Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sting! Will planting pollinator-friendly gardens encourage this?

Urgh! It's late summer, you're out picnicking and the "bees" are getting into the food and trying to sting you too, right? So won't planting pollinator friendly flowers encourage them?

Yellow Jacket
But here's the thing: people often confuse wasps for bees. These "bees" that are bothering you are likely wasps such as yellow jackets (bright yellow with black stripes), hornets (black with white stripes), or paper wasps (brown, red or yellow with a skinny waist).

"Most stings around homes and playgrounds do not come from bees but are from wasps as they will build their nests in metal structures or around houses and then sting those who get close to their nest," says Brenda Van Ryswyk, Natural Heritage Ecologist with Conservation Halton.

Bee. Photo Credit: Glenn Barrett.
The bees we are trying to encourage in our gardens are native bees and they will not sting: often they can not sting.

Brenda assures us that solitary bees--which make up the majority of our native bees--are so small they cannot break our skin, so are not a concern.

"The exception is the bumblebee, it can sting, but will only do so if threatened," Brenda explains.

As well, if someone is keeping European honeybees nearby, they will likely visit your garden too, but again, these will only sting if threatened.

"The only concern comes if people are trying to capture or swat bees and the bee thinks its life is at risk," Brenda says.

What good are Wasps?

What good are wasps, you may ask? A lot. They are an important part of our ecosystems, serving beneficial ecological functions.

Many wasps and yellow jackets can be pollinators too, but some species are more scavengers than pollinators and some wasp species are important pest predators.

"It tends to be the non-native paper nest making yellow jackets or the eastern yellow jacket (also makes paper nests and is native) that are a stinging problem," Brenda says.

Brenda advises that to manage the non-native, paper nest making, yellow jackets and the eastern yellow jackets (also makes paper nests and is native) that are a stinging problem, prevention is the key. She suggests that in the early spring, place the fake paper nests around your house and the queen can be tricked to think it is already occupied and she will move elsewhere. Another suggestion is to get the queen pheromone traps for yellow jackets from the hardware store.

She advises that if you had a problem then plug up any holes that they used last year or may find attractive for nesting on, or catch nests early and remove them. If you have a problem one year make sure to seal the hole for the next year.

Brenda says she learned the following trick for bluebird houses:If it is an area not exposed to rain (under a roof overhang, or in a play structure); remove the nest then rub a bar of soap on the surface that they had attached the nest to and the soap will prevent them from attaching a nest to it again. It may need to be refreshed in the spring but should be effective all summer. Any bar soap should do as it is the slippery nature of the soap that stops them from attaching the nest to the surface.

More tips to avoid being stung:

If you have clover in the lawn do not go barefoot, you can be stung if you step on one without knowing.

The majority of stings come when you are harassing bees or approaching their home to close so be sure to stay away from hives.

Find more tips at the David Suzuki website here.