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What Do Wasps Feed On?

By Chris Williams on June 19, 2014.
Wasp capturing spider

Yellowjacket Capturing Spider

Wasp at barbaque eating chicken

Wasps eating grilled chicken

To answer this question correctly, we need to make sure you are talking about wasps, not bees, since the two groups have very different habits and diets.

Bees (honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, and various solitary and ground-nesting bees) feed on pollen and nectar. When you see them buzzing about, they are on their way to or from flowers where they have been collecting pollen. The developing larvae of bees are fed balls of pollen.

Wasps (yellowjackets, paper wasps, baldfaced hornets, European hornets, mud daubers, spider wasps, etc.) are predators or parasites on other insects and spiders. Although the adult wasps will feed on nectar, sap, and fruit juices, when they visit flowers it is usually to collect insects that they find there (including bees) to feed to their developing larvae.

Unlike Most Other Wasps, Yellowjackets Will Scavenge on People Food

Some wasps are strictly predators on live prey like insects and spiders and do not scavenge for other food sources. They attack an insect and sting it to paralyze it before taking it back to the nest. Larger prey insects sometimes have to be cut up so that the wasp can get airborne while carrying the meal. Yellowjackets, however, are not so picky and will also scavenge for other types of meat protein from carcasses, garbage cans, and picnics. This is why yellowjackets become nuisances at our outdoor barbecues.

Then why are yellowjackets so interested in your sugary soda instead? Your coke might be an easy substitute for the plant nectar that worker wasps prefer. In late summer, workers are less interested in collecting protein for the larvae because the nests are declining; no new larvae are being produced. The remaining workers are now foraging for themselves. At this time of year, yellowjackets’ food interests switch from insects and meats to sweets…and your drink will do just fine.

Wasps eating grilled chicken 4 by rupp.de. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Wasp eating insect by Harald Hoyer (Wasp Meal CropUploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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