Fall brings out the aggressive nature of wasps and yellow jackets


The low-frequency roar is an unmistakable acoustic signal for anything with hearing skills. However, there are times when the menacing monotonous sound is absent and the pain is a complete surprise.

While the floating and directionless flight pattern can obscure the potential agony from the inexperienced, every physical encounter harbors the real possibility of a painful attack.

Wasps in Leon County and most other places are known for their grumpy natures and terrible retaliation when their nest is disturbed. They’re the mini-aerial realm’s chronic crank for most of the year, but fall brings out the hyper-aggressive nature of these vicious insects.

Provocation can be innocent or malicious, wasps doesn’t care. Whether an unsuspecting gardener stumbles over a nest during autumn cleaning or a malicious adolescent uses the yellow vest nest for target practice, as many wasps as available immediately strike back on the perceived perpetrator and everyone else in the immediate vicinity.

The social and in some ways anti-social diversity of these insects live in colonies, much like honeybees, and can have up to several thousand active and well-armed members. Depending on the species, they build their nests in sheltered places above the ground or below the surface.

Some wasps are omnivorous and feed on overripe fruits and carrion. Others, like the larvae of the yellow vests, consume dead insects given to the young by a legion of adults.

Sporadically, some species, such as yellow vests and hornets, invade honey beehives and steal honey. There is no professional courtesy between stinging insect species.

Like honey bees, wasp colonies are mostly made up of workers. Another similarity is that only the females have spines and know how to use them effectively. In contrast to honey bees, wasp queens only live one year.

A large part of the wasp colony dies in autumn, which increases their already dyspeptic appearance and only leaves the young mated queens alive. During this period of forced isolation, she leaves the nest to find a suitable place for the winter.

After emerging from hiding in spring, the young queens look for suitable new nesting sites. The royal insect matriarch will build a simple hickory-sized wood fiber nest and begin laying eggs for the new generation.

The queen raises the first of several wasp eggs until there are enough female workers to feed the offspring without the queen’s help. All eggs produced at this point are sterile workers who will begin to build a more sophisticated nest around their queen as the swarm grows in number.

There are also solitary wasps that live and operate alone in northern Florida. They don’t build nests, but lay their eggs on host insects, which serve as a kind of mobile kindergarten / café.

When the eggs hatch, the beetle host is the first food for the wasp larva. When these wasps are fully grown, they primarily feed on nectar and pollen.

A native wingless wasp is also found in and around Tallahassee. It is commonly known as the velvet ant or cow killer. Although it causes a painful sting, as it does with other wasps, there are no verifiable reports of livestock lethality.

Almost every species of insect pest has at least one species of wasp that it hunts or parasitizes. This presents wasps as an extremely important natural control for potentially problematic insect species.

Some wasps are increasingly being used for agricultural pest control on organic and conventional farms, as they mainly prey on pests and have practically no effects on the crops. Aside from nasty human encounters, they are very effective at torturing their assigned prey.

Just be sure to give them the space (social distancing) to work and live and they will all be better.

To learn more about this irritable insect in the cities of Tallahassee and Leon Counties, contact your nearest UF / IFAS County Extension Office or visit sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu. To read more stories from Les Harrison, visit: Outdoorauthor.com and follow me on Facebook.

The Harrisons

Les Harrison is UF / IFAS Renewal Officer Emeritus for Wakulla County.

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