Oregon is home to thousands of insect species, some beneficial and others decidedly not. Wasps, it seems, fall squarely in the middle: while they certainly provide many benefits, as pollinators and predators for invasive pest species, they’re rarely a welcome sight around your home. With their aggressive nature and painful sting, a few wasps can quickly ruin a pleasant day outdoors for people or pets.
Among the most intimidating of the many wasp species is the great black wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus). Growing to well over an inch long, this fearsome insect is found all across the continental United States, as well as in parts of Mexico and Canada. It particularly favors the warmer climate of the western states, making it a common sight year-round in California, Washington, and Oregon. As solitary wasps, you won’t find this species swarming, but you should still take precautions if you locate a nest near your home. Here’s how to locate and remove a black wasp nest in Oregon:
Recognizing a Black Wasp
Hornets, yellow jackets, and mud daubers are just a few of the many wasp species you may encounter in the state of Oregon. All of them are recognizable by their distinctive black and yellow pattern. The black wasp, as its name suggests, has a different appearance: it’s completely black. While it has no identifying stripes or markings, it’s hard to mistake the black wasp for any other insect. It may not be yellow and black, but its body shape is still undeniably that of a wasp: a long body with a large head, wings, eyes, and a very narrow waist, leading to a huge, pointed abdomen. Males of the species are smaller and don’t sting, but the females are very large—reaching up to 1.4 inches in length—and pack a powerful stinger.
What Do Black Wasps Eat?
Like most wasps, black wasps are carnivores. They primarily live upon other insects; for the black wasp, grasshoppers and particular types of katydids are the preferred food. A black wasp won’t always kill its prey outright; instead, a prey insect will be stung in the neck and thorax until it is paralyzed. The wasp will then carry its unfortunate victim into its burrow, where it may survive for weeks as it is fed on by the wasp larvae in the nest.
Can They Harm Humans?
Multiple wasp species are included on lists of the most painful insect stings. One of the black wasp’s closest relatives, the tarantula hawk, always scores very high on the list. Paper wasps, Asian giant hornets, and warrior wasps are also regularly included in the list. Fortunately for homeowners who have seen huge black wasps buzzing around their backyards, the great black wasp is not usually included among the worst stinging insects.
That isn’t to say that black wasps don’t pack a painful sting! While it’s relatively uncommon for humans to get stung by one of these solitary wasps, it can be extremely painful if you are. Black wasp stings rarely involve any swelling; however, if you’re allergic to bees and other stinging insects, you are likely to be equally vulnerable to a black wasp sting. If you receive a sting and begin to experience symptoms of anaphylaxis, contact a medical professional immediately.
Identifying Their Nests
A key difference between black wasps and their relatives is in the nests they make. While most wasps create straw-colored, papery nests, which may be found in trees or underneath the eaves of your home, black wasps are burrowers. As solitary insects, black wasps are unlikely to be found in groups; instead, you’ll probably see individual wasps buzzing around near the ground. Most likely, there’s a burrow located near where you see the insects. The entrance will appear as a simple hole in the ground.
What To Do If You See Black Wasps
Under normal circumstances, if you see a black wasp, you don’t need to do anything. Unlike more aggressive species, such as hornets, black wasps generally keep to themselves. You’re unlikely to have anything to fear from them (unless you’re a grasshopper). Of course, this may not be true if a black wasp has moved in near your home.
If you discover that a black wasp has created a burrow near a well-trafficked area, such as near a doorway or by a beloved tree, you might have to remove it. In many cases, this will be as simple as using a wasp and hornet insecticide spray. Just a few shots from a long distance should handle an individual insect.
Black wasp Oregon species share the outdoors with a lot of beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and honeybees. If you’re concerned about using insecticides because of the risk to beneficial insects or to pets, you can also purchase nontoxic sprays that will eliminate the wasps. Mint sprays are very effective; these will kill wasps without posing a threat to larger animals such as pets.
Removing the Nest
Needless to say, you don’t want to mount an assault on a wasp nest when its occupant is out and about. The easiest way to receive a painful sting is to start poking around a wasp nest with the wasp nearby. That’s why the best time to remove a black wasp nest is at dusk, before it’s too dark but when the wasps are safely nestled away inside of their burrows.
Make sure you’re wearing clothing that will protect you somewhat—socks and shoes, as well as long pants and long sleeves, are best—and go to the burrow entrance as the sun begins to go down. As soon as you’re within range, saturate the burrow and the area around it with insecticide—or with nontoxic mint spray—and keep an eye out for nearby wasps. After you’ve sufficiently drowned the nest, go ahead and fill it in with lots of dirt.
Dealing with Other Wasps
Black wasp nests in Oregon are fairly easy to deal with without getting stung. Unfortunately, the nests of other species may not be so simple to remove. Often, more aggressive—and plentiful—species, such as hornets, will leave their nests in trees near your home. In that case, it’s not as simple as just spraying insecticide at your tree. Instead, it’s usually best to contact an arborist, like one from Mr. Tree, and have the nest professionally removed.