You might live in a row house, an apartment house, a single-family dwelling. You might have a carport or outbuildings. You might be buttoning up a concession stand for the winter and moving the picnic benches under cover for the winter.
And then … you see it. Feel it. A wasp or hornet nest, up in the corner of a window jamb or down under a bench. It might even be in a porch light fixture or a parking meter. It might feel like dried mud. Vaguely resemble a chunk of honeycomb, minus the honey. Look like a football (more or less), built of layer upon layer of flaky gray papery stuff.
At least that gray papery stuff didn’t effect reading the meter. Photo Way Out In The Margi
You don’t see any wasps flying in or out. But just to be sure, you get the wasp spray and douse that nest but good. And hope you killed them all, because the last thing you want is wasps knocking at the door this year or next.
But… nobody’s home. It’s not summer anymore. The old queen has died. A newly fertilized queen, replete with eggs, is doing the insect equivalent of hibernation and taken refuge beneath a piece of bark somewhere.
And the rest of the hive? Each member has died a solitary death. Not one is holed up in the nest, waiting to help the new queen clean house, make necessary repairs, and set up shop come spring. Even knowing this, maybe you’re inspired to knock down the hive and stomp on it, just to be sure. Besides, you don’t want wasps nesting under the picnic benches ever again.
Knocking the nest down is all well and good, but it’s rare that a queen would repopulate it anyway. She wants a fresh start. If come spring you see the occasional wasp hanging out on an old hive, know that it’s gathering material for new digs somewhere else. If you’re a paper wasp, for instance, it’s easier to chew that old nest into a mushy pulp for brand new paper than to strip wood from a twig and start from scratch.
A summer home made of mud, off to a good start. Photo Harper College.
Yes, it’s lucky no one handled that nest under the picnic bench or fire-escape railing or any of a hundred other places that nest might have been.
But should you see some wasps next spring and suddenly this story comes to mind, take a look around you. See any signs of tiny new nests taking shape? Are they high under an eave and far from anyplace you could get to with ease? Or is one right next to the entryway to your home? We’ll have a brand-new post for you with brand-new info on wasps, their nests, and what to do about them.
PUBLISHED ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2017 | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County
KEMPTVILLE, ONTARIO. — On my twice-monthly drive on Highway 416 between Prescott and Ottawa, I pass the sign for Kemptville, a town of about 3,500 which lies roughly 40 km north of the St. Lawrence. It has a rich history, and no doubt is a fine place to live, but one of these days I need to stop there to verify that Kemptville is in fact a village of surpassing tidiness. (It’s Exit 34 in case anyone wants to take some field notes and get back to me.)
Most of us would prefer not to live in totally unkempt surroundings, but Western culture may have taken sanitation a bit too far. Claims that cleanliness is next to godliness have yet to be proven by science, but research does indicate a neat, well-coiffed landscape is bad for bees and other pollinators.
Dandelions are an essential early-season flowers for our 416 species of wild bees in New York.
With all due respect to honeybees, they are seldom required to produce fruits and vegetables. Please don’t spread this around, as I do not want to tarnish their public image. But the fact is that wild bees, along with other insects and the odd vertebrate here and there, do a bang-up job pollinating our crops, provided there are enough types of wild plants (i.e., messiness) around to keep them happy for the rest of the season.
As landscapes become neater and less diverse, wild bees cannot find enough natural foods to keep them in the neighborhood for the few weeks of the year we’d like them to wallow around in our apple or cucumber flowers. In sterile, highly manipulated environments like almond groves and suburban tracts, honeybees are critical.
Dr. Scott McArt, a bee specialist at Cornell’s Dyce Laboratory for Bee Research, says there are an estimated 416 species of wild bees in New York State. When I estimate stuff, the numbers tend to be less exact, such as “more than three,” but I’ve met Dr. McArt, and I trust him on this count. Dr. McArt is quick to point out that wild critters take care of things just fine in most places. He has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. My object is not to malign honeybees, but to point out that if we learn to live with a bit more unkemptness, we will improve the health of wild bees, wildflowers, food crops, and ourselves in the process.
Dr. McArt has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. There was a presentation about it at the 2015 Pollinator Conference.
Messiness also takes pressure off managed honeybees, an increasingly fragile species, by providing them a rich source of wild, non-sprayed nectar and pollen. Orchardists do not spray insecticides when their crops are flowering because they know it will kill bees. But many fungicides, which are not intended to kill insects, are sprayed during bloom. One of the unexpected findings of research done through the Dyce Lab is that non-lethal sprays like fungicides are directly linked with the decline of both wild bees and honeybees. But banning a particular chemical is not a panacea—the situation is far more complex than that. What is needed to save bees of all stripes is a real change in mindset regarding landscape aesthetics.
This garden at Bethpage State Park Golf Course is an excellent example of entropy. Primarily established with native wildflowers, there are also a significant number of volunteers. NYS IPM staff found over 100 different species of insects, primarily bees and wasps, taking advantage of the bounty.
Increasing the entropy on one’s property is as easy as falling off a log (which of course is a literal example of increased entropy). Pollinators need plants which bloom at all different times, grow at various heights, and have a multitude of flower shapes and structures. For greater abundance and diversity of wild flowering plants, all you need to do is stop. Stop constantly mowing everything. Choose some places to mow once a year in the late fall, and others where you will mow every second third year. Stop using herbicides, both the broadleaf kind and the non-selective type.
Before you know it, elderberry and raspberry will spring up. Woody plants like dogwoods and viburnums will start to appear. Coltsfoot and dandelions, essential early-season flowers, will come back. Asters and goldenrod (which by the way do not cause allergies), highly important late-season sources of nectar and pollen, will likewise return.
Despite their unassuming flowers, Virginia creeper attracts a large number of pollinating bees and wasps. Photo: Joellen Lampman
Wild grape, virgin’s bower, Virginia creeper and wild cucumber will ramble around, without any help whatsoever. However, you may choose to help this process along by sowing perennial or self-seeding wildflowers like purple coneflower, foxglove, bee balm, mint, or lupine. Even dandelion is worth planting. You’ll not only get more wild pollinators, you’ll also see more birds. Redstarts, tanagers, orioles, hummingbirds, catbirds, waxwings and more will be attracted to such glorious neglect. No feeders required.
I strongly advocate for more chaos in the plant department, even if the local Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Board frowns upon it. Remember, just because you’re an unkempt community doesn’t mean you have to change the name of your town.
It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! — Mark Twain
For IPMers who answer homeowner questions, what many people want in spring is an answer to dandelions. These in-your-face, bright bursts of yellow are speckling lawns statewide. Homeowners that aren’t yet convinced how important these early flowers are to pollinators want them gone — now. The bad news (or good, depending on your perspective) is: it’s not the best time to do anything. The best time to control broad-leafed weeds is late summer and fall. (We covered this a couple of years ago: Dandelions – Love Them or Leave Them, but Don’t Spray Them.)
We have exactly the opposite problem with wasps and yellow jackets. Now is the time to prevent later problems because their populations are so low in spring.
Identification is important! Is it a bee? Wasp? Bald-faced hornet? This carpenter bee will be managed much differently than other types of stinging insects.
Last autumn a homeowner had “a swarm of bees” take residence in the attic. A pest management professional removed the nest and sprayed an insecticide. When “the bees” were noted this spring, the homeowner worried that they were back for a repeat performance.
The homeowner admitted that he didn’t know if it was bees, yellow jackets, or paper wasps. Identification matters when deciding how to deal with a large active population (you can find pictures of different types of stinging insects here and a video here). But no matter what type of insect is currently scoping out his house, the IPM solution is the same. Find the opening and seal it properly. (Unless it’s a carpenter bee. For more information on them, check out our Get Rid of Carpenter Bees? Yes, Please! fact sheet.)
This soffit was likely damaged when a ladder slipped during a routine gutter cleaning.
In the case of our nervous homeowner, a damaged soffit provides access for all sorts of critters. (The soffit connects the outside wall with the overhang on your roof.) Forget stinging insects. The 1/4″ to 1/2″gap is large enough for bats and mice to enter. (Mice are good climbers.) This is relatively easy to repair by reseating the soffit flush with the bottom. To learn more about sealing openings, you can’t go wrong with the NYS IPM publication Beasts Begone! A Practitioner’s Guide to IPM in Buildings.
When yellow jacket nests are this small, there’s little risk in removing them manually.
Along with inspecting your house and outbuildings for openings that provide access to stinging insects, take the time you’d have spent on dandelions to watch for queens starting new nests under decks and eaves. These small nests can be easily removed using a broom handle or stream of water. (We covered this last year: Inspect for Wasps and Avoid the Sting.)
Let’s start with a short pre-blog quiz: which of these native insects pollinate plants?
all of the above — plus flies, wasps, butterflies, moths
The answer? #4. If you left out flies and wasps because they freak you out … well, just know there’s scads of different wasps and flies — not to mention bees, moths, and beetles — that’ll pollinate your posies, not to mention your apples and pears, your melons and cukes.
Male carpenter bees seem to help protects nests. Get too close and they’ll act aggressive — even though they don’t have stingers. Females could sting but won’t unless you start handling them.
Let’s look at bees first — native bees! Because the natives outnumber honey bees (originally imported from Europe) in apple orchards. A NYS IPM-funded study from 2009 – 2011 found 102 species of native bees busily pollinating apple flowers — and Cornell’s Bryan Danforth, who led that study, estimates that the native bees outperform honeybees by 200 to 300 percent. Yes, honeybees have a value-added bonus: honey rang the registers in New York at over $10 million in 2015. But if apples or pears (or blueberries or strawberries) are your crop of concern, look to the natives.
Think fruit growers are the only ones to benefit? Dairy farmers take note — leaf-cutter bees pollinate your alfalfa, according to Cornell’s Emma Mullen at NYS IPM’s pollinator conference in 2015. And while many vegetable crops are wind- or gravity-pollinated, key crops like melons, squash, pumpkins and cukes need a pollinators’ help.
Syrphid flies? Harmless. This one’s looking for a flower to pollinate.
So … what about flies? More than meets the eye. Finding New York-specific info is a struggle, so let’s just note that vast numbers of fly species all over the world make their living off nectar. Spreading pollen around is a sideline for them but critical for us. In fact, ecologist Alison Parker (University of Toronto) modeled how bees and flies visit flowers — and showed that lots of bees might not always benefit the flowers because bees take so much pollen. But in this computer model, pollination increased with each fly visit.
Not only that, but with some (perhaps many), their larvae serve as biocontrols for crop-damaging aphids. Most nectar-guzzling flies resemble bees or wasps — after all, if you’re harmless but you look like something that defends yourself with a stinger, you’re more likely to be left alone.
What about beetles, moths, butterflies? Beetles were the very first insect pollinators, with ancient evolutionary origins — and according to the US Forest Service, a global pollination rate of 88 percent. The butterflies and moths? Ranking their value is a tough call, but hey — they have a job; they show up. Actually, those second-shift moths way outnumber day-duty butterflies. But you don’t often see them at work, so we don’t know how much good they do, especially since sometimes their larvae can be troublesome for certain plants.
How about wasps? If you’ve done enough noodling around online to see that wasps do little in the way of pollination because their bodies are hairless, unable to capture and carry much pollen, keep looking. No, they’re not as competent as bees. But many do have hairy bodies, and they do help. Plus they’re great garden predators, tackling all sorts of pests.
Bringing it all together, a NYS IPM-funded project now underway at the State University of New York at Cobleskill will evaluate the efficacy of different native plant combinations in attracting native pollinators of every stripe and color — and invite visitors to view the farm and orchard demonstration plots to learn more.
What to worry about? Well, yes, the big bruisers in the pollination game often have stingers, and we don’t like being stung — but that’s for another post. And of course there’s the issue of bee health and bee declines — again, for another post. No, there’s a couple of somethings that over time could take a toll on any number of critters and plants, and we’re just beginning to wrap our arms around them. One: the impact that changing climates could have on pollinators. Not that we understand the dynamics well. The other: lost and fragmented habitats.
If you go back to Emma Mullen’sslides, you’ll see that bumble bees, for one, are unable to track climate change. And they are not alone. You’ll also find references for habitat loss and fragmentation and if you’re so inclined, you can watch the video of her talk.
More than enough info for now, no? Stay tuned — this is a perennial topic.
June 5, 2015
by Matt Frye Comments Off on Inspect for Wasps and Avoid the Sting
Yellowjackets, bald-faced hornets and paper wasps are stinging insects that nest on or near structures. While colony sizes start small, the population of stinging insects in nests grows over time and can result in hundreds to thousands of individuals in the case of yellowjackets. Whereas management of large nests requires the assistance of a professional, starter nests can be easily knocked down, repeatedly if necessary, to discourage future nesting. Here are some steps to inspecting for wasps to avoid the sting!
1. Inspection: starting in early June, weekly walks around the perimeter of your property or facility can be used to identify the start of stinging insect nests. This might include paper wasps, which create an open-comb nest, or yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets that create nests wrapped in a papery envelope.
2. Removal: early nests may only contain a few individuals. These can be knocked down with a pole or by spraying with a hose from a safe distance. It is advised that you wear thick clothing, and conduct work at night using indirect light (do not shine a beam of light directly at the nest). Red filtered light will not be detected by wasps.
3. Extermination: Once nests are on the ground, stomp on them to kill any adults or larvae that are inside.
4. Repeat: if queens escape, they may return to rebuild the nest somewhere nearby. However, repeated removal of the nest will ultimately discourage wasps from nesting there.
Note: some yellowjacket species will nest in wall voids, and you will see wasps flying in and out of the space during your inspection. A vacuum can be used to reduce the number of wasps that nest in wall voids, as shown in this video.
October 24, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Critters Can Do — Match the Pest and What It Does
This wasp helps control pests while doing adjunct duty as a pollinator. Photo courtesy Ward Upham, Kansas State University, Bugwood.org.
This chrysanthemum leaf-miner is the larvae of a fly-family pest. Photo courtesy Central Science Laboratory, Harpenden Archive, Bugwood.org.
Where the links will take you:
Some large stinging wasps eat crop pests; others help pollinate them. Some do both.
Yes, different researchers say different things. Just know that cockroaches can survive without food for a couple of weeks and maybe much longer. (At need, “food” could include wallpaper paste, envelope glue, and more.)
“For an aphid, a raindrop is something like what a refrigerator would be like falling on us,” said researcher Jeremy McNeil, an entomologist and chemical ecologist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.
Fleas can live a long time inside the cocoon they pupated in — until they sense a host nearby.
Follow the link to a fun, one-minute video of a fat mouse scrambling through a tiny hole.
Their name (they dig mines, as it were) gives them away — but you’d be surprised at how many different sorts of insects have larvae that burrow through something as thin as a leaf.
April 30, 2013
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Review Your Balance Sheet (aka Better Late Than … )
… Never. This post was slated to go live the same day Uncle Sam started surcharging tardy tax returns. Then — human error took over.
You don’t have to step back in time, though, for this post to help you — it’s as relevant now as it was on April 15. And it’ll stay relevant year-round. Still, as with so many IPM tactics, the sooner you start the better.
******************** and now for the post:
While Uncle Sam is busy reviewing your 2012 balance sheet, why not take a close look at your IPM 2012 “balance sheet”: your notes or scouting records? Sure, last year’s pest diary can’t predict what will hammer you this year. Still — other than new pestson the prowl, the pool of potential malcontents doesn’t differ much from year to year. You can learn a lot from reviewing which pests harassed you most (or gave you a break).
corn rootworm: unwelcome guest
Especially — if your records say what conditions tended to make problems worse. Did pests blow in on storm fronts from points south; were fields too wet too late; did Jack Frost leave a calling card when you least wanted it?
Conversely, your records could show which growing conditions hammered pests on your behalf.
With all that as your backdrop, what did you do about troubling pests? How well did your tactics work? What did you learn; what could you build on (or do differently) this year? If your records go back several years (a decade would be gravy), you’ve got lots of good material to draw on for evidence-based, least-toxic decisions about what to do when nature throws you a wild card.
onion thrips: sneak attack
Whether you’re a farmer, landscaper, groundskeeper, or gardener, we’re right there to suggest what cards to play. Tune into our timely pest forecasts, trap networks, and field reports to get a heads-up on what’s headed your way. And tweak the cultural and scouting practices that — for instance — favor healthy plants that shrug off disease or let you know that a pest’s natural enemies are about to take command.
IPM helps you make those evidence-based decisions — decisions that emphasize, for instance, resistant plant varieties, sanitation, the right nutrients at the right time, or pheromone traps that act like “come-hither” baits for pests otherwise intent on eating your crops. Prevention, in a word.
And while you’re at it — why not review our research reports to see what we’re learning? Example: maybe your records show you spent $60± per acre on preventive fungicides for field corn — fungicides that, according to belief, also promote higher yields. Or do they? We did the work and the math on a real-world farm and we’re thinking — not so fast. Because in this case, the farmer would take a hit of about $40 per acre on sprays that didn’t really improve yields all that much.
Your records are just as valuable for both pests, inside or out, at the schools,
yellowjackets are great pollinators and predators — at a distance
warehouses, concession stands, or rental properties you care for. Maybe last fall you saw way too many yellowjackets at the dumpster — but you can take steps early to prevent more of the same. Similarly, you’ll want to scout early whether it’s ants, stink bugs, cockroaches or mice knocking at your door.
The operative word: early. Which is why this review matters so much. Because late may as well be never.