Wasps are probably one of the worst things that can happen to your summer.
Especially in California, where the weather is generally warmer than many other parts of the country, you’ll notice a flurry of wasp activity while you’re doing your summer gardening, home renovations, or outdoor barbecues.
And as we head further towards the autumn months, wasps tend to be even more aggressive, more dangerous, and therefore more likely to attack humans (who might unwittingly wander too close to their nests).
This territorial behavior, coupled with the likelihood of painful (and repeated) stinging is why folks call their local wasp exterminator to help remove nests and keep homes wasp-free.
With that in mind, let’s get to know wasps a bit better so that we, in turn, know better how to keep them under control.
What Are Wasps?
First things first: wasps are a species of flying insects that do not fit into the same category as bees or ants. They’re all members of the Hymenoptera family and the suborder Apocrita (meaning ants, bees, and wasps all have waists).
There are over a hundred thousand different species of wasp, and so you have all kinds of different traits and behaviors: some wasps are parasitic while others are predatory. Bodies of different wasp species range in size from the giant 7 centimeters long to the tiny 0.1 millimeters long. Also, not all wasps are equipped with stingers.
Just like bees, wasps are also pollinators— it’s just that they don’t do as great a job as bees do. That’s because while bees are covered in fuzz (which helps collect pollen when they hang around flowers), wasps don’t have a lot of hair.
Wasps primarily feed on nectar and as summer winds down and flowers give way to fall, they find themselves with fewer and fewer food sources. And this is why they tend to be hungrier, angrier, and more aggressive towards the end of summer.
In Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area, some of the most common wasps are yellow-jackets, paper wasps, mud daubers, sand wasps, thread-waisted wasps, and potter wasps.
Are Wasps Dangerous?
Yes, they can be. They’re mostly harmless when left alone, but you definitely have a problem when their nest is situated close to home, or worse, hidden somewhere in your house!
As mentioned, wasps can be extremely territorial, and any perceived threat to them or their nests will be met with aggressive behavior.
This can mean targeting and stinging the individual threatening their nest in massive numbers. Not only are wasp stings painful (which can result in red, swelling welts), but they can also sting repeatedly. Unlike bees, their stingers don’t tear out after the first sting, so no, you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of an angry colony of wasps trying to ward you off.
Yellowjacket wasps, in particular, are a particular source of dread for Californians, as there are many stories of actual attacks and even fatalities on poor, unsuspecting homeowners and children.
When scavenging at picnics or other outdoor meals, wasps may crawl into soda cans and can sting your lips or the inside of your mouth or throat.
Some folks even have allergic reactions to wasp stings. One specifically concerning condition involving a multiple-sting encounter is that large amounts of foreign protein and enzymes in wasp venom can cause significant amounts of tissue damage.
Red blood cells and other tissues in the body become damaged, and tissue debris and other breakdown products are carried to the kidneys, to be eliminated from the body. Too much debris and waste products can cause blockages in the kidneys, resulting in renal insufficiency or renal failure. Patients in this condition require medical intervention, which can include dialysis.
Why Do I Have Wasps?
Wasps will use just about any sheltered area to construct their nest. This means there are a lot of spots in and around your home that wasps would find safe and dry with a nearby food source (such as summer flowers and nectar-producing plants).
Wasps have two different kinds of nests: so you’d either find a hanging nest or a cavity nest. These nests can occur in any number of different places around your home. Hanging wasp’s nests may be found among trees or eaves. While cavity nests may be found on low ground cover, abandoned burrows, or worse, within your home.
Specifically, wasps might decide to build a nest in your garage, tool shed, basement, attic, or right between your walls. They had somehow found an opening and started building from there. The space in between your walls is actually ideal for wasps because they can chew on the wood and use the resulting paste to build their nests. Before you even know it, they’ve chewed all the way through to the interior and now have access inside your home!
When Are Wasps More Active?
Wasps, particularly yellow jackets, tend to be a lot more active in late summer. (Yes, we know– just in time to ruin your picnics and summer garden parties!)
Wasps feed on arachnids and a lot of pest insects, including ants, caterpillars, and other garden pests. Sometimes, they even lay their eggs on or inside other insects or spiders so that newly hatched wasp larvae can eat the poor unfortunate bug from within.
On average, the lifespan of a typical wasp is about 12-22 days. They do need to eat quite a bit, and they get crankier towards autumn as food pickings get slimmer and slimmer. So they die out during winter not because it’s cold, but because of starvation.
Queens, on the other hand, have a lifespan of about 12 months. So all they have to do is find someplace safe and warm to hibernate during winter and start a new nest when springtime arrives.
How Can An Exterminator Get Rid of Wasps?
Pest control experts will always look for telltale signs of wasp activity in and around your home. Usually, they would look for evidence of activity by taking note of where wasps would hover (typically in front of an opening of sorts) and then walking right in or coming out and flying away.
Also, nests will need to have some access to the outdoors, where the wasps can feed.
When the location of a wasp nest is confirmed (they can be very well-hidden sometimes), pesticide treatment is administered in and around the area. The goal is to prevent wasps from building a mature nest, as these would be designed to house wasp larva by the hundreds.
Preventive wasp treatments essentially make your home unappealing to the wasp queen so when it’s springtime and it’s time to scout out a location for a new nest, they’ll go away and find some other place to nest.
So when you see signs of wasp activity in and around your home, don’t hesitate to give your friendly neighborhood pest exterminators a call to check it out for you. Remember: the last thing you want is for a population of wasps to suddenly erupt from your walls and pester you, your family, and your pets!
A Final Word About Wasps
While they can be anything from a mild nuisance to a source of terror for homeowners in California, wasps do serve an important ecological function. They are predators of many insects, especially crop-eating insects.
Many species of wasps serve as a natural biocontrol of insect pest populations, especially with other common garden pests such as tomato hornworms, aphids, cabbage worms, armyworms, and strawberry leaf rollers. In turn, wasps also serve as food for many other species, like birds, and thus contribute to the food chain.