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Natural Predators of Wasps and Hornets: Nature’s Pest Control

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Birds, spiders, mammals, reptiles and insects that feed on Wasps

Wasps and hornets, known for their painful stings and often feared by many, are not at the top of the food chain within their respective ecosystems. Nature has a fascinating way of maintaining balance, and various predators keep wasp and hornet populations in check. This article delves into the creatures that consider these stinging insects a tasty treat and how they act as nature’s own pest control.

The truth is thoug that even though all these animals listed here eat wasps and hornets it does not help you if you have a wasp nest in your garden or your home. Make sure you know how to handle that tricky situation

Birds:

Various bird species relish adult wasps and hornets as part of their diet.

In the U.S., there isn’t a bird species that specializes in eating wasps, like the European bee-eater does. However, various bird species will eat wasps as part of a broader diet that includes a range of insects.

Some of these birds include:

  1. Flycatchers: Birds in the flycatcher family (like the Eastern Phoebe or the Eastern Kingbird) catch flying insects in mid-air, and they are not particularly selective. If a wasp happens to be flying nearby, a flycatcher might snatch it.
  2. Swallows and martins: These aerial insectivores feed on a variety of flying insects, which can include wasps. Species like the Barn Swallow or Purple Martin might consume wasps if the opportunity arises.
  3. Shrikes: Known as “butcherbirds,” shrikes are known to prey on a variety of insects and even small vertebrates. They might eat wasps occasionally.
  4. Chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches: These small birds feed on a variety of insects and can take wasps, especially when they come across nests with larvae.
  5. Woodpeckers: Some woodpeckers, like the Downy or Hairy woodpecker, can feed on a variety of insects, including wasps or hornets, particularly when targeting larvae inside nests.
  6. Warblers: Some warblers will pick off flying insects, including wasps, especially during migration when they need extra energy.

However, remember that while these birds might eat wasps occasionally, they don’t specialize in wasps, and their diet is diverse, including various other insects and food sources.

  • North America: Chickadees and nuthatches have been observed feeding on wasps.
  • Europe: The European bee-eater, as previously mentioned, is an expert at catching wasps and hornets.
  • Asia: The Asian hornet-eater, as its name suggests, specializes in consuming hornets.

Spiders:

Spiders are expert hunters, and many species have perfected the art of trapping wasps in their intricate webs. The orb-weaving spider, for instance, spins large, circular webs that unsuspecting wasps and hornets can fly into. Once trapped, the spider swiftly immobilizes its prey with venom and wraps it in silk for later consumption.

Several spider species in the U.S. are known to prey on wasps. While capturing a wasp is no small feat due to the wasp’s ability to sting, some spiders have developed strategies to tackle these challenging prey. Here are some spider species in the U.S. that might feed on wasps:

  1. Orb-weaving Spiders: These spiders, such as the common garden spiders (e.g., Argiope aurantia or the black and yellow garden spider), build spiral wheel-shaped webs often found in gardens, fields, and forests. These webs can trap a variety of flying insects, including wasps.
  2. Crab Spiders: These spiders don’t build webs to capture prey. Instead, they use camouflage and ambush tactics. Crab spiders can change their color to match flowers, where they lie in wait for insects like bees and wasps that come to collect nectar.
  3. Jumping Spiders: Although small, some species of jumping spiders are bold predators that can tackle prey larger than themselves, including wasps. Their hunting strategy involves stalking and then leaping onto their prey.
  4. Tarantulas: Some tarantula species, especially those that are more ground-dwelling, might encounter and eat wasps. However, it’s worth noting that there are “tarantula hawk” wasps that specifically prey on tarantulas, turning the tables on this predator-prey relationship.
  5. Funnel Web Spiders: Spiders in the Agelenidae family, like the grass spiders, make sheet-like webs with a funnel retreat. Insects, potentially including wasps, that blunder into these webs can become entangled and then be preyed upon by the spider.
  6. Trapdoor Spiders: These spiders construct burrows with camouflaged lids and await their prey just inside the entrance. When an unsuspecting insect, possibly a wasp, comes close, the spider bursts out and captures it.
  • North America: The black and yellow garden spider can ensnare wasps in its web.
  • Australia: The redback spider, a relative of the black widow, can and does prey on wasps.
  • Europe: The European garden spider catches wasps that venture into its web.

While these spiders might consume wasps, they don’t exclusively prey on them. The diet of these spiders is diverse, including various other insects and small invertebrates. The success of tackling a wasp also depends on the spider’s size, age, species, and individual behavior, as well as the type and condition of the wasp.

Mammals:

Several mammals aren’t deterred by the stingers of wasps and hornets. In the U.S., several mammals might consume wasps or hornets either opportunistically or as a more regular part of their diet. Here are some mammals known to eat wasps or hornets:

  1. Bears: While bears are omnivorous and consume a varied diet, they often raid insect nests, including those of wasps and hornets, to eat the larvae. The high protein content of the larvae makes them a valuable food source.
  2. Skunks: Skunks are known to dig up underground nests of yellow jackets and other wasps. They mainly target the larvae and pupae, which are rich in protein.
  3. Raccoons: Like skunks, raccoons are opportunistic feeders and may raid wasp or hornet nests if they come across them. They consume the larvae and pupae.
  4. Badgers: In regions where they are found, American badgers can dig up and eat the contents of underground wasp nests.
  5. Bats: While many bats in the U.S. primarily feed on small insects like mosquitoes, some larger bat species might catch and eat larger flying insects, including wasps and hornets, if the opportunity arises.
  6. Opossums: Opossums have a highly varied diet, and while they primarily feed on carrion, fruits, and small animals, they won’t pass up a chance to consume insect larvae, including those of wasps or hornets.

While these mammals might consume wasps or hornets, it’s important to note that they don’t specialize in these insects. Instead, wasps or hornets are just a part of their broader diet. Also, many of these mammals target the larvae rather than the adult insects because the larvae are a richer source of nutrients and less defensive than adults.

  • North America: Skunks will dig up wasp nests to eat the larvae inside.
  • Africa: Honey badgers, or ratels, are notorious for raiding bee and wasp nests.
  • Europe: European badgers can dig up and consume underground wasp nests.

Reptiles:

Some reptiles have a taste for these stinging insects too. Lizards, like the bearded dragon, consume wasps when given the opportunity. Larger reptiles, such as certain snakes, might raid nests for larvae.

  • North America: Many species of lizards, like the Western fence lizard, can consume wasps if they catch them.
  • Africa: The African puff adder snake is known to raid wasp nests for the larvae.
  • Asia: Monitor lizards, particularly in Southeast Asia, may eat wasps and their larvae.

While some reptiles might consume wasps or hornets occasionally, they don’t typically specialize in these insects, and these would constitute a small portion of their diet. Additionally, the consumption of such stinging insects would be more opportunistic, with the reptile taking advantage of an easily accessible food source rather than actively seeking out wasps or hornets.

Insects:

Other insects also prey on wasps and hornets. Many insects are predatory or opportunistic and might consume other insects, including wasps or hornets. Here are some insects and arthropods that might prey on or scavenge wasps or hornets in various life stages:

  1. Praying Mantises: These predators are not picky about their diet and will consume a variety of insects, including wasps or hornets if they can catch them.
  2. Dragonflies: Adult dragonflies are proficient fliers and hunters of other flying insects. They might catch and consume wasps or hornets in flight.
  3. Robber Flies (Asilidae): These are aggressive predatory flies that can capture and consume a variety of insects, including wasps.
  4. Spiders: Various spider species might catch wasps or hornets in their webs or hunt them down. For example, the orb-weaving spiders create sticky webs that can trap flying insects, including wasps.
  5. Ants: Some species of ants, especially when in large numbers, can overpower and kill wasps, often raiding their nests and consuming the larvae. In the U.S., fire ants are known to be particularly aggressive and might attack wasp nests.
  6. Beetles: Some ground beetles or predatory beetles might consume wasps or hornets if they encounter them, especially in vulnerable stages like larvae or pupae.
  7. Other Wasps: Some wasps are parasitic or predatory on their own kind. For instance, the Ichneumonid wasps might parasitize various insects, including other wasps. Similarly, the larger Sphecid wasps might hunt and feed on smaller wasp species.
  8. Hornets: Part of the wasp family, this bigger cousin is an avid insect eater and does not shy away from eating wasps when it gets the chance. The European Hornet is active in the United States and counts wasps in its general diet.
  • North America: The wheel bug, a type of assassin bug, can prey on wasps.
  • Asia: Certain species of the Asian mantis will consume wasps.
  • Africa: Some African beetles are known to invade wasp nests and consume the larvae.

It’s worth noting that while these insects might consume wasps or hornets, such encounters are often opportunistic. Many of these predators do not exclusively rely on wasps or hornets for sustenance but will take advantage of them as a food source when available.

Fun Wasp & Insect Fact

The wasp beetle (Clytus arietis) is a species of longhorn beetle that's native to Europe. It gets its name from its striking resemblance to wasps, which is a fantastic example of Batesian mimicry. This form of mimicry is where a harmless species evolves to imitate the warning signals of a harmful species directed at a common predator. In this case, the wasp beetle looks like a stinging wasp but is, in fact, completely harmless.

Amphibians:

Frogs and toads, always on the lookout for a tasty insect meal, will readily eat wasps and hornets if they get the chance. Their sticky tongues can snatch wasps out of the air, and their thick skin provides some protection against stings.

  • North America: The American toad can consume wasps if they come within reach.
  • South America: The Amazonian horned frog, given its large size, can eat larger insects, including wasps.
  • Europe: The common European frog will eat wasps if the opportunity arises.

It’s essential to understand that predator-prey relationships can vary based on the specific ecosystem and region. Not all animals in these categories will eat wasps or hornets, and some will only do so when other food sources are scarce.

Nature’s Balance:

The presence of these natural predators plays a crucial role in controlling wasp and hornet populations. Without these predators, we could experience overpopulation of these stinging insects, leading to more frequent human-wasp encounters.

If you have ever wondered where the wasps go in winter and want to find out then you can read our post on if wasps die in winter or not.

Moreover, wasps and hornets are not purely pests; they play vital roles in the ecosystem. They are pollinators and help control other insect populations, such as caterpillars and spiders, by preying on them. Therefore, it’s essential to understand that these insects, though sometimes seen as nuisances, are crucial for a balanced environment.

Conclusion:

While wasps and hornets might instill fear in many people, they are a valuable part of our ecosystem, serving as both predators and prey. The myriad of creatures that feast on these insects illustrates the intricate web of life that connects all living beings. Before resorting to pesticides or other means of extermination, it might be worth considering natural methods and understanding the broader ecological picture in which these insects exist. Nature, in all its wisdom, has its own mechanisms of pest control.

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