start laying enough eggs to start a new colony from scratch.

So, in late August and September, the original queen starts to shut everything down, stops laying eggs and releasing the pheromone that causes the others to keep working. This leaves the majority of the wasps hungry and disoriented.

Because wasps can’t digest solid food, they begin searching frantically for liquid sugar, which in late summer is harder to find in flowers but very easy around a tailgate or patio parties. Some of us do, too.

And they still have plenty of the defense pheromone, so when you swat at one, it kicks off the alarm and others come a’buzzing, fired up for a fight. With you and your guests. Over a grape.

This is why the best advice is to stay calm. Save your swats, set out a saucer of jam, sugar water, or flat Coke (or Pepsi) and let them get their sugar rush away from the picnic table.

Feeling sorry for wasps yet? Wait’ll the killer hornets get here.

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