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How To Identify Some Common Flying-Stinging Insects

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By Charlotte Wilson, Hopkins County Master Gardener

While working in the garden or playing in the yard, it is easy to become alarmed in seeing wasps or “bees” as many people call any flying insect.  However, the flying insects are doing us all a tremendous favor in pollinating our fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Many of these insects are also keeping unfavorable insects and caterpillars under control.

Wasps you see on your vegetables and flowers are pollinating the flowers, eating from the fruits, or eating smaller insects. They rarely sting away from the nest, unless trapped or pressed against the skin. You can easily pick produce while the wasps are on the same plant as long as you are aware of their location so that you do not try to “pick” the same vegetable as the wasp.

Two stinging insects commonly seen in the area, red paper wasps and yellow paper wasps, are social insects. Red paper wasps have long reddish brown bodies and dark brown wings. Yellow paper wasps, which many people call yellow jackets, are a little smaller than red wasps and have yellow and dark brown stripes. Both types live in nests that they build and defend cooperatively.  Nests are constructed of a paper-like material and may be found either above or below ground.

The stinger of social wasps is primarily a defensive tool, designed to protect both nest and colony. However when defending their colony, multiple wasp stings can occur quickly, with one wasp stinging one or more times. Bees’ stingers are barbed and stay inside the victim, pulling apart the bee. Wasps and bees sting their victims and inject venom from the rear of the abdomen. The stinger in all wasps and bees is a modified egg-laying organ, hence only females can sting.

Wasps and bees are most likely to sting when their nest is disturbed.  Wasps and bees are instinctively attracted to the upper bodies of animals, so in the event of an attack it is best to cover your head and run away quickly.  Victims who stand in place and attempt to swat at their attackers will continue to receive stings as the wasps summon reinforcements via chemical communication. While pain is usually localized at the site of the sting, large and systemic (allergic) reactions are also possible. Large local reactions are not life threatening but may last for two to seven days. About 5 percent of people who experience a large local reaction will suffer an anaphylactic (serious systemic hypersensitivity) reaction if they are stung.

The only real “hornet” reported in Texas is the bald-faced hornet, Dolichovespula maculate. It is also a social insect. Hornets construct a round or pear-shaped paper nest, up to 3 feet long. The grayish nest has combs arranged inside with an entrance near the bottom. Hornet nests are almost always above ground, often high in trees. A mature colony may contain 200-400 adults.  While hornet stings can be intensely painful, hornets are less likely to attack than paper wasps since their nests are in remote locations.

The murder hornet, Vespa mandarina, has been reported only in Washington state and Canada on the North American continent.

Mud daubers are small solitary wasps that build small, tube-like nests of mud under eaves, in attics, and on many objects you store in a shed or barn. Adult mud daubers are ¾-to-1 inch long and vary from dull brown to iridescent blue-black.  As they develop in the mud tubes, young larvae are fed spiders.  Since mud daubers do not defend their nests, they usually are no problem to humans.  Their structures can be simply removed by hand or with a putty knife.

The thing to remember when you are working or playing outdoors is that all of these insects are valuable to our landscape and we can usually avoid close contact.  They will not bother us if we do not bother them.

This information was taken from the pamphlet, “Paper Wasps, Yellowjackets, and Solitary Wasps,” written by Glen C. Moore and Mike E. Merchant, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.

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Author: Faith Huffman

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