Question: With no honey and no pollination, what are wasps good for? (Asked by a wasp-annoyed column reader.)

Reply: Must be no love for wasps! I’m not fond of them myself. Wasps are not bees, although there is a yellow-jacket variety that looks similar. Wasps are very aggressive in the late summer and early fall (August through October) and can be found in nests in the evenings and feeding on garbage. Their normal diet, however, is where the good comes in.

Wasps are “parasitic.” That is, they attack and kill other insects, particularly spiders and caterpillars. This means that wasps are beneficial to farmers in controlling the caterpillars that can damage crops. They are increasingly used in natural biocontrol, as they prey on pest insects while having little impact on crops.

Some wasps get help for this control. Oddly enough, certain plants have a compound that reacts with the saliva of caterpillars on the plant. The mix emits a fragrance that attracts certain wasps, and there goes another caterpillar! Nature works in strange ways.

The female wasp has an egg-laying end (an ovipositor) which can develop a stinger with a venomous sting. Male wasps don’t have stingers. Because of this feature, female wasps are the ones assigned to protect the nest, so be careful if you stir them up. It seems as if they always choose the most inconvenient places to build their nests: garages, door entrances, etc.

If you want to get rid of your resident wasps, it is best to do so in the evenings or late at night when they are usually inactive and in their nests. I don’t know about you, but I use a can of wasp spray that shoots a stream 5 to 10 feet before knocking down the nest. Some of those female wasps may be light sleepers!

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “Curiosity will conquer fear more than bravery will.” — James Stephen

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649.