Female cicada killer wasps do all the work

Credit: Rick Cothran

Credit: Rick Cothran

Q: Suddenly, we have about a dozen closely spaced mounds of red dirt in our lawn. We see very mean-looking black and yellow wasps dragging caterpillars down into the mounds. It’s a very threatening situation. It would help if we could at least name the critter. Leslie Meiere, email

A: I feel certain they are cicada killer wasps. Despite their threatening looks, they are completely harmless. The male wasps fly around and buzz you ... but they don’t have a stinger, so they can’t hurt you. The females are up in the trees, looking for caterpillars and cicadas, which they bring down to the temporary nest hole to provision it for when their eggs hatch in a few days. The only time they could possibly hurt you is if you swatted a female who is carrying her prey to the nest. But now that you know what is going on, you can stand back and watch the female wasps work tirelessly each day to bring home their babies’ first meals.

Q: We have a fig tree and I’ve noticed we have many wasps on the ripe figs. Is this to be expected? Are they laying eggs? Pollinating? Khristie Robinson, Lilburn

A: The wasps are neither laying eggs nor pollinating the fruit. They are just enjoying a meal of figs. Because food is so available, they don’t defend it: They simply move to the next fig when disturbed. I disturb them by tapping fig-bearing limbs with a short stick I carry for this purpose. I move slowly and steadily as I pick and we all coexist amiably. I never pick without shoes because I’m sure their good mood would change if I stepped on a wasp enjoying a delicious meal. You may not be as comfortable as I am around the insects at fig-picking time, but I encourage you to add a stick to your equipment and try my technique sometime.

Q: We found an unknown beetle in my sister’s yard in Gainesville. It was subsequently identified as a dung beetle. I thought they only lived in Africa. Rita Decook, email

A: It could well be a dung beetle, of which there are dozens of species found in Georgia. If you stand near a horse or cow pasture at night, you can hear the beetles flying around, looking for the perfect pat. Some species make balls of dung, which they roll to their nest. Some dig tunnels beneath the pile of poo while some others simply live within a meadow muffin. If you have a dog, you can look online to shop for dung beetles that are specialists in consuming doggie doo.

Email Walter at georgiagardener@yahoo.com. Listen to his occasional garden comments on “Green and Growing with Ashley Frasca” Saturday mornings on 95.5 WSB. Visit his website, www.walterreeves.com, or join his Facebook page at bit.ly/georgiagardener for his latest tips.