Wasps effective at tormenting their prey

The low frequency droning is unmistakable. The casual flight pattern belies the potential agony of an encounter and the real possibility of a painful attack from multiple directions.

Wasps in Franklin and Gulf counties, and most other locales, are known for their dyspeptic nature and vile retaliation if provoked. They are the grumps of mini aerial realm.

Provocation may be innocent or malicious, wasps do not care. Whether an oblivious gardener stumbles upon a nest or a spiteful adolescent uses a wasp nest for target practice with a green pinecone, just as many wasps as available will strike back.

These social wasps live in colonies much like honeybees and may have up to several thousand members. Depending on the species, they build nests in protected place above the ground or below the soil surface.

Some social wasps are omnivorous, feeding on overripe fruit and carrion. Some of these social wasps, such as yellow jackets, may scavenge for dead insects to provide for their young.

Sporadically, some species, such as yellow jackets and hornets, will invade honeybee hives and rob honey.

Like honeybees, social wasp colonies consist of mostly female workers. Another similarity is only the females have stingers. Unlike honeybees, the queens live only one year.

A majority of the wasp colony dies away in autumn, leaving only the young, mated queens alive. During this period, they leave the nest and find a suitable area to hibernate for the winter.

After emerging from hibernation in spring the young queens search for a suitable nesting site. The queen will build a basic wood fiber nest roughly the size of a hickory nut and will begin to lay eggs.

The queen raises the first several sets of wasp eggs until enough female workers can maintain the offspring without the queen’s assistance. All the eggs produced at this time are sterile female workers who will begin to construct a more elaborate nest around their queen as they grow in number.

There are also solitary wasps which live and operate alone in panhandle Florida. They do not construct nests, instead depositing their eggs on host insects which serve as a sort of mobile nursery/café.

When the eggs hatch, the host becomes the first meal for the wasp larva. Adult wasp commonly feed on nectar and pollen.

There is also a native wingless wasp in panhandle Florida. It is commonly known as the velvet ant or the cow killer. While it will sting, as other wasps will, there are no verifiable reports of livestock lethality.

Almost every pest insect species has at least one wasp species which preys upon it or parasitizes it. This places wasps in a category of critically important natural control.

Some wasps are increasingly used in agricultural pest control on organic and conventional farm as they prey mostly on pest insects and have little impact on crops. Nasty dispositions aside, they are quite effective at tormenting their assigned prey.

To learn more about this stinging insect family Franklin and Gulf counties, contact the nearest UF/IFAS County Extension Office or visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/. To read more stories by Les Harrison visit: Outdoorauthor.com and follow me on Facebook.

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper NonDoc.com during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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