Question of the Week: Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wasp?

I’ve always felt a true gardener should be comfortable with insects, and mostly I walk the walk on that point. In my view, bumblebees are cute and I’m happy when I find spiders on my plants. The bad guys like hornworms and Japanese beetles engender irritation, not disgust, and I have no problem dispatching them with various old-fashioned manual methods.

Then there are these guys.

Wasp Vader view #1
Wasp Vader view #2. These images are a little small because Judy was somewhat reluctant to get up close and personal.
Giant scary wasp with festive orange abdomen, or whatever you call it.

Yes, there are some HUGE wasps that seem to love certain of my flowers, mainly oregano and swamp milkweed. Most of them are jet black, and remind me of Darth Vader. A few are orange and black.

Now, I have to admit that these wasps don’t seem especially aggressive, and they’ve never stung me. Nevertheless, when they get agitated, I find myself scurrying away as inconspicuously as I can manage. And I make no apologies for that, because, come on – these guys are scary.

So, my question(s) of the week: Do any insects give you the willies, and if so, which ones? Also, do any entomologists out there know who these guys are, and if they come in peace?

19 Comments on “Question of the Week: Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wasp?

  1. Hey, I was up pretty close and personal to those wasps, buster. Those are not telephoto shots.

  2. Every spring, I have to acclimatize myself to the creepy crawlies in my yard. I do have a rule that they stay out of the house – spiders in the bedroom are a big ick. I once watched a wasp drag a cabbage worm out of a head of cabbage, which makes them friend not foe; I think they feed their young “meat”. While they seem to build their nests in the most inconvenient places, my experience is they don’t sting unless threatened. Or trapped in a pajama top.

  3. I have to admit I dispatched two wasp nests in the building process this month (on the same day). One they had decided to build in a viburnum, the other in my garden shed. Because they are out and out aggressive, I prefer them not built in my yard. Ground bees are likewise aggressive and if I can discourage them, I will. Years ago, I had a rule: “If you’re ugly and I don’t know you, you’re a dead bug.” Since then I have taken pains to become enlightened, and only kill the baddies, cut worms, grubs, hornworm, hornets, Colorado potato beetles, mosquitoes, etc.This summer, my yard has become an oasis for the dragonflies, hummingbird moths, and monarchs. Regular bumble, honey etc. bees have always left me alone, so I’ve always felt there are two teams out there. I know whose on mine!

    • I also tend to divide the bugs into good guys and bad guys, a distinction unfortunately not recognized by taxonomists. I have damselflies rather than dragonflied, and I love the hummingbird moths. They look like creatures from Dr. Seuss. Both definitely good guys.

  4. Ouch! That sounds bad. For me there is a no tolerance policy when it comes to insects inside the house. But I’ll see your wasp in the pajamas and raise you a bat hiding under a soup bowl in the kitchen sink. Not an insect, but still.

  5. I’m very scared of wasps–I always run inside when I see them. They feel like loose cannons to me.

    • Glad to know I have company. I just have to say that your run of the mill yellow jacket, say, is not nearly as unsettling as these big guys.

  6. I’m totally fine with spiders…as long as they are outside…and not near me! I’m terrified of wasps…they always seem so ill-tempered.

  7. I like those big black wasps. I’ve never run into an aggressive one, and they’ve been very accommodating about letting me take photos of them.

    I’ve been stung more times than I care to think about by yellow jackets though. At least one seems to get me just about every year. One time, over 30 years ago when I was pregnant with my second daughter, they had a nest under my back steps. They swarmed as I walked up the steps, got under my jeans and shirt, and I was stung multiple times as I ran screaming into the house, ripping off my clothes to get them off me. That was very scary, a lot of pain, and I was lucky I’m not allergic to them. I was pretty scared of them for years after that – even phobic I’d say. I still don’t like them but got over the phobia quite some time ago. Maybe just coincidence, but my daughter who I was pregnant with at the time is allergic to bee and wasp stings.

    • I may not sleep tonight after reading that. Sounds horrible. I haven’t actually had a bad experience with being stung since I was a little kid and got too close to a nest in a marshy area. Another summer I worked on a tomato farm and got a bee sting every week or so, but just got used to that.

  8. I have paper wasps that like to build their nests each year hanging from the overhang on my house, preferably as near the door as possible. One year, when they started nesting between the screen door and the inner door, I broke down and sprayed the nest; that was a bit too close for comfort. For the most part, though, those particular wasps don’t seem to be aggressive at all and don’t much care about me. I do get nervous when they get inside the house, though; I usually try to catch them in a plastic container with a cover and then let them go outdoors. When they’re on the plants, I try to give them some space. (I don’t think I would get any closer than Judy did to get those photos!)

    • It’s true these black wasps aren’t aggressive, they’re just big and scary-looking. They look like if they did try to sting you, it would hurt like hell.

  9. I don’t like wasps and I hate ants and slugs and snails and beetles in fact, it’s probably easier to list those I do like, which tend to be limited to just ladybirds, bees and hoverflies and anything that eats the insects I don’t like.

    • Ants and beetles I don’t mind as long as they are outside. Slugs are moderately disgusting but they don’t really bother me. I just learned last night that slugs (and ants) are actually pollinators for our North American wild ginger (Asarum canadensis). So they do have redeeming social value. Is a hoverfly the same as a dragonfly?

  10. Coming from a kid who has seen poisonous spiders in the Outback, things are relatively safe around here but wasps scare me silly and they’re in both countries. I try to run but I’m paralyzed. Bummer, huh?

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