If you’ve read our article, “Purpose of Wasps: Why Do We Need Them?”, you’ll know that wasps are pretty important in pest control because they are predators of a variety of insects. Our knowledge of food chain tells us that wasps must then be the prey of some other animals. But which ones are wasp predators?
A wide variety of creatures eat wasps, from insects and invertebrates like dragonflies, praying mantis, spiders, centipedes to birds such as mockingbirds, sparrows, nighthawks and starlings, reptiles and amphibians like lizards and geckos, and mammals such as mice, weasels, badgers, and black bears.
So, it turns out that there are many insectivorous species that ignore the bright warning colors of wasps and their painful stings. Which is why here we’ll go through each group of natural predators of wasps, with the aim of giving you a more complete picture of wasps’ position in the ecosystem.
Insects and other Invertebrates
Various insects and other invertebrates, including dragonflies, eat wasps.
Among them are other wasps, praying mantids, robber flies, spiders, and centipedes. Baldfaced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata), a type of yellow jacket, prey on other yellowjacket species. European hornets (Vespa crabro) are also known to eat yellow jackets.
Praying mantids feast on almost any insect of a manageable size and have been observed chowing down on wasps. Robber flies, also called assassin flies, are a group of insectivorous flies. They attack insects (including wasps) in mid-air. Next, they bite their prey, injecting them with venomous saliva in the process. This immobilizes their victim, rendering them ripe for easy consumption. When wasps are unfortunate enough to fly into a garden spider’s (Araneus diadematus) web, they are likely to become a meal.
There are many different types of birds that eat wasps (at least 24 species), including:
- a group called bee-eaters,
- and the red-throated caracara.
Birds typically hunt solitary wasps rather than social wasps. Social wasps alert their nest-mates to danger by emitting an alarm pheromone, which triggers them to attack. By targeting solitary wasps, birds can avoid this unpleasant defense mechanism. Honey buzzards possess dense facial feathers that secrete sedatives to both protect them from stings and confuse prey when they poke their heads into wasp nests for a snack.
Some birds, such as tanagers, protect themselves from stings by breaking off a wasp’s stinger before eating it.
Bee-eaters are known for their diet of stinging insects, including social wasps. Like tanagers, bee-eater species protect themselves by disarming their prey. They squeeze and beat wasps against branches to make them expel their venom. They can even distinguish males from females and simply eat males without beating them first. The red-throated caracara (Ibycter americanus), a tropical bird, specializes on wasps and even feeds whole nests to its chicks. This species is able to do this by repeated bombarding of the nest, which eventually causes the wasps to give up their attack and flee. Tropical wasps aren’t as limited by season as temperate wasps. Therefore, it is easier for them to establish a new colony if one becomes compromised. Wasps in temperate regions don’t have enough time to raise a new brood before winter sets in.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Lizards, primarily geckos, are common wasp predators, having been observed eating adult wasps and chewing through nests to get to the larvae.
Asian geckos feed on a specific type of large wasp, Polistes sp., with an especially painful sting. Amphibians, such as salamanders, toads, and frogs, also consume wasps and wasp larvae.
A few mammals are known to feed on wasps, including black bears, badgers, mice, weasels, and stoats.
Both black bears and badgers are known to destroy entire colonies to reach the eggs and larvae within. Even though black bears are most often associated with honey consumption, they are omnivores and must obtain some of their nutrition from animals. Badgers’ primary wasp prey are of the burrowing variety as badgers have strong forelimbs ending in sharp claws that they use to dig for food. Given the important insectivore, role bats play in their ecosystems, it’s likely that bats eat wasps, too.
Bonus – Plants
You may have heard of carnivorous plants. The most famous of these are probably the sundews and pitcher plants. Different types of carnivorous plants employ different strategies to capture and consume insect prey.
One type of pitcher plant, Sarracenia, selectively consumes Asian hornets, but not other types of wasps or bees. In France, the invasive Asian hornet has become a threat to native bees.
This particular pitcher plant has nectar and pheromones that are specifically attractive to Asian hornets. The Hornets land on the rim of the pitcher-shaped leaves then crawls toward the inside edge, where they slip and fall deep into the leaf and are digested.
While wasps are important predators in their ecosystems, they are not top predators, serving as prey for a variety of other animals (and even plants) as well. They might have developed both bright warning colors and stingers to fend off attackers, but those have limited success. Insects and other invertebrates, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and mammals are all able to catch and consume wasps and wasp larvae. Some birds are even able to minimize the effect of wasp stings. It’s likely that many other insectivores also feed on wasps, but it can sometimes be difficult for researchers to determine specific diets.
Wasps are more than just important pest predators, decomposers, and pollinators. They also serve as important prey to other critical members of their community.
We hope this helps you on your journey to learn more about wasps!