Minnesota author Heather Holm has long been a go-to source for science-based information on pollinators. Her latest book explores the world of wasps, and it’s a fascinating and thorough look at this often under-appreciated group of pollinators.
In Wasps: Their Biology, Diversity and Role as Beneficial Insects and Pollinators of Native Plants (Pollination Press, 2021), Holm introduces readers to 150 species and explains their role in our eco-systems and what we can do as gardeners to support them. Holm is quick to address the first thought many of us have about these creatures: They sting. While some wasps do sting (as many gardeners know) most are solitary creatures who are too busy foraging for food, reproducing and building elaborate nests to bother with humans.
Wasps benefit ecosystems (and your garden) in two significant ways. One of their main food sources is flower nectar, so they are good pollinators of many garden plants. They also feed caterpillars and other insects to their larva, reducing pest populations in gardens and agricultural settings. For those interested in supporting wasps, Holm recommends choosing a diversity of native herbaceous and woody plants, eliminating pesticide use and careful observation to see which wasps are in your neighborhood.
This is where the book really shines. Holm describes 150 different types of wasp, with information on their biology, life cycle, nesting and food needs. Each section is illustrated with closeups of the wasp, a map of its range and information on native plants that it uses for nectar. The descriptions of wasp life are fascinating. Take, for example, the eastern ant-queen kidnapper wasp (Aphilanthops frigidus). As the name suggests, this wasp kidnaps ant queens, carrying the prey, which is almost as large as it is, back to its nest, removing its wings, and laying an egg on top of the ant. The larva will consume the ant, then overwinter in the underground nest before hatching the next spring.
This is a wonderful resource for anyone who enjoys observing and learning about the wildlife in their garden as well as native plant gardeners. It also would make a terrific gift for a school library or a teacher you know. Students in middle school and above would love poring over the photos and descriptions of the wasps!
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