Bees and Wasps and Hornets
Q. Mike: My lawn has been invaded by pests about 1 to 2 inches long with alternating yellow and black stripes that, according to info on the Internet, appear to be Japanese hornets. They are drilling into the lawn, leaving mounds of dirt in their wake and swarming around the flowerbeds. Is there a safe and environmentally sound way to discourage their destruction and get them to move elsewhere? Thanks.
- ---Gene in Springfield, Pa.
A. Luckily for you, that's NOT what you have. Those fierce giants—the biggest and most dangerous of all hornets—only live in Japan. Here's a link to a great story about them: ( https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/10/1025_021025_GiantHornets.html)
It sounds like you instead have cicada-killing wasps. These are amazing creatures. The female wasp stings a cicada and then flies it—despite that giant insect being twice her size—to one of those holes, where the next generation feeds on it. They won't bother you unless you try and swat a female (the males don't even have stingers), and will soon disappear for the season. They only nest in bare ground—or really ratty lawns. So cut your grass higher and follow OUR FALL LAWN CARE ADVICE from a few shows back, and those underground recipients of room service will choose another nesting site next year.
Q. Mike, you said in a Question of the Week BACK IN APRIL that there are no ground-nesting bees that sting other than yellow-jackets, but I beg to differ. I recently was attacked by a ground hive, and stung repeatedly. They were yellow and black; I went online to see what they were: "DIGGER BEES".
- ---Clint in Kingston, Ontario, Canada
A. Check that story again, Clint—I very carefully explained that ground nesters in the SPRING were harmless native bees. It's now Fall, when, as I warned, aggressive ground nesting insects that look like bees are almost certainly yellow-jackets—extremely dangerous members of the wasp and hornet family. Here's a LINK to last Fall's Question of the Week on those nasty pests. It explains how to get rid of their nests safely and without chemicals (or gasoline—please don't risk multiple stings, serious burns and criminal water pollution because some fool told you to attack them with unleaded…).
Now, about your 'research'. "Digger bee" is an interesting term. Some scientists use it as the common name for a specific solitary ground-nesting native bee, but in most cases it seems to 'bee' a catchall term for several types of ground-nesting native bees, as in THIS ONE . None are aggressive, and all are great pollinators. "Ground hive", a late Summer-early Fall time frame and "stung repeatedly" are strong clues that you instead were attacked by yellow-jackets.
Q. This weekend I was attacked by yellow-jackets that have apparently taken up residence in my household compost pile. Any ideas on how I might get rid of their nest without resorting to chemical sprays or high explosives? Thanks!
- ---Kirk in Berwyn, PA
Q. Mike: Stinging critters are living in my black plastic composter. I was stung while putting kitchen scraps in the top and while digging finished compost out of the little door at the bottom. I would appreciate any advice on how to deal with this painful situation. The composter gets minimal sun, so I know it doesn't heat up a lot in the summer.
- ---Deborah in Wyndmoor, PA
A. Although yellow-jackets GENERALLY nest in the ground, sometimes a crew will set up shop in a compost pile or bin. Wait for a very cool evening, when they'll all be deep inside and moving slow. Then quickly drape a sheet of thick plastic or a tarp overtop and weight the edges down really well—seal it up as tight as you can. If the pile is in the sun, they should all be dead within a few days. Leave that shady bin covered for the rest of the season; the compost will be fine.
Q. Bees—yellow with black stripes and mean, with no fear—are attacking us inside our bedroom. They won't leave us alone, chasing us around as we attack them back. We have sealed every crack we could find in our bedroom and outside, but they keep finding ways to get in. Must we have new siding put on our house now? It's needed, but we were hoping to wait until Spring. We would appreciate any ideas you may have.
- ---No name; on the eastern end of Long Island
A. Yellow-jackets sometimes nest inside walls. So do feral (escaped) honeybee colonies. They look a lot alike, and both will sting and act aggressively—especially when foolish people chase them around the house. Locate your local beekeeping society and ask if one of the members can come out and have a look. If they are feral honeybees, a beekeeper will likely offer to vacuum them up in exchange for the honey and the queen. If they're yellow-jackets, offer to pay them to suck the nest out; or get an exterminator to do it.
Q. Dear Mr. McGrath: I recently moved into a house and would like to begin doing some gardening—but I am TERRIFIED of bees and wasps. I will not be able to enjoy my yard if any are around. I would like to plant only plants that are less likely to attract bees and wasps – or repel them if possible. Can you help me?
- ---Candice in Oklahoma City, OK
A. You'd have to populate that garden entirely with plants that never produce flowers, which would look pretty sad. And it wouldn't prevent yellow-jackets, mud daubers, paper wasps and hornets from building their nests nearby—and those are the really aggressive members of these families that are responsible for the VAST majority of stings. You're not likely to be stung by the bees and wasps that come to pollinate your flowers and eat nasty garden pests—especially those big scary-looking native bees; most of the males don't have stingers, and the females only sting if attacked. So try and get over your fears and plant a flower-filled garden. Think of every bee you see as a flower-producer and every wasp as a pest eater—because that's what they are.
Bonus 'Gardens Alive only' Q & A!
Q. Mike: I had an old riding lawn mower parked in the corner of my yard for a couple of years and finally decided to move it out. Since the tires were flat I hooked a rope to it and towed it out using a pickup truck. When it cleared its original parking spot a swarm of what appeared to be Carpenter Bees came out of the ground. They appeared very aggressive near their ground entrance but slow movement kept them calm. There must have been 30 or so that took to the air. Without the old lawnmower there the bees were more active and being a dog owner I did not want the dogs hurt. I drove down and grabbed a few cubic feet of dirt and tossed it over the entrance, about 2 inches thick. I figured when they finally dug their way out they'd look elsewhere for a home.
My question is what type of bee are they? Do they sting? They are approximately the same size as a carpenter bee. Perhaps a touch larger and look almost alike. I think they're not quite as shiny as the carpenter bees. I have read something about "digger bees" but everything I've read is they are more solitary insects. This bee seems to be an underground hive(?) dweller?
I have a couple of large flowering bushes (10 feet high) that seem to flower, on and off, all summer long. These bees seem to compete with the regular honey and bumble bees for the pollen. In fact, I'd bet I have 5 or more species of insects all fighting for the pollen. Thanks for your time and help.
- ---Bob from Bartlett, TN (a suburb of Memphis)
A. Definitely one of the 'digger bees'; yes, they are 'solitary', but they also really like to be around each other and hundreds can nest (singly) in a small space (like row homes in South Philly). One or more look just like carpenter bees, including:
"Squash Bees (Peponapis pruinosa)"
Squash bees, which are related to carpenter bees, collect pollen and nectar only from the flowers of cucurbits (squash, pumpkin, and gourd). These solitary bees are found throughout the U.S., except in the Northwest. The bees nest in underground burrows. They become active at dawn, visiting cucurbit flowers until midday when the flowers close.
As a result, they typically start to pollinate the crop before honeybees and have finished by the time honeybees are at their most active, from mid morning on. They have life spans of about 2 months, until the food source is gone."
(The above is from ATTRA – The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service's GREAT native bee site: https://www.attra.org/attra-pub/nativebee.html#species)