Common Garden Creatures: Learn to Love Wasps and Snakes

Manage pests naturally by inviting other common garden creatures, such as snakes and wasps, into your space.

  • When in doubt about which predatory insects live in your area or what sort of nest they prefer, give them a choice. Here is an example of an easy-to-build insect hotel which offers multiple possibilities—bricks, drilled logs and hollow reeds to entice a variety of garden helpers.
    Photo courtesy Wikimedia/4028mdk09
  • While wasp larvae feed on pest insects in your garden, their adult progenitors feed on nectar. Planting umbrel-shaped flowers like dill and carrots—which have shallow nectaries to let wasps feed more easily—goes a long way toward attracting them to your garden and keeping them there to lay their eggs.
    Photo by Lylvic
  • Wasps, such as this Aleiodes indiscretus, often parasitize pest caterpillars—in this case a highly invasive gypsy moth caterpillar—to provide food for their emerging larvae.
    Photo by Közkincs
  • A common garter snake (Thamnopsis spp.) takes advantage of a pile of leaves destined for the garden compost pile to bask in a spot of welcome autumn sunshine.
    Photo by Deborah Stephenson
  • Providing water for garden helpers can be beautiful as well as functional.
    Photo by Petr Kratochvil

You’re weeding around your tomato bed and come face to face with a snake working its way through the vines, or perhaps you discover a wasp nest in an empty, overturned flower pot. You run screaming to find something to kill it, right? Wrong! Take a breath—maybe it’s time to reconsider what you think about these creatures. That seemingly frightening snake or wasp may be your new best friend, and here’s why...

Everyone knows that many creatures commonly found in gardens are desirable, especially toads, lizards, praying mantis, honey bees and ladybugs—all of which either eat pests or pollinate our plants. However, while we welcome these generally non-threatening animals, almost no one actively encourages wasps and snakes into their gardens. Yet of all the potential garden helpers, they are two of the most beneficial visitors we can invite into our garden.

Snakes and Wasps in the Garden

Snakes feed on insects, snails, slugs, mice and other small rodents. Wasps are equally useful. They not only kill many pest insects, but they also use the bodies of undesirable caterpillars, beetles and grubs to feed their offspring—which means future wasps to continue the fight against your garden pests.

While it seems reasonable to doubt the wisdom of purposely attracting animals that bite or sting, it should be remembered that the “weapons” with which snakes and wasps are equipped are primarily defensive or for use in capturing food. It makes no practical sense for a snake to bite a human unless forced to that extreme, because in doing so, it uses up precious venom that it would prefer to save for killing its natural prey. If a snake bites you, it may go without a meal. And though wasps do not die after they sting, as honey bees do, they prefer not to waste stinger-venom on something they have no chance of killing or making use of.

Addressing Stings and Snakebites

When forced to bite, snakes rarely do lasting damage to humans. In fact, the teeth of non-venomous snakes are too small to pierce most clothing, and since the frightened snake is likely to speed off in the opposite direction after making its defensive strike, you will likely end up more surprised than hurt. If the snake does make contact with bare skin, you need only properly clean the bite with soap and water and apply a mild disinfectant to prevent the wound from becoming infected. It may be some consolation to note that should you be bitten by a venomous snake in your garden, according to the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, death by snakebite is so rare, that you are actually nine times more likely to get struck by lightning than to die from a bite.

In the event of a poisonous snakebite, it is no longer recommended to cut into or suction the wound or use a tourniquet. Get away from the snake and do not attempt to capture it; stay calm,  wash the wound with water and apply a dry dressing.  Keep the bite area at or below heart level if possible.  Call 911 or get to a hospital immediately. The Mayo Clinic, CDC, Red Cross and American Heart Association all concur that these are the appropriate steps to take in the event of venomous snakebite.

Stings, especially from larger wasp species such as the colonial predatory wasps, can hurt a lot, but unless you are one of those few unfortunate folks with allergies—who, if stung, should seek trained medical assistance immediately—they usually cause no more than minor swelling, itching and burning. Such stings may be treated simply by washing them, then applying ice to reduce swelling and/or vinegar to help neutralize the sting.



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