Sand Wasps: Unlikely Allies in Gardening

WaspNot all bugs that inhabit your garden are out to destroy the plants and flowers that you worked so hard planting. Gardeners who are planting pollinator-centered gardens have unlikely allies in their quest to control pest – the Sand Wasp. These solitary insects are useful in controlling some of the most widespread gardening pests, ranging from cicadas, beetle grubs, and even the annoying brown Marmorated stinkbug. The best part is that you don’t even need to pay them a single cent to do their job!

Natural Predators of Pests

Just like lady beetles and lacewings, these strikingly beautiful and exotic-looking wasps are natural predators of common gardening pests. They grow about 5 to 8 inches long and have distinct yellow-gold markings on their abdomen. The females are the ones that are actually doing the hard work in terms of controlling garden pests.  She builds her nest by tunneling under the sandy soil, and then starts hunting the nymphs of plant bugs for her offspring. Using her sting, she paralyzes the unfortunate insect and then drags the hapless bug back into her nest where she then lays an egg on it. When her offspring hatches, it feasts on the still alive bug, which may sound horrific, but does its part in controlling these plant munchers.

InsectsA lone female sand wasp is such an effective hunter that she can kill as many as 40 brown Marmorated stinkbugs and any other garden pests in her entire lifetime, and that’s just one wasp. Don’t let her sting terrify you, though; the female wasps are too busy feeding her offspring to even bother with you and the males don’t even have any stingers at all.

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Gentle Pollinators

Slaying garden pests isn’t the only thing that sand wasps do. Just like her bee cousins, she also visits plants and flowers for their rich nectar to nourish herself as she constantly hunts prey for her offspring. Penn State Extension Master Gardeners found out in a recent pollinator trial called Bees, Bugs and Blooms found that the sand wasp specifically target plants with Pycnanthemum muticum or clustered mountain mint. If you are looking to attract this enterprising and busy hunter of pests, then this plant is what you need to look out for.

Gardeners looking for a more natural way to control pests should look to the sand wasp and her relatives the potter wasp for help. These valiant and caring mothers are natural pesticides, able to control the population of harmful insects while also doing their part in pollinating the garden. She’s proof that one should never judge a book by its cover, and that not all bugs and insects are out to make gardening difficult; in fact, she makes it easier.