More than 100,000 species strong, the wasp family includes many picnic favorites such as the yellow jacket and the hornet. These largely parasitic creatures have a reputation for chasing humans and lashing out with successive stings, but wasps serve the ecosystem well.
Many species of wasps are predatory in nature, feeding on hornworms and scale insects that cause millions of dollars in damages to crops. These predaceous wasps have long been cultured and used to biologically control losses to tomatoes, oranges and tobacco. They also prey on caterpillars by laying eggs on their backs. Each egg multiplies, producing hundreds of larvae that hatch and go on to kill the caterpillar. The new wasps then go out and lay eggs on other caterpillars.
Wasps as Food
All wasp species are eaten by other creatures, making them an important link in the ecosystem. Several species of dragonflies, robber and hoverflies make a meal of wasps, and larger wasps feed on smaller wasps. Many species of birds as well as skunks, badgers, bats, bears, badgers, rats and mice find wasp meat to their liking. Some of our human ancestors were known to snack on wasps as well.
As wasps feed on nectar, they pollinate plants and flowers, helping to guarantee the survival of many plant species just like bees. But because they lack the fuzzy hair that bees have, they are not as efficient as pollinators with less pollen grains sticking to their bodies as they travel among the flowers.
The native ground-nesting wasp is used to detect the presence of Emerald Ash Borers. An invasive species from Russia and China, the borer is having an adverse effect on eastern North America’s ash-dominated forests, killing trees within two years of infestation. The wasp preys on the borer by bringing the stung and paralyzed beetle back to its nest. By monitoring the wasp’s nest, forest workers are able to determine areas of possible infestation.
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