RIO GRAND VALLEY, Texas – Tucked into a dense thicket of South Texas brush is a large round nest the size of a basketball. The papery nest with a surface like rough cardboard is swarming with thousands of wasps. Just how many reside here is conjecture, but a nest this size may hold some 20,000 Mexican honey wasps.
The diminutive wasps are constantly busy working on their home and coming and going with prey. They often feed on the fluid of small insects and are very beneficial as they are particularly fond of several pest species. Mexican honey wasps are native throughout South America and Mexico but also edge into parts of Arizona and South Texas.
They are one of the few insects to create and store honey, and provide a popular food source for indigenous people throughout their range. While they do possess a stinger, they are not aggressive and if undisturbed diligently go about their business of making honey.
However, there is another South Texas wasp that is said to have one of the most painful stings in nature, and that is the Tarantula wasp also known as the Tarantula hawk. These large wasps are bright metallic blue-black with red wings and are fortunately not aggressive toward humans as their preferred target is the tarantula.
The females sting tarantulas and then drag the paralyzed prey into their den where they lay eggs on them for their larvae to later feed on. The Mexican honey wasp and tarantula wasp are but two of more than 30 fascinating species of wasps occurring in Texas all of which serve a vital role in the balance of nature.