Wasps and hornets in the habitat garden

Wasp(Enlarge) ©Janet Allen
We welcome this wasp to our garden

We know that bees (and bee-mimicking flies) are excellent pollinators, but we've often wondered about the other "bee-type" insects we see—carpenter bees, yellow jackets, wasps and hornets.

What is their role in our habitat garden? Should we welcome them or not?

Yellow jackets

Yellow jackets ©Janet AllenYellow jacket nest (we think)

It turned out that we were able to peacefully coexist, though I kept my distance. There certainly was a lot of activity going in and out of the hole.

Even though yellow jackets are known for creating problems for picnickers, we didn't find them to be a problem even though we eat our meals right next to their nest area. (Maybe they weren't really yellow jackets?) We also don't have things like soda, which is known to attract them.

Yellow jackets are a type of wasp, not a bee, and they aren't prime pollinators. They're important carnivores, though, and keep down the population of caterpillars and other insects. Of course, they aren't going to distinguish between my butterfly caterpillars and caterpillars that munch on our vegetable garden plants, but I can't control that.

Yellow jacket nest ©Janet Allen
All the activity around a yellow jacket nest

We think this was a yellow jacket nest, but there are so many mimics and so many varieties of insects that I'm never completely certain. It's definitely not a bee, though, since its body is smooth.

When I first spotted this nest, I was concerned. Yellow jackets have a reputation for aggressively defending their nest, and it was in a high-traffic area of our backyard: the native grass triangle right next to the main path to our backyard. Still, I didn't want to automatically decide to eradicate the nest. We watched—from a safe distance—and waited.

All in all, I'm glad we let them stay, but I also hope they don't return to this particular site, so close to where we walk.

Wasp on mountain mint ©Janet Allen
Wasp on mountain mint

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) appeals to all bees, but it seems to be a special favorite of wasps and other more unusual bees. We have a patch along our driveway and enjoy watching them closeup.

Despite people's fear of wasps, they have not been aggressive at all. They're very busy nectaring at this wonderful plant. (And this particular mint isn't aggressive either. The patch is increasing very slowly, sometimes hardly holding its own.)

Hornets

Bald-faced hornet ©Janet AllenBald-faced hornet
I've read that the bald-faced hornet is actually a type of yellow-jacket, but it's not called that for obvious reasons.

Again, I'm guessing as to the identification, but it seems to match up pretty well with photos I've seen.

Hornets are another insect with a reputation for aggressiveness, but I've read that they're not aggressive when foraging, only when they're defending their hive. This has certainly been the case for us.

I don't know where this bald-faced hornet's nest was, but I don't think it was in our yard. At least I never saw one during the summer or even in the winter or fall when it would be easier to spot.

They certainly were around our raspberry flowers, though. And I guess the information was correct—they didn't seem the least bit aggressive while they were foraging. I took quite a few photos (before it dawned on me that they were hornets), and they paid no attention to me.

What would we do if we found a large hornet's nest on our property? I don't know. First, I'd do some more research to find out what would be advisable, but we wouldn't automatically decide to eradicate them unless absolutely necessary. I suppose in this case, that would be a possibility if they were in an area of our yard we couldn't avoid.

And in that case, it brings us back to the fact that we must stop sprawling our communities and work to make our cities more livable for people, and preserve more natural areas for these kinds of creatures.