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Should Growers Befriend Wasps?

Posted: March 31, 2017

Small fruit and vegetable growers understand the role that honeybees, bumblebees, and solitary bees play in pollination of crops.
Paper wasps typically build their nest in high protected structures such as house or barn eaves.

Paper wasps typically build their nest in high protected structures such as house or barn eaves.

The rare sting (more from the social bees than solitary) is a trade-off we are all willing to take. Should growers be as accommodating with paper wasps?

There are some similarities between these social insects; paper wasps, honeybees, and bumblebees. All have a queen whose main role is to lay eggs while the workers (also female), build the majority of the nest and collect food.

One major difference these three social insects have is diet. The honeybee and bumblebee obtain their protein source from pollen. Their hairy bodies are built to collect pollen as they move from flower to flower. Look closely at a paper wasp and notice the minimal amount of hair on the body parts. The conclusion could be made that they are not big pollen collectors.

The protein sources for paper wasps are caterpillars. The literature states that some colonies (50-100 wasps) can feast upon 2000 caterpillars. North Carolina states that tests have shown that enhancing paper wasp populations in tobacco fields reduced caterpillar populations in the crop. All farmers are encouraged to practice IPM, part of which encourages the use of biological control. Why shouldn’t growers encourage these voracious predators onto their property?

The best way to have a healthy population of paper wasps in the field is to understand their housing situation. Honeybees and bumblebees like to build their nest in protected areas; tree cavities and ground burrows respectively. Wasps will build their nests in the open, underneath a protected area. Most commonly, these can often be seen under house/barn eaves. The higher the nest location, the more attractive it seems for the wasps.

Unless a paper wasp nest is close to human activity such as under a porch eave and directly above a screen door, let them be. They really only become aggressive when activity takes place within a foot or two of their nest.

To take advantage of these beneficial insects, consider building a wasp next box. North Carolina State University has some simple directions and suggestions to building structures for around the farm. Because these will not be as high as a nest in barn/house eves, locate it away from an area of heavy human activity.

Contact Information

Tom Butzler
  • Extension Educator
Phone: 570-726-0022