Wasps That Dig Nests in the Ground

Written by stephany elsworth
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Wasps That Dig Nests in the Ground
A yellow jacket's sting is painful, but is usually not fatal. (wasps eat watermelon image by Maksym Dyachenko from Fotolia.com)

A number of species of wasps make their homes in the ground. Some species live in colonies and create underground hives that can contain hundreds or thousands of wasps, while other types of wasps are solitary. Although many species of wasps are harmless and even beneficial to humans, some are considered harmful pests because they are aggressive and will sting with little or no apparent provocation.

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Cicada Killer Wasps

Cicada killer wasps can grow to be five centimetres / two inches in length. They have black bodies with yellow markings on the abdomen and reddish wings. This species is solitary; that is, it lives alone rather than in a wasp colony. Cicada killer wasps were given this name because they capture and kill cicadas during the late summer months. The female wasp paralyses the cicada and leaves it in an underground chamber where she has laid one solitary egg. When the wasp larvae hatches it feeds on the cicada. The Iowa State University Department of Entomology website says these wasps are generally beneficial because they keep the cicada population under control. Only the female of this species is able to sting, and they only become aggressive if they feel threatened.

Yellow Jackets

There are a number of different species of yellow jacket, including the western yellow jacket, (Vespula pennsylvanica) the beneficial prairie yellow jacket (Vespula atropilosa) and the common yellow jacket (Vespula vulgaris). These species are social insects that live in large numbers in underground hives.

The western yellow jacket frequently nests in abandoned burrows. These insects are omnivorous and will eat nearly anything, but they especially enjoy fresh fruit. According to Erin Hodgson, an Entomology Specialist with Utah State University, western yellow jackets are highly aggressive and need very little provocation to attack. These wasps are capable of stinging repeatedly.

The El Dorado County, California website notes that the common yellow jacket builds large underground colonies that can house hundreds of workers. These insects can be a nuisance at picnics because they are attracted to both sugary and protein-rich foods. Like the western yellow jacket, they are aggressive and have a painful sting.

Rather than being a nuisance, the prairie yellow jacket is beneficial. These wasps eat live insects, which helps to control annoying insect populations. They nest underground in prairies, meadows and other treeless areas.

Scoliid Wasps

The Scoliid wasp is helpful to humans because it controls the population of beetle grubs in the soil. These wasps are approximately 2cm / 3/4 inch long. They have a black head and thorax, black wings, and bright orange and yellow markings. These wasps are solitary, and unless provoked they use their stingers for hunting. The female wasp stings and paralyses a beetle grub and lays an egg on it. Afterward, according to the University of Kentucky, she builds a chamber around the egg and the larvae. After the larval Scoliid wasp hatches it feeds on the beetle grub.

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