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10 Wasp Myths That Will Surprise You

Wasps are feared and hated. Granted they do sting if you disturb them but that is no reason to fear them. In this post I will look at 10 wasp myths that will surprise you. Armed with this new knowledge I hope that you will learn to either like wasps or at least hate them less.

As a general background review of wasp facts have a look at Understanding Wasps – They Are Not Evil!

Paper wasp nest being built - 10 Wasp Myths That Will Surprise You

Paper wasp nest being built

Wasp Myths

This list of wasp myths are the ones that I was able to find. If you know of others please post a comment and tell us about them.

Wasp Stings Do Not Hurt

When a wasp stings it injects venom into your skin. It is a myth that the venom hurts and causes swelling. The symptoms you see and feel when you get stung are the result of your own body defenses. The human body causes the swelling, reddening, itching and pain after a sting (ref 2).

A small percentage of people have severe reactions, which can be fatal. Death, due to anaphylaxis, is fairly rare.

The average person is stung 2-3 times in their lifetime. I wonder if gardeners are stung more often?

People Allergic to Wasp Stings are also Allergic to Bee Stings

This is a very common wasp myth. The venom from bee stings and wasp stings are quite different and “the vast majority of people that are allergic, are allergic to either wasp or bee but not both.” (ref 2).

The normal reaction of swelling and pain is not an allergic reaction and most people will experience these symptoms from both bee and wasp stings.

Baking Soda – Will it Reduce Symptoms of a Wasp Sting?

One common cure for the symptoms of a wasp sting is the application of baking soda. The claim is that since baking soda is alkaline it will neutralize the  acidic compounds in the wasp venom.

The first point to note is that wasp venom is NOT acidic. It does contain alkaline compounds.

The article The Chemical Compositions of Insect Venoms says it so well I will just quote them, “Sadly, this is something of an over-simplification. Whilst it’s correct that bee venom has some acidic components, whilst wasp venom has some alkaline constituents, the venom quickly penetrates the tissue once you’ve been stung. Therefore, topical application of an acid or alkali to the sting area is unlikely to provide relief. Additionally, since the venom is such a complex mix of components, many of which have contributing effects, it’s unlikely that neutralizing a small number of these components would relieve the pain.”

A Copper Penny Placed on a Sting Will Relieve the Redness and Swelling

This is just a silly myth that does not warrant a comment. If you are stung there are some things you can do to help the pain and swelling.

  • Do nothing – in most cases it goes away in 24 hours
  • Wash with soap and water to remove venom
  • Apply cold water and ice to reduce swelling
  • Take an antihistamine to reduce swelling
  • Apply calamine to reduce itching

If the reaction to the sting is significant seek medical help, especially if the sting is in the area of the throat or mouth.

Is it Easy to Remove a Nest at Night?

Wasps return to their nest at dusk and remain their overnight. It is a good time to remove the nest, but this still has to be done very carefully. If disturbed, wasps will come out at night to get you.

Contrary to popular belief, you can NOT destroy a nest by hitting it with a baseball bat – even at night. How do people come up with these dumb ideas??

Are Wasps More Dangerous Than Bees?

People get attacked more by wasps because they tend to build their nests in hidden locations. As a result people disturb their nest by accident.

With killer bees becoming more prevalent in warm areas, bees may actually be more dangerous than wasps.

The risk of serious complications or death are about the same for wasp stings and bee stings.

Watch a Wasp Build a Nest

This is a real cool video.

If the above video does not play, try this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaX9Hdeg4FU

Do Wasp Traps Work?

This one is sort of a myth. If the goal is to reduce the wasps around your table at dinner time than they do work a bit. Wasps are attracted to the traps, they will be captured and then die. The problem is that only a few of the wasps will be captured having little effect on the rest of the colony. There will be more next time you dine outside.

Traps are not designed to get rid of a nest that is close to your eating area.

Artificial Wasp Nests Will Keep Wasps Away

A common solution for keeping wasps away is the artificial wasp nest, usually made out of wire and paper. Does it work or is it a myth?

Wasps are territorial and will usually not build their nest near another wasp nest. If the artificial wasp nest is hung early in the season before nest building starts it may convince the wasp to build somewhere else. However, insect exterminators have reported having several live nests in close proximity of one another. Not all wasps build their nest in isolation.

The other problem is that a single fake wasp nest will not be enough. To keep wasp nests away from your home and your garden you would need to hang dozens of artificial nests.

Yellow jackets build their nest in the ground, so hanging the fake nests will do nothing to keep them away. Most of my stings are from ground nests that I don’t see until it’s too late. Yellow jackets are also the ones that are a pest at dinner time.

Once nest building has started, wasps are very reluctant to move. Hanging an artificial nest near a real nest will not get the wasps to move. One year I collected a large paper wasp nest and the following summer I placed it right beside a live nest. The wasps took no notice of the empty old nest.

In conclusion, fake wasp nests probably do very little to keep wasps from building nests near your home.

Wasp Stings Do Not Stay in You

After a wasp stings it will try to pull it’s stinger back out and fly away. This allows a single wasp to sting several times.

If you slap at a wasp as it stings you it is quite possible that you will squish the wasp, leaving the stinger in your skin. Larger species like hornets are also more likely to leave their stinger behind.

Do Wasps Produce Honey or is it a Myth?

Some species of wasp do produce small amounts of honey. An example of this is the Mexican honey wasp.

Only about 5% of bees produce honey.

Do Wasps Re-use Old Nests?

Normally wasps use a nest for one year. At the end of the year, all except the queen die. In spring the queen starts a new nest and rarely uses the old one.

In some cases the wasps will either reuse an old nest or build a new nest right on top of the old one. I have had a small colony of wasps living behind the bricks on my home for 3 years now. Each year they have used the same entrance crack.

Will Wasps Chase You?

Wasps will not chase you unless you disturb them. You can stand a few feet away from a wasp hive and as long as you don’t make a sudden move, they will leave you alone.

If you disturb their nest they will attack and sting you. In the process of stinging they mark you with a chemical odor that makes it easy for other wasps to find you. If you run, they will chase you and they are faster than you. Yellow jackets and paper wasps will not chase you very far, unless you have destroyed their nest. Hornets can chase you up to 300 feet (100m).

Wasps Eat Mostly Sweet Things

This common wasp myth probably exists because people and wasps usually meet over the dinner table where wasps are attracted to sweet things and fermented things like wine. Late in the season they do like these foods, but early in the year they hunt for meat. Wasps are exceptional insect hunters. They play a very important role in keeping the garden free of pest insects.

 Best Way to Remove a Wasp Nest

There are several ways to remove a wasp nest, but not everything you read on-line is a good idea. Be careful.

Burning

Nests are made from thin paper-like material. It is flammable when dry and the inside of the nest is usually dry. There are two problems with burning. Nests are always attached to something like a tree or house. Both of these are also flammable. Don’t start a big fire trying to get rid of a wasp nest.

The second problem is that even if this is done at night when the wasps are inside, the fire will probably not kill all the wasps. The remaining ones will likely attack you. After that, they’ll go and build another nest.

Drowning

Nests that are in the ground can be flooded with water. It is not likely to kill all the wasps and the ones that get away will come after you. It can be done using a long garden hose which will keep you at a safe distance.

If the surviving wasps move to a new location you might get stung by accident because you don’t know where the new location is. It might be best to just leave them where they are or use a commercial pesticide spray designed for wasps.

Use a Professional

For nests that are hard to get at, or inside building walls, it is best to contact a pest control technician and let them do the job properly.

Insecticide Spray Can

An easy way to kill a hive is with wasp and bee spray. The can is designed to spray 8 ft or more and the chemical kills them on contact. Wait until dusk when all the wasps are inside the hive. Then spray the opening. Keep spraying as the wasps come out. The product is easy to use and very effective.

Bounce Fabric Softener Sheets Keep Wasps Away

This is a very popular recommendation on blogs and social media. Does it work? I don’t know. There are lots of anecdotal claims saying it works, and lots of claims saying it does not work. None of the claims include any comparison tests so the comments are quite meaningless.

In one case they put the sheets right next to the wasp nest and the wasps were unaffected.

Like so many common stories about DIY pest control, it probably does not work, but we need some real data on this one.

Getting Rid of Flowers Will Keep Wasps Away

Wasps do visit flowers in search of food, so it might seem like a good idea to get rid of the flowers. Unfortunately, wasps will look for the safest place to make their nest. That is usually an area next to or on your house, regardless of the presence of flowers. Besides, nests are usually built before flowers show themselves in the garden.

Spheksophobia – the Fear of Wasps

If you are not allergic to wasps, and most of you are not, there is no reason to fear wasps. Next time you see one, stand still and just watch it. It is very unlikely that you will be stung when the wasp is away from the nest. Spending more time beside them will help to reduce your fear.

A lot of fear is learned from parents. An adult screaming at the sight of wasps ends up teaching the child to have a similar reaction. Stop the cycle of fear. For more information on Spheksophobia, have a look at Fear of Wasps Phobia – Spheksophobia.

 

References:

  1. Top 10 Myths About Wasps De-bugged; http://bristolpestcontrol.blogspot.ca/2014/03/10-wasp-myths.html
  2. Wasp and Insect Allergy; http://www.allergy-clinic.co.uk/more-about-allergy/wasp-allergy/
  3. Wasp Nest Removal; http://www.rentokil.com/blog/wasp-nest-removal/#.V9XJ_TX2XYg
  4. Photo source; Bob Peterson

Robert Pavlis
Editor of GardenMyths.com
I live in southern Ontario, Canada, zone 5 and have been gardening a long time. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

I hope you find Garden Myths an educational site that helps you understand your garden better.

13 Responses to '10 Wasp Myths That Will Surprise You'

  1. R Ebitz says:

    Prevention should be the first step before you cause drawing no-see-ums, bees, flies, etc. to share you and your drinks.

    Sure sprays and stuff work some what, however most bugs are attracted to open drink containers then to your body.

    Odor and smells seems to be the attraction for bothersome bugs, so by having any drink container completely covered helps by not advertising it. Ever run from a Bee or Wasp?

    A solid lid is a great way to reduce attracting things, no straws, no sippy lids. One that I found is made in the USA at Pittsburgh Pa works great, just Google drink container protector and you’ll find a bunch.

    I even use one at work to keep other peoples germs from my tea cup.

  2. Henry B says:

    I go outside summer and winter every day a 3:00 PM and sit with my dogs. I used to keep bees. I have wasp nests all over my deck, and have found that if a wasp lands on me and I swat it, I have a high chance of being stung. It takes a bit of control, but leaving the wasp alone, it will fly away without stinging. I learned this keeping those bees – panic and you’re stung. Stay relaxed, move slowly, and you can tend a hive without protective gear. Just close up openings in your clothing – sleeves, around the neck etc.

  3. One type of “wasp” not mentioned in your article are the yellow jackets, sometimes called “meat bees,” which live in underground hives. I have watched one eat meat by carefully slicing off a sliver, rolling it up, and carrying it away.

    They do not have stingers but bite with their mouth parts, like ants. The painful bite leaves a sore that takes a long time to heal. An underground nest can be removed with a shotgun or with gasoline and a match. I have used both methods and the shotgun method is more fun. I hate them because their underground nests are like land mines, offering no warning, and one is bitten many times before discovering he has trespassed.

    • Yellowjackets, Vespula, sting with stingers (modified ovipositors) in the same way other social wasps do.

    • sally blanton says:

      do not kill wasps, bees or other pollinators. they are essential to the environment. and please do not spray toxic chemicals on wasp nests or anywhere else. why do humans think it necessary to kill, kill, kill?

  4. G. F. says:

    What about putting out yellow jacket traps early in the year to trap new queens? Wouldn’t each queen trapped at that time of year result in one less nest? And there are specialized traps which supposedly only catch yellow jackets, not other less aggressive wasps.

  5. janet says:

    What do you think of the remedy for wasp stings that involves applying a baking soda paste on the sting site? I think the theory is that the sting has formic acid in it and this is somewhat neutralized by the baking soda.

    • Thanks for posting the question. I will be adding it as another wasp myth.

      Turns out wasp venom tends to be alkaline – not acidic. Bee venom is acidic. However, the venom is injected into the skin and therefore applying a topical acid or base will have little effect. In the case of a wasp sting applying baking soda – an alkali – does not make any sense.

  6. sangriagarcia says:

    Excellent article! My mother used to work with a beekeeper for about 10 years or so. She always told me that the wasps were important pollinators as well as the bees are and both are territorial. It was interesting that she noted that the bees and wasps never arrived at our natural pool at the same time or that they stayed in different areas. The bees had a tendency to stay at the lower overspill area while the wasps liked be on top of the pool practically. They weren’t bashful at all! She had already dispelled quite a few of the myths you wrote about. She thinks the majority of it is exaggeration and that people have an unrealistic fear. First 3 years in our garden I’ve been stung an average of 5-6 times and was really worried about having guests over. That’s when I asked my mom about what to do. She told me that where the wasps stung me was probably in the same area of the garden more or less. Meaning I was threatening them. We did a better job at pruning the trees last winter and it gave us good results in the end – This is the first year I haven’t gotten stung even though they still build nests and use our pool. I also found out from my mother, that many beekeepers supplement their beekeeping with wasp nest removal. So if you have a problem and still want to contribute to the beekeepers call them up for wasp removal. I don’t like to see anyone use insecticides if they can do without but if the nest is close to your eating area and house, then the spray with the long spouts are a good thing to use and as you said, it should be used towards the evening and from a distance.

  7. If folks are going to be concerned about social wasps (a tiny fraction of the whole spectrum of Hymenoptera that are called wasps), it’s important to distinguish among the friendly Polistes, charming Dolichovespula, and Vespula Yellowjackets, which are more aggressive and inclide the alien Vespula germanica, the Picnic Wasp, which has invaded Ontario in the past 30 years, and can be quite annoying. The main effect of social wasps on gardens is their predation on outher insects, including many that are considered pests. Some of us hold that neither agriculture nor horticulture should be undetaken without adequate shelters for Polistes and Doilichovespula nests to keep pests under control.

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