Beneficial Organism of the Week 3

Keeping you entertained and surprised by the beneficial organisms around you, this week it is:

The yellowjacket – a type of wasp

How can this be beneficial to us?? Yellowjackets are ferocious and irritating. What possible use could they be?

Yellowjackets are ferocious. I was not too bothered by them until I made the mistake of approaching a nest too closely. Yikes. Then, like the forgetful mammal that I am, I was in the same place a couple of weeks later and oh – my – goodness – they have a hive memory, and if you make the same mistake twice, they will make you pay. The whole nest came out to make their point.

I have never looked at yellowjackets the same since. And I cringe whenever I see one, even YEARS later I can still feel those stings on my scalp. But, when I found myself surrounded by them in the woods about a year ago, I did not panic, but tiptoed quietly away from a nest in the ground I had not seen. No stings. One must pay attention, and not blame others for lack thereof.

It is a fact that these wasps are meat eaters, and hence predators of plant-chewing caterpillars, among other live creatures. Sure, they are always butting in at your late-summer picnic. Who wouldn’t go for the buffet over having to chase, catch and subdue something that moves? But they also control a lot of garden pests – you may never know how many. The one in the photo, incidentally, is eating the pulp surrounding, or perhaps getting ready to make off with, a Trillium seed. The seeds have a fat body attached that is attractive to ants and other insects and is a mechanism the plant has evolved to aid in seed dispersal. Once the attached goody is consumed, the seed supposedly is discarded, and thus left to germinate in a place away from the mother plant. A neat trick.

Perhaps the carnivorous ways of yellowjackets explain their aggressive natures. Anyway, it does not detract from the fact that they are one of nature’s great eaters of pests (ok, and non-pests as well, but that’s the food web). So give them a break if you can (you who are in danger of death from stings are exempt). We can co-exist with these flying tigers of the insect world if we make a conscious effort to perceive their role; remember to make way whenever possible – avoid that corner of the garden this year and see what happens!

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