Flying Stinging Insects
As gardening season peaks, we all have undoubtedly ducked and swatted at some flying insects. Working with youth this summer in Broomfield, I noticed about half of the kids were overly-concerned about being stung by these aerodynamic insects. While the other half, had no awareness of the potential danger of sticking your hand in a plant with wasps and bees nearby.
Personally, I have stood next to apple trees picking apples with dozens of wasps feeding on rotting fruit. I have never had a problem. This past weekend in our backyard, my husband felt something on the back of his neck, slapped at it, and got stung by a European paper wasp. It no doubt caused a bit of sting.
So, what’s flying around your yard? Whitney Cranshaw is an entomology professor and extension specialist with Colorado State University. He designed an informational poster titled “Common Stinging Insects of Colorado.” He states “the first step in an Integrated Pest Management program is to correctly identify the insect.” To identify the culprits in your yard: webdoc.agsci.colostate.edu/ipm/COStinging InsectsFINALgb.pdf .
According to Dr. Cranshaw, if you have gotten stung, it has most likely been by a Western yellowjacket or European paper wasp. The yellowjacket is infamous for hanging around food “and is, by far, the most important stinging insect in the western United States.” This insect mainly feeds on dead animal material and sweets. Yellowjacket nests are made of paper like the European paper wasp, but the nests tend to occur underground and are typically not visible.
The European paper wasps produce smaller nests and tend to be quite creative in their location. You may find them in light fixtures, electrical boxes, retaining walls, or on the eaves of your house. Paper wasps are predatory insects. They are beneficial for the garden because they eat caterpillars. They also feed on nectar or honeydew. This latter substance is produced from aphids, so if you see a lot of wasps or ants on your plants then look closely for an aphid problem.
This is why it is a bad idea to have an open can of soda sitting unattended at a picnic. These insects cannot tell the different between aphid excrement and your soda pop. One never knows what might crawl inside.
European paper wasps are not known for being overly aggressive. Unless, you happen to swat at one, run away from them with flailing arms, or put your hand into an area housing a nest — the latter of which occurred when an inspector decided to open an electrical box on our property. It was covered with wasps and nests. Sting number two in our yard in less than three days.
Will bumble bees and honey bees sting you? Most folks know the answer is yes, but some of the youth I worked with didn’t think so. When I was a kid, my grandma’s lawn was solid clover and we were frequently warned to put shoes on. Did we listen? No, we stepped on bees and got stung regularly. Now knowing the importance of bees and loving the taste of honey, I cringe when thinking about how many little worker bees’ demise came at the bottom of my feet.
In addition to the two stings over the course of a weekend, we determined there were two dozen or more wasp nests in the retaining walls in our back yard. The stones are made from concrete blocks that are hollow inside. We made the tough decision to call in a licensed professional to minimize the population. Historically, we abide by integrated pest management techniques and regularly tolerate normal levels of insect activity, but this had gotten out of hand. There were wasps everywhere.
Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: PeopleAndPlantsTogether @gmail.com or follow us on Facebook.