Battle of the Bugs A Hymenopteran Garden?
By George Giltner
Search the web for a butterfly garden and you probably will get around a million hits, but try to find info on gardens for bees, wasps, and ants, and you will be mainly out of luck. And the next thought in the general public’s mind is who in their right mind would want a garden for these stinging and biting insects?
Probably everyone is aware of pollinators, mostly bees, providing an enormous benefit to farmers. The values are quite variable but range up to 40 billion dollars plus within the United States. Pollination is just the tip of the value “ice berg”.
Hymenopterans supply a large amount of biomass as they are eaten by other animals from lizards and frogs to skunks to birds, bears, and even armadillos. Therefore, these bugs are an important part of the food chain of nature.
Many species are predators and parasitoids of other insects. 89,000 species are parasitic forms and 18,000 species are predatory forms. Thus they play a significant function in nature as natural and biological controls. One example in our local area is the dirt dauber. Its primary food is spiders including black widow spiders as a favorite. Inspect the mud nest and you will find paralyzed spiders that serve as food for developing dauber larvae. Another solitary wasp, the sphecid wasp provisions its nest with cutworm larvae. Paper wasps, a social species, carry masticated prey (mostly caterpillars) back to its paper nest. They regurgitate the chew food, much like birds. Ichneumonid wasps are known as endoparasites as its larvae lives inside its caterpillar hosts. Brachonid wasp larvae live inside of moth caterpillars leaving nothing but a shell of the former host.
Ants occupy nearly every possible niche within our gardens, fields, and forests where they perform unheralded and valuable environmental services to the soil. Their far extended tunnels function to aerate the soil. Movement of organic matter from the surface to below functions like plowing. Also ants are great seed dispersers of cordalis, delphinium, bloodroot, trillium, viola and many other plants.
Therefore, hymenopterans have value and play important roles in the balance of nature. If you don’t want to have a hymenoptera garden, at least consider a tolerance when possible for these bugs. They will be in the pea patch and around flowers searching for prey and also feeding on nectar and pollen. No need to carry a can of “Raid” to the garden as they go about their routine without regard to humans unless a nest is around.
If you wish to attract hymenopterans, then have an ample supply of water in shallow dishes of water with gravel. These insects require water in late hot afternoons just like we do. A diverse habitat of nectivorous plants will provide shelter and food. The extrafloral nectaries that attract bees and wasps are located on leaf margins, petioles, leaf and flower buds and on hairs of the plant stem. You may have seen wasps looking for nectar along the pod petiole of field peas during summer. Block nests attract many predatory wasps. Tolerating low levels of pests provide food for the reproduction of predators and parasitoids. Also short pistillate flowers supply a vegetarian meal with nectar and pollen. Be very careful with broad range insecticides like Sevin which can kill many bugs for up to two weeks. A spot target spray with low toxicity to beneficial insects should be used instead.
Plant sunflowers, asters, cosmos, dill, mints, oregano, zinnias, and other flowers around your veggie gardens and you will have both, a Lepidopteron (butterflies and moths) and a Hymenopteran (bees, wasps, etc.) garden.
Editor’s Note: George Giltner is a Louisiana Master Gardener Beauregard Parish. He is a self-taught entomologist and writes the “Battle of the Bugs” series.