No matter what I do, I'm going to be an asshole
April 29, 2018 3:54 PM   Subscribe

One of my neighbors really wants me to kill the ground wasps in my yard. I'm afraid doing that would endanger my other neighbor's prized honeybees. Help!

A couple of days ago, one of my neighbors approached me as I was coming home from work and pointed out that there are ground wasp nests in my front yard. There definitely are: there are about 20 holes, and there are little bee-type-things buzzing around them. My neighbor told me that it's urgent that I destroy the nests and kill the bees. She said ground wasps are very dangerous, that their stings are worse than normal bees', and that there are people in our neighborhood who are allergic to wasp stings.

I checked the state agriculture extension website to see what I should do, and it seems a lot less alarmist. It says that ground wasps don't sting unless they're threatened, and their stings usually aren't severe. But the nests in my yard are near the sidewalk, and the wasps are buzzing around at a level where they could be bothered by small dogs or by kids in strollers, so I think I should probably get rid of them. The website says that to do that I should place insecticide dust containing carbaryl in and around the nest entrances.

And that's where things get complicated. Carbaryl kills wasps, but it also kills honeybees. My next-door neighbors are hobbyist beekeepers. Their hives are not right close to the part of my yard where the wasp nests are, but they're not that far, either. I really, really don't want to kill my next-door neighbors' honeybees. I also don't want to piss off the neighbor who wants me to kill the wasps, and I don't want to contribute to some unsuspecting allergic person going into anaphylaxis. Finally, my next-door neighbors are very nice people, but they're kind of nutty environmentalists (which is to say that one of them recently posted, non-facetiously, on Facebook that she thought it would be good to have a plague that killed of most of the earth's human population, because that would allow other creatures to live), and I don't think I can discuss this with them without pissing them off. I think that for them, it would be a no-brainer to leave the wasp nests alone. So I'm a bit at a loss about what to do that would not result in me being a bad neighbor and a jerk. Anyone have any ideas about how to handle this?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Put up a sign that says something to the effect of 'hey, yo, there are stingy items here--take care!' and assume anyone that skeeved out by such things will run across the street rather than be in the vicinity?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:00 PM on April 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

There are ground wasp nests everywhere. There are stinging insects everywhere. Dogs that bite, roots that trip, mud that stains. We take reasonable risks when venturing out into the world every day and I count the above as part of those risks. I would politely push back against your neighbor insisting you poison the (quite common) insects living in your lawn by reminding them of this, and of the fact that folks allergic to bee stings are probably carrying their own remedies for said allergies. Your neighbor can always carry a few epi-pens and benadryl tabs, too, if that would make them feel more comfortable.
posted by minervous at 4:02 PM on April 29, 2018 [17 favorites]

I would probably tell the neighbor that I wanted to try some natural wasp-eradication tactics before resorting to using pesticides.

I would not probably not provide a lot of specifics about how long this trial period would last or how I would evaluate its success.
posted by box at 4:05 PM on April 29, 2018 [50 favorites]

I had some of those wasps living in the backyard of my house and I left them alone. THAT SAID they are big and scary looking and if I was your neighbor I can see how having them buzzing around the sidewalk would bother people. I think you need to make a decision and I think you also need to give yourself a pep talk that however you decide to handle this, you are not being an asshole. You are taking people's feelings into consideration but ultimately you have a responsibility as a property owner (renter) to deal with this.

If it were me, I think I'd be working on either highly localized carbaryl application (like literally in the holes) or calling your state extension and seeing if they have other suggestions. Have a talk with your beekeeping neighbors, let them know this is happening and they can make a decision how they want to deal with it. Carbaryl doesn't have a super long half-life so it might be as simple as them relocating their hives for a week or so and then everyone can mostly get what they want.
posted by jessamyn at 4:07 PM on April 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

Yes, call your state extension or look on their website as they'll have best practices for you, but deal with it asap - ground wasps are aggressive and relentless and getting stung by them is no joke. Your neighbor is doing you a favor by telling you.

I stumbled into a nest in my backyard and got about 30 stings in about 30 seconds. I'm a staid, gray-haired lady and I very nearly tore all my clothes off right then and there. As it was, once I made it inside, stripped, and got the obvious ones off my skin, I ended up having to throw my clothes outside and ultimately away as they stuck to the cloth and were impossible to detach.
posted by Gnella at 4:42 PM on April 29, 2018 [14 favorites]

The real risk here is not that someone will be stung, but that you will do something that alienates both of your neighbors. Can you simultaneously sit down with the wasp-averse neighbors, the bee-keeping neighbors, and a pitcher of iced tea and say, "I would like to be responsive to Neighbor A's concerns without harming Neighbor B's property. Is there any course of action the two of you can agree upon?" Do not promise in advance to do what they ask, just gather information. Your only job is to listen and keep the talk civil. In the future you can refer to this conversation as support for whatever you decide to do.

It couldn't hurt to put your chairs in the front yard a few feet from the wasps, whose continued refusal to fatally sting anyone would be a cumulative argument for their harmlessness.
posted by drdanger at 4:43 PM on April 29, 2018 [14 favorites]

Could you dose the wasp nests and then put a tent, or peg down a flat tarp against the ground, directly over the wasp area to keep the bees away?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:43 PM on April 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

I am all about leaving nature alone. I actually am looking for a pest company that has had to remove snakes to leave them in my yard. We love, bees, bats, spiders, coyotes, etc. They are all welcome in our yard.

We had ground wasps. If they get disturbed they attack in a big group and they are not satisfied until they sting you. My family of 5 and dog retreated inside when someone stepped on the nest. We got stung many times and while inside I had to removed them from us one by one. They continued to burrow into the dogs fur to sting him and searched around to find a way to our skin under our clothes for 5-8 minutes after we disturbed them.

They are really nasty and I would get rid of them if I were you.
posted by beccaj at 4:49 PM on April 29, 2018 [40 favorites]

Can you try a trap that they would fly into and drown themselves in? That would be less toxic to the bees, but would take longer than the poison.

Iirc wasps will attack bees, so your bee-keeping neighbor might be happy to see them go as well as your other neighbor.
posted by vignettist at 4:59 PM on April 29, 2018

The people with first-hand experience telling you how dangerous ground wasps are, these are the comments you should heed before even approaching the nest.

Call your extension and get really really good advice. Please remove the nests from the sidewalk area of your yard, this is an accident waiting to happen. Thank you for stepping up.
posted by jbenben at 4:59 PM on April 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I agree with your county extension folks that solitary ground wasps that each have their own hole are not a threat to anybody. I've never seen anyone get stung by one before. Your concerned neighbor may be confusing them with yellow jackets or another aggressive colonial stinging insect (that may not even live in Iowa). It will probably do no good to tell your concerned neighbor this, however, because (speaking as a biologist) people usually prefer their folk wisdom about these things over entomology.

In addition to signs, could you put up some edging along the sidewalk to keep people from straying too close to the nests? Maybe something like this.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:01 PM on April 29, 2018 [11 favorites]

I'm pretty sure these are solitary wasps (I think they may be Great Goldens, although they seem smaller than that), not the social ones that attack in swarms.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:02 PM on April 29, 2018

Wasps are pollinators, but they are also jerks. I would not mow a lawn with wasps, and we just took down a wasp nest and will take action when they probably return to build a new one. Your neighbor dislikes a component of nature in your yard; you may choose to respond, but you are not obligated to. The idea of putting glass bowls(box's links) over the entrances is interesting - borrow bowls from the neighbors if necessary. Talk to the bee-keeping neighbors to see if they have ideas about how to get rid of some wasps with out harming the bees. Explain that you want to help protect their bees, but need to be rid of wasp nests. If your respectful approach is not enough to satisfy them, that's on them. Talk to the Cooperative Extension Office.

I have several wasp stories, but just reading those very good links that box posted, that have lots of pictures, has me itching and cranky.
posted by theora55 at 5:10 PM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

There are so many ways to address this without being an asshole. I suspect it might help to broaden your thinking (with the help/brainstorming of the neighbors) and drop the assumption that this is a binary "Do what neighbor #1 wants" vs. "Do nothing" (which you haven't even confirmed is what neighbors #2 want). If it were me, I'd talk to the beekeeping neighbors and get their opinion, at the very least; I'd certainly encourage all the neighbors to sit and talk together. Just because you don't currently know a solution that will make everyone happy doesn't mean that solution doesn't exist, but it will be impossible to find it if you don't at least talk to them.
posted by lazuli at 5:28 PM on April 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

one of them recently posted, non-facetiously, on Facebook that she thought it would be good to have a plague that killed of most of the earth's human population, because that would allow other creatures to live

I'd find a way to get rid of the wasps (some people report pouring ammonia down the nests late at night works) and then tell your neighbors you don't know what happened, they just disappeared one day. Nothing's worse than crazy neighbors fixating on things on your property, except for crazy neighbors thinking they can get you to do stuff for them just by asking.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:37 PM on April 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

Call an exterminator and ask about options. Tell them about the honeybees and see what they suggest. Maybe call a few.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:49 PM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

So I'm thinking they're ground bees, not ground wasps. They don't really match any of the ground wasps I'm reading about, and they do match the stuff I'm seeing about ground bees. The holes look a lot like the ones in the photo, the critters are smaller than any of the ground wasps I'm reading about, and the timing is right for ground bees. (They mate in early spring. It shouldn't be early spring, but sadly it is: we got several inches of snow the week before last.) I'm going to go out tomorrow morning when they're active and take some pictures, and then I'm going to contact the county extension. But if they're ground bees, it sounds like the ones that are buzzing around the holes are probably males that don't have stingers, and they'll probably go away in a week or two. And I can make them go away forever by taking better care of my lawn, which is a bit embarrassing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:51 PM on April 29, 2018 [14 favorites]

I think the distinction between ground wasps/hornets (i.e. cicada-killers or great goldens) and yellowjackets is important here. If the former, I live and let live. If the latter, kill 'em with extreme prejudice.
posted by jferg at 5:52 PM on April 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

Wasp ID is key here. If they are yellowjackets (unlikely based on description) you should kill them with extreme prejudice, because they are total assholes with little redeeming value, and largely European invaders.

If they are indeed solitary wasps you can catch them with your bare hands, you should love them like pets. They are beneficial insects and no pest at all.

So maybe get some pics or be more careful on ID before you decide.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:53 PM on April 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seeing your update: many type of solitary bees will aggregate in a good spot, forming clumps analogous to a self-reseeding plot of annual flowers. And you should totally leave them alone. Does it look like a scattering dozens of equal sized holes spread out over a few square meters? Bees tend to be hairier than wasps, a bit more solid around the waist, and a bit more hovery in their flight. I think the solitary wasp species are less likely to aggregate, though some may.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:54 PM on April 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Based on the time of year and your description of lots of holes, these sound like the things I get every spring that disappear in less than a week. Procrastinate and see if that solves the problem.
posted by metasarah at 5:56 PM on April 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

My suggestion is that the answer to this should be governed by how aggressive these wasps are. Yellow jackets, the kind of ground wasp I am most familiar with, are nasty. Other kinds aren't. Mud daubers are not ground wasps, but they are an example of the kind of wasp I've learned not to be afraid of. They look freaky since they are so big, but I've never been stung by one, even when I've surprised them. (Once, a mud dauber had made a nest on a golf cart steering wheel. When I started driving it flew up into my face, and then, equally abruptly, flew away without attacking.)

If you find they are non-aggressive, you might want to post signs warning people and call it a day. If aggressive, do your research and find someone who actually knows what they are doing to help you get rid of them. Your beekeeper neighbors may know of resources your average pest control company would not consider.
posted by Crystal Fox at 6:10 PM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have known someone who kept bees despite being allergic to their stings. He took elaborate precautions when approaching the hive. So you don't know that your beekeeping neighbor would really be happy with you keeping a nest of stinging wasps around anyway. You should talk to them (and maybe they can help you identify what the animals actually are).
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:33 PM on April 29, 2018

Can you ask your ag extension agent if diatomaceous earth will kill the wasps if you spread it on their holes?
posted by BlueHorse at 6:46 PM on April 29, 2018

If you can get a picture of one of said insects, it would probably greatly aid in getting an appropriate answer to the question.

Unfortunately I think quite a few beneficial insects get intentionally killed due to being mistaken for much nastier insects, and it is possible your pro-killing neighbor has mis IDed the ones in your lawn. Or maybe they haven't and they've done you a favor in telling you — it's impossible to say without a positive ID.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:58 PM on April 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

IF it turns out that these are a kind that probably should be removed, could you start an email thread with both neighbors basically asking the beekeepers for solutions? I'd try to get the two neighbors to figure out a mutually satisfactory solution, if at all possible.
posted by salvia at 7:50 PM on April 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I know some of the freestanding wasp traps use pheromones and have never seen a bee in them. That might remove Yellowjackets but leave other beneficial insects alone.
posted by nickggully at 9:08 PM on April 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't know about where you live, but around these parts several of the stinging-flying-insect-control people are honeybee enthusiasts and sometimes beekeepers themselves (one of the services they provide is removing honeybee swarms...right into their own hives). I'd call an independent local wasp and bee control expert and explain the situation. That person can first do a definitive ID on species and then you can go from there.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:59 AM on April 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have sandy soil and have had a multi holed colony of some sort of non-yellow jacket benign beeish bug. They have fuzzy bodies and would not be mistaken for a wasp. No bites, but the ground looked pecked at & I mowed the area in the late evening when activity was very low.

If there is no safety issue, be clear with your non-beekeeper neighbor. You also want to be ok with your community and the beekeepers, so ask the beekeepers to take a look. You may have native bees invasive bees or a disease vector. It’s good to find out.
posted by childofTethys at 4:00 AM on April 30, 2018

I see from your update you think they might be ground bees instead of wasps. We had those at our last house so bad that our lawn service guy (who was clearly an idiot) refused to treat the lawn. They were the most docile things ever. We raked and dug and worked on our hands and knees in that yard, and never saw a second of aggression, even when we did things that should clearly have pissed them off. Sorry about that dirt I just dumped on your head, little buddy...nice work digging yourself out and going about your business.

So my vote is figure out exactly what you've got, and if they're non-agressive, solitary bees, leave them alone. If it helps, ours were very active in the spring, and then as the summer came around seemed to completely disappear.
posted by thejanna at 6:20 AM on April 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

Once you've identified the insects, could you use some sort of vacuum-based trap?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:50 PM on April 30, 2018

For the love of mud, please don’t put any signage up saying there are bees or wasps. Some chump poisoned a hobbyists hives around here a few years ago, and they were way in his fenced in backyard.

Anybody could pour anything on your lawn late at night, and smugly think they’ve solved the problem for you, as they endanger or kill the legitimate bees next door. Talk to your beekeeping neighbors, the county extension, a pest control company, or a beekeeping expert please, they will help you ID the bugs and plan a course of action. Please help protect bees!
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 5:01 PM on April 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

We have the ground bees in our front yard. They show up for a couple of weeks at most in the spring and then disappear until the next year. We also have young kids who cannot seem to stop playing soccer in the yard. None of us have been harmed by the bees. They are beneficial pollinators and are good for the lawn, so we let them do their thing.
posted by percolatrix at 7:11 AM on May 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Update: the county extension people got back to me. They said it's definitely a bee, not a wasp. They couldn't tell what kind of bee, because my picture was blurry, but it's not shaped like a wasp. They said that bees range pretty widely, and there's no insecticide that I could use that wouldn't threaten my neighbors' bees. They recommended that I leave the bees alone, because most bees are harmless. I'm going to do that. If I see the other neighbor again, I'll tell her that I checked with the county extension and that's what they said.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:43 AM on May 3, 2018 [6 favorites]

That sounds like a perfect non-asshole solution.
posted by lazuli at 12:41 PM on May 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

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