What Do Wasps Eat?

Why are wasps so active in fall?

Wasps, like bees, play different roles within their colony. Over time adult wasps have developed a strange reciprocal relationship with the larvae they care for. They each produce food for the other. As the nest goes dormant in fall, wasps become hungrier and more active in order to fend for themselves.

It’s not just you: wasps really are significantly more active in fall than they tend to be in spring or summer. And they can be more aggressive than usual! If you’ve ever wondered why it seems like you run into more wasps in the fall, we can explain. Here’s what you should know about what wasps eat and “the season of the wasp,” along with what you can do about it.

Why are wasps more aggressive in fall?

During the summer, wasps have a singular focus: feeding and protecting their colonies. Adults spend summer searching for food and bringing it back to the nest for larval wasps to eat. This insect-heavy summer diet consists primarily of:

A wasp feeds from a raspberry
  • Ants
  • Bees
  • Beetles
  • Aphids
  • Spiders
  • Fruit
  • Honey

While adult wasps hunt and kill to bring food back to the hive, they themselves only eat sugars, like those found in fruit, sap and honey. Strangely, it’s only the larvae that are carnivorous.

Meanwhile, the larvae eat the hunted and chopped-up insects and produce a nectar for the adults. This fuels the hunters, so they’ll have the energy to continue finding food. As young wasps grow up, the queen continuously fertilizes eggs. This cycle ensures that there are always enough adult wasps, larvae–and nectar–to keep the colony going.

When summer becomes fall, the queen shuts down the nest and stops fertilizing eggs. No new larvae means no new nectar for adults. Instead, the last generation of larvae grow up and have to hunt for food on their own. To replace their beloved larval nectar, wasps seek out foods with more sugar than usual. They’ll fly further, stay out longer, and guard their spoils more aggressively. In other words, the wasps you run into this fall are hangry.

What do wasps eat in fall?

Larval wasp nectar is rich in sugar and carbohydrates. In fall, wasps need to find a way to replace those sugars and carbohydrates by altering their diets. To accomplish this, wasp diets become quite varied. They’ll consume fruit, honey, nectar and small insects but also:

  • Garbage
  • Sugary snacks
  • Soda
  • Meat

You’ll probably see a lot of wasps crashing your picnic or gathering around your garbage dumpster this fall. Human food and garbage is often a great source of sugar and carbohydrates.

Different types of wasp species have different food preferences. Paper wasps ingest wood and wood pulp to build their nests. Mud dauber wasps have been known to target and hunt spiders. Yellowjackets will eat the same types of meat humans do if they can get their hands on it. Whatever the particular wasps near you want, just keep in mind that they’ll want more of it this fall. 

Are wasps dangerous during fall?

The main damage a wasp inflict is psychological. Human beings see their nests and immediately panic. Wasp stings hurt, and when they swarm, wasps can inflict a significant or even dangerous amount of pain. Unlike bees, wasps can sting repeatedly and are more inclined to attack you in fall than they are during the summer. 

If you run into a wasp between September and November, try to keep your distance. Move away from the wasp slowly and steadily. Don’t make sudden movements, lunge or throw something at the wasp, or otherwise react aggressively. 

If you are stung by a wasp, keep the wound clean and use a cold compress for relief. You can check Healthline for more information about what to do for a wasp sting.

How to get rid of wasps in the fall

There are a number of ways to keep wasps out of your home or business during the fall. Start by: 

A swarming nest of wasps inside a wooden hole.
  • Watch for nests. Wasps usually build their nests in lofty, inaccessible, covered areas. Around homes, they’re common on roof eaves, rafters, lofts, or in garages or sheds. By fall, wasp’s nests will be large and established. Most wasp’s nests are built of regurgitated wood pulp and look like paper or wood. If you see a wasp’s nest, do not attempt to remove it yourself. Not only is this dangerous, but it will also likely be ineffective. Instead, call in the pros. Removing a wasp’s nest from your property is the best way to reduce wasp presence near you. 
  • Limit their access to your food. Wasps are all about food in fall. If they can’t get food near you, they’ll have to find it elsewhere. Secure your trash cans, clean up outdoor spills, and avoid eating meals outdoors during fall. The harder you make it for wasps to eat near you, the fewer wasps you’ll have to deal with.
  • Clean up yard debris regularly. This is a good tip for all deterring all pests, not just wasps. Pests use yard debris as a way to hide as they approach your home. If you clean up yard debris like leaves regularly, you’ll make your yard far less appealing to potential pests. Proper lawn care in fall makes a big difference when it comes to pest prevention.

What do wasps do in winter?

By November you should be seeing the last signs of any wasps in your neighborhood. For better or worse, the reality is: most wasps don’t survive the winter.

After their heroic push to locate new foods and survive the fall, most wasps die off. The only members of the colony to survive are the females who will go on to breed and become queens in the following year. These few royals will hibernate over winter and remerge in the spring to start their dynasty in a new nest.

How to get rid of a wasp nest 

Wasps can be scary, especially during fall. If you suspect you have a wasp problem or see a nest, call the team at Griffin Pest immediately. We’ll send a certified pest technician out to assess the situation and apply an integrated pest management plan. Enjoy all seasons without the fear of upsetting hungry wasps.

What’s The Difference Between a Yellow Jacket and a Wasp?

German yellow jacket (Vespula germanica) perched on a wooden board

Yellow jackets are actually the common name of a particular type of wasp. Wasps from the Vespula and Dolichovespula genera are called yellow jackets in the US. Yellow jacket species are smaller than other wasps but more aggressive. They’re more likely to sting than other wasps, but their stings hurt less.

If yellow jackets are a kind of wasp, then why do they have a different name? Why have you heard different things about both types of wasp? Well, despite being part of the same family, wasps and yellow jackets have several important differences. Here’s what those differences are, why they matter, and to tell wasps and yellow jackets apart:

What are wasps and yellow jackets?

Wasps are considered any insects in the Hymenoptera order that aren’t considered bees or ants. Whereas bees feed on flower nectar, wasps are predators that feed on other insects. At a glance, wasps and yellow jackets look and behave very similarly. Only experts could tell the species apart at a glance. To really understand the differences, you have to understand what each of them are:

Wasps

Polistes dominulus European Paper Wasp on a wooden board

The most common wasps in Michigan are the common paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus) and European paper wasp (Polistes dominulus). Wasps are inch long, black flying insects with bright yellow markings along their bodies. Common and European paper wasps belong to the Polistinae subfamily of wasps. Polistinae wasps are eusocial, meaning they live together in colonies. Colonies usually consist of 20 to 75 adult wasps inhabiting a single 3 to 10 inch nest.

The term “paper” wasps refers to the paper-like appearance of Polistinae wasp’s colony nests. The wasps build nests by chewing up wood into a paper-like pulp and then molding it. Paper wasps tend to stick their nests to existing structures such as roofing overhangs or tree branches. Colonies become most active in the late summer and early fall, which is their mating season. Paper wasps are not very aggressive, but they will defend their nest from perceived threats.

Yellow jackets

Vespula maculifrons Eastern yellow jacket on a pink flower

The most common yellow jackets in Michigan are the German yellow jacket (Vespula germanica), Baldfaced hornet (Dolichovespula macalata), and Eastern yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons). Yes, the Baldfaced hornet is actually a yellow jacket, not a hornet (we know it’s confusing). They’re slightly smaller than paper wasps and usually measure around ½ to ¾ inches. They look very similar to wasps, with black bodies and yellow or white striped markings. Yellow jackets tend to look slightly more stocky than wasps.

Like paper wasps, yellow jackets are eusocial and build their nests out of reconstituted wood pulp. Yellow jacket colonies and nests tend to be much larger than paper wasp colonies, however. Some colonies could contain up to 15,000 individual yellow jackets. Consequently their nests are much larger, as well. The predators feed on insects, but they’re also attracted to human garbage, especially if its sugary or protein-rich. Yellow jackets are also more aggressive than their wasp counterparts.

How can I tell them apart?

The easiest way to tell paper wasps and yellow jackets apart is to watch their behavior. Paper wasps are relatively non-disruptive. They build their small nests onto high structures such as overhangs, roofing, chimneys, or tree branches. Wasps focus on hunting insects, so they’ll rarely approach you. If you leave wasps alone, they’ll probably leave you alone. You may not even notice there’s a wasp’s nest near you until late summer or fall.

Yellow jackets are far more disruptive. They build their nests closer to the ground in sheltered, dark nooks and crannies. They’re also more attracted to garbage and human food than wasps. You’ll see them gathering around sugary liquids, meat, or rotting materials. Yellow jackets range further from their nests and defend themselves more aggressively than paper wasps. Yellow jacket colonies are also simply larger than paper wasp colonies. If you see a lot of wasps around your home, then those wasps are probably yellow jackets.

How can I keep both away from my home?

Never attempt to remove a wasp or yellow jacket’s nest from your property yourself. Colonies may sting you a dangerous (and painful!) number of times if they perceive you as a threat. Wasps and yellow jackets both build their nests in environments where they can easily access food and shelter. If you can keep them from getting food and shelter near you, they’ll find it somewhere else.

Wasps build nests around nooks and crannies between walls, tree hollows, branches, siding, chimneys, and gutters. Yellow jacket nests build lower, around decks, porches, the undersides of sheds, or even bushes and trees. Seal up gaps and cracks whenever possible. Keep other building sites as exposed as possible. Tie your garbage dumpster and bins closed, and keep the garbage inside in plastic bags. Remove other insect infestations or problems proactively to keep wasps from finding food near you.

 

If you have a wasp or yellow jacket’s nest on your property, give Griffin Pest Solutions a call right away. Our experts can safely, humanely, and effectively remove the nest. We’ll also help you figure out how to keep wasps or yellow jackets from bothering you again. No matter what kind of wasp has infested your property, Griffin is your pest solution.

The Wasp That Kills Black Widows

blue mud wasp close-up

Black widow spiders are probably the scariest pest living in Michigan. They’re surprisingly common, highly venomous, and they’ll live anywhere they want. We understand freaking about them a little, especially if you just learned they’re here. Where life finds a way to create something terrifying like the black widow, however, life also finds a way to balance it out.

That’s where the blue mud wasp comes in. Believe it or not, blue mud wasps hunt and eat black widow spiders. A lot. In fact, they’re considered one of the black widow’s primary predators. And they’re just as if not more common than the black widows here in Michigan! Here’s the lowdown on blue mud wasps, including how they hunt black widows and why.

What is a blue mud wasp?

What is a blue mud wasp?

The blue mud wasp (Chalybion californicum) or “blue mud dauber” is a species of mud dauber wasps. “Mud dauber” is the common name for species of wasps in the families Sphecidae or Crabronidae. The name references the fact that the wasps build their small nests in mud. The blue mud wasps’ name references its bodies’ distinctive, metallic blue-black sheen. Male blue mud wasps are around ⅜ to ½ inches long; females are between ¾ to ⅞ inches long.

Like other mud daubers, blue mud wasps are solitary wasps. They actually steal their mud nests from other mud dauber species such as Sceliphron camentarium. After replacing Sceliphron camentarium larvae in the nest with their own, blue mud wasps tend to their larvae themselves. Blue wasp larvae resemble most maggots: they’re around an inch long, cream-colored, legless, and defenseless. Adult wasps tend to the maggots by dropping food into the nest continuously.

Does a blue mud wasp really kill black widows?

Does a blue mud wasp really kill black widows?

To feed their offspring, adult blue mud wasps need to keep finding and bringing food back to the nest. Well, believe it or not, the food blue mud wasps bring back to their young… is usually black widows! Adult blue mud wasps continuously hunt down, paralyze, and carry black widows back to their offspring. The wasp uses a specialized stinger to immobilize the black widow, rendering it defenseless so larvae can eat it.

Blue mud wasps follow a very clever routine to capture their prey. First, they seek out and tap on a black widow’s spider web. Feeling the vibrations of would-be prey, the black widow comes out–and the blue mud wasp strikes! Blue mud wasps will actually “stock” their nests with paralyzed spiders, even before they produce offspring. Blue mud wasps also target other species of spider, but they’re considered one of the primary predators of black widows.

Where do blue mud wasps live?

Where do blue mud wasps live?

The blue mud wasp is common throughout North America, from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They’re particularly common in Michigan. Blue mud wasps can and do live in a wide variety of environments. They’re particularly common near sources of water (and therefore mud). Many blue mud wasps also build nests in areas where they can easily capture prey for their offspring. Adult blue mud wasps actually feed on flower nectar, not spiders, so they may also frequent gardens.

Because blue mud wasps steal nests instead of making their own, they tend to live where other dauber species do. Other daubers build nests by collecting mud and rolling it into balls and arranging it with their mandibles. They’ll also build paralyzed spiders into these nests by constructing mud “cells” around them. They may roll or carry this mud near homes. Nests look like circular or oval-shaped mud balls. You may also notice exit holes where fully grown wasps emerged.

Are blue mud wasps dangerous?

Are blue mud wasps dangerous?

No. Blue mud wasps and other mud daubers are considerably less aggressive than other wasp families. Unlike social wasps, daubers will not aggressively defend their nest of their territory. Even if you accidentally find a dauber’s nest, it’s possible the adult won’t attack you to drive you away. Blue mud wasps can potentially sting humans, but it’s very, very rare. The only time a blue mud wasp might sting you is if you mishandle or antagonize it.

Blue mud wasps are usually pretty easy to spot, even from a distance. Look for an iridescent blue shine, often on or near flowers. The dauber’s blue sheen frequently catches the light. You could also look for their nests, which could be either on the ground or affixed to a wall. Nests may be somewhat difficult to find, especially if they’re new or particularly small. Wasps rarely build nests out in the open. You’re more likely to find them on, near, or under a form of cover.

 

Nature is a system of checks and balances–even where the black widow is concerned. Just because venomous spiders may scare us half to death doesn’t mean they get to break the rules. There’s something oddly comforting about the notion that even black widows have something to watch out for.

That being said, you can’t exactly rely on the blue mud wasp. It’s just doing its own thing after all; it’s not watching out for you. If you have a spider (or wasp!) concern, depend on Griffin instead. We have the solution to your problem.

Wasp Season in Michigan This Summer

Wasp resting on a tree branch

As you may have already noticed, it’s officially wasp season here in Michigan. Every summer, the wasp population peaks around July, and the pest becomes far more prevalent than usual. Wasp season begins by late June and continues until around late fall.

But what is “wasp season,” exactly? More importantly: how could it affect you? Here’s everything you should know about wasps in Michigan, including how to keep them away from you.  

What are wasps?

What are wasps?“Wasp” is actually a general term referring to a particular group of related insects in the Hymenoptera order. Wasps are any members of Hymenoptera that aren’t bees, ants, or sawflies. The most common and well-known wasps in Michigan are yellow jackets and paper wasps. Each of these types of wasp (rather infamously) resemble honey or bumblebees.

Though many types of wasps are solitary, most common Michigan wasps are eusocial, meaning they live together in colonies. Wasps are opportunistic scavengers and predators, feeding primarily on a wide variety of insects. They feed their young by hunting down prey and bringing it back to their nests repeatedly. Wasps are considered beneficial insects because they feed on many common garden pests. Adult wasps feed on natural sugars like ripe fruit, honeydew, and nectar.

What kinds of wasps are in Michigan?

Yellow jacket in MichiganIf you encounter a wasp this summer, chances are it will be a eusocial wasp from a nearby colony. Eusocial wasps in Michigan belong to two subfamilies: Polistinae (paper wasps) and Vespinae (yellow jackets). The most common paper wasps in Michigan are the Common paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus) and the European paper wasp (Polistes dominulus). There are twelve types of yellow jacket in Michigan. The most common are the German yellow jacket (Vespula germanica), Eastern yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons), and Baldfaced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata).

Solitary wasps are not as prevalent as eusocial varieties, but there are still several types you may encounter. Cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus) are large digger wasps that nest on the ground. Mud dauber wasps like the Black and yellow mud dauber (Sceliphron caementarium) build nests in the mud. The invasive European woodwasp (Sirex noctilio) bores into the trunks of dead or dying trees. Paper wasps, yellow jackets, cicada killers, and mud daubers can all sting, but woodwasps cannot.

When are wasps most active?

Wasp activity in summerEusocial wasp colonies reach peak activity in midsummer. They spend spring and early summer looking for a good place to nest, laying eggs, and producing workers. The colony continues to ramp up its population growth aggressively through the summer. By July, colonies have produced hundreds of workers. These workers spend each day hunting for food to bring back to the nest. If there’s a nest near your home, you might encounter workers regularly during this period of colony development.

Wasp activity changes again in very late summer or fall. Eventually, queens stop laying worker eggs and produce a final brood of reproductive king or queen wasps instead. When these wasps leave the nest to build new colonies, the workers no longer have to worry about feeding larvae. Without their colony responsibilities to keep them near their nests, worker wasps range further than usual. They pursue sugary foods they can’t transport more frequently and sting more often, too.

Wasp (left) vs. Bee (right)

How can I tell wasps and bees apart?

Wasps (left, above) and bees (right, above), especially yellow jackets and paper wasp species, can look very similar. They’re both usually yellow and black, and they both range in size from ½ to 1” long. The easiest way to tell wasps and bees apart is by looking at the “texture” of their bodies. Bumblebees and honey bees look furry or “fuzzy,” because their abdomens are covered in fine, bright hair. Wasps, on the other hand, are hairless. They have hard, shiny, almost metallic-looking bodies that more closely resemble insect exoskeletons.

Wasps and bees also differ in shape, coloration, and behavior. Bees tend to be round or even plump in appearance, whereas wasps are more angular or thin. A bee’s yellow stripes tend to look golden brown or warm, whereas wasp yellow is striking and bright. Bees tend to stay near flowers, to feed on nectar, whereas wasps range to hunt for food. Bee and wasp nests also look very different from one another, because they’re made out of different materials.

How do I keep wasps away from me?

How to keep wasps awayIf you run into wasps frequently during mid-summer, it’s probably because there’s a wasp nest nearby. Wasps typically build their nests into existing crevices, burrows, and hiding places. They like to build nests in secluded, covered, or naturally inaccessible locations where they can stay safe. You might find the nest on or under your roof, under a deck or porch, or even in your rafters. 

Unfortunately, you might encounter wasps semi-frequently in late summer and fall, even if there isn’t a nest nearby. If that’s happening to you, try looking for reasons why wasps may be attracted to your home. Wasps are very attracted to sugary liquids, especially late in the summer season. Ripe fruit from fruit trees will attract lots of worker wasps looking for a sugar rush. You should also be careful not to leave out garbage uncovered or unrinsed cans and bottles.

Have more questions about Michigan’s wasps? No problem! Just give Griffin Pest Solutions a call any time.