Outside of spiders and possibly scorpions, nothing incites instantaneous, fearful impulses quite the way a wasp does. That’s a shame really because a wasp’s role in the ecosystem is invaluable. For one, wasps are a natural insecticide, since their primary prey are nuisance insects, like flies, mosquitoes, spiders, caterpillars, and more.
Without wasps, we would have to seriously up our use of chemical insecticides to keep the populations of nuisance insects under some semblance of control. Also, like bees, wasps are pollinators. The word “pollinator” is immediately associated with bees, yet wasps are a huge part of the pollination business.
A wholesale elimination of wasps would create a domino effect of destruction whose results are incalculable. They’re that important. Fortunately, wasps aren’t on the road to extinction. There are more types of wasps out there than the average person is aware of.
1. Scoliid Wasp
The scoliid wasp is very common in North Carolina, and it’s almost single-handedly responsible for tamping down the June beetle and invasive grub species in the state. The poison that’s injected via the scoliid wasp’s stinger is a paralytic. Once stung, the beetle becomes immobile.
The scoliid wasp then drags the paralyzed June beetle (or other, less savory grub) back to its young, where they can leisurely feast on the beetle while it’s still very much alive. June bugs are semi-problematic because they consume leaves, often the leaves of your favorite lemon or orange tree.
However, the June beetle’s predilection towards leaves is nowhere near as problematic as the larval stage. As a larva, the soon-to-be June beetle eats all the roots in your lawn grass, destroying huge patches in rapid succession. The scoliid wasp is immensely helpful in controlling this invasive species.
2. Digger Wasp
Digger wasps are fascinating to look at because they are all black and often feature a glossy sort of appearance. It gives them an insidious aesthetic vibe, though they are probably one of the least worrisome wasps on the planet (at least for people).
The same cannot be said for most of the pests in your backyard, especially aphids and small beetles. Ladybugs are nice and all, but digger wasps will happily convert them into a meal for digger wasp younglings to consume. Digger wasps also have a preference for fleas, so if you have dogs or cats, a digger wasp is your best backyard friend.
Unlike most wasps, who build paper nests in one variety or another, digger wasps are more like ants, building their nests in the soil. This creates those little “volcano” mounds frequently mistaken for small ant hills. It also ensures the digger wasps are close to the ground, where those pesky, invasive insects are.
3. Sand Wasp
Sand wasps are mostly black, with yellow patterns throughout, and these wasps’ role in the ecosystem is invaluable. Mostly seen in the summer months, right about the time the huge, lazy-flying bumble bees come out, sand wasps build their nests in the ground, just like digger wasps.
The benefit of sand wasps is the removal of insects they target for food: deer flies, house flies, fleas, mosquitoes, and biting flies. A developing sand wasp will consume up to 20 of these invasive and irritating insects before it reaches adulthood.
A big nest of sand wasps, multiplied by 20, is very effective and very natural pest control. Even better, sand wasps are not aggressive by any means. They won’t come swarming out of their nest just because you or your kids are standing nearby. They only sting when they are on the defensive. This wasp’s role in the ecosystem is as effective for people as it is harmless.
4. Spider Wasp
If you suffer from arachnophobia (many people do, so you’re not alone), the spider wasp is a must-have for your backyard environment. As their name implies, the spider wasp targets spiders. Like all prey for wasps, the spider is paralyzed, dragged back to the nest, and consumed by the spider wasp’s young.
Like digger wasps, spider wasps are entirely black (with a few variations) except for their wings, which are typically a bright orangish hue or something closer to orange-red. They’re generally non-aggressive unless you give them a reason to be.
Many spider wasps grow to immense proportions, at least in wasp terms, often reaching 2″ in length. That’s quite a frightening prospect for the casual observer. Another interesting aspect of the spider wasp is how it attacks a spider. First, it stings the spider in the face, generally between the fangs. Second, the spider wasp swings around and stings the spider in the abdomen.
5. Potter Wasp
This wasp looks like a traditional yellow jacket, with a head and abdomen connected by a long, thin tube. It’s as if the abdomen is a separate body, only dragged along behind the head like a trailer hitch on a car. The vibrant yellow and blacks of the potter wasp give way to visions of yellow jackets.
Fortunately, they aren’t yellow jackets. Like most wasps, they get through their short, adult life by feeding on nectar and pollen. Potter wasps derive their names from the way they form their nests. A potter wasp nest is a clay construct, often placed underneath the eave of a home’s exterior, shaped like a pot with an entrance hole on one end.
Potter wasps tend to feed their young the caterpillars that wreak havoc on your backyard plants or in your garden. Though a potter wasp rarely reaches an inch in length, it can tackle much larger caterpillars and drag them back to the nest for feeding time.
6. Cuckoo Wasp
Also known as jewel wasps, these colorful, metallic-looking wasps are never confused with a wasp. In other words, if you see a cuckoo wasp, the likelihood of you associating it with wasps is slim to none. They don’t look like our traditional idea of a wasp’s aesthetics.
Cuckoo wasps are metallic green, with reflective sheens of orange, red, blue, and black across their bodies. Their black eyes are huge, like a housefly, and they have tiny, hairy antennae that curve around the top of each eye like an eyebrow.
Cuckoo wasps engage in what is called “brood parasitism.” A cuckoo wasp will lay its eggs in the home of its prey. When the cuckoo wasp eggs hatch, the young feed on the prey’s eggs. When the prey comes home, it has enough time to wonder what in the world happened to all of its eggs before the young cuckoo wasps eat it too.
This is a difficult wasp to support. Yes, yellowjackets are wasps. Yes, they will leave their nest if disturbed in any way and chase you for up to a mile. If you dive in a lake or a pool, they will simply hover in place until you come up for air, then swarm your unprotected head.
Of all the wasps on this list, yellowjackets are probably the most dangerous. They are an aggressive species of wasp and will tolerate no disturbances to their home. Fortunately, they also support your local ecosystem by filtering out all the other annoying insects and caterpillars, especially the ones that target your garden and plants.
Yellowjackets range up to a mile from their nest, stinging, paralyzing, and dragging back any of the aforementioned creatures that make for a suitable brunch for their young. So, if you have an infestation of yellowjackets, it’s decision-making time. Risk injury to yourself or let them do their job? A wasp’s role in the ecosystem is not always as cut and dry as it seems.
8. Mason Wasp
The mason wasp (like the potter wasp) uses mud to construct their homes. A mason wasp is also fairly easy to identify. Its body features mostly large, black bands, with pale yellow serving as a secondary, complementary color. Their wings are completely black, as well as their heads.
In America, the four-toothed mason wasp is the most well-known. It doesn’t have four teeth, just color variations on the front of its face that look that way. Mason wasps, also like potter wasps, identify and target beetles and caterpillars more than anything else.
Like all wasps, the mason wasp will swoop in, deliver its paralyzing sting, and fly its immobile prey back to the nest to feed its young. Once the mason wasp has enough food in its lair, it will create an end cap to seal the entryway, allowing its young an additional layer of protection and privacy as they engage in their feast.
9. Gall Wasp
The gall wasp is not the type of wasp that’s immediately identifiable as a wasp, at least not by the average person. They are very tiny and reddish-brown. Their wings are the same size as their body and resemble a textured, thin paper that’s semi-transparent.
The gall wasp builds its tiny nest on the leaves of oak trees, and if one of them stings you, the sting tends to linger longer than most wasp stings. There are 800 types of gall wasps in the United States, and all of them target smaller nuisance bugs, such as mosquitoes, small biting flies, and fleas.
Their tiny nests are immediately recognizable. They’re orblike and generally a pale yellow, streaked with white. The nests almost look like a small type of fruit, though it’s anything but a fruit. It’s the egg itself that develops into a nest of sorts.
Once a gall wasp lays its egg on an oak leaf, the egg forces a reaction from the tree. That reaction is the development of a tiny home while the egg develops.
10. Cicada Killer Wasp
We saved the best for last with the cicada killer wasp. As the name suggests, this wasp has a thing for cicadas and not in a good way (at least not for the cicada). There are four species of cicada killer wasps out there, and all four are the bane of a cicada’s existence.
These wasps look like traditional wasps, with a red-orange body, banded in black. Their eyes are the largest feature of their head and are also an orange-red color. Their sting is exclusively for cicadas. is often said that the sting of a cicada killer wasp is hardly noticeable by humans.
The cicada killer wasp grows to 2″ in length, a necessity for tackling cicadas, which are often quite large themselves. This wasp’s role in the ecosystem is very obvious, and it is excellent at performing its job. They can be counterproductive, however, since they tend to build their nests in people’s lawns, damaging the underlying roots.
For those who assumed that wasps were nothing more than the angry stepchildren of the more necessary bees, it’s clear to see the immense benefits that wasps bring to the table. They can effectively and quickly clear your entire yard of insects most people consider a serious nuisance.
If you hate mosquitoes, garden-gulping caterpillars, fleas, ticks, spiders, mosquitoes, house flies, and biting flies, you should open your yard to wasps and stop driving them away (unless you’re dealing with yellowjackets or wasps of a similar, aggressive nature).
They are also efficient pollinators. Not as good as bees, mind you, but efficient nonetheless. With that being said, a wasp’s role in the ecosystem is twofold — an effective pollinator and a very efficient, natural pest control system.
Summary of 10 Types of Wasps and Their Roles in the Ecosystem
Here’s a recap of the 10 wasp types we looked at and how they affect the ecosystem in their habitats.
|Number||Wasp||Role in the Ecosystem|
|1||Scoliid Wasp||Almost single-handedly responsible for tamping down the June beetle and invasive grub species in North Carolina|
|2||Digger Wasp||Eats aphids, small beetles, and fleas that may cause infestation|
|3||Sand Wasp||Consumes deer flies, house flies, fleas, mosquitoes, and biting flies|
|4||Spider Wasp||Targets spiders and feeds them to its young|
|5||Potter Wasp||Feeds caterpillars to its young|
|6||Cuckoo Wasp||Engages in “brood parasitism”: lays its eggs in the home of its prey and when the eggs hatch, the young feed on the prey’s eggs and the prey|
|7||Yellowjacket||Filters out insects and caterpillars, especially ones that target your garden and plants|
|8||Mason Wasp||Eats beetles and caterpillars|
|9||Gall Wasp||Targets smaller nuisance bugs, such as mosquitoes, small biting flies, and fleas|
|10||Cicada Killer Wasp||Kills and consumes cicadas|
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