Return of the Jack Spaniard

I don’t miss the sting of the Jack Spaniard wasp. It was always a terrible surprise. The electric pain faded fast, but the swelling and itching lasted for days. I was once told that putting some urine on a Jack Spaniard sting would neutralize the poison. Was it a folk remedy or a trick to get kids to rub pee on themselves? Maybe both.

Jack Spaniards build nests out of paper, so they love dry spaces. They nest under awnings, in caves and in the shelter of large tree branches. They only sting when they are defending their nests, but their nests were everywhere. At least, until they weren’t.

Even stinging things belong on St. Martin.

After Hurricane Irma a few Jack Spaniards came to our hummingbird feeders, but within a week or two they were gone. I didn’t see one again for another year. Of all the things that could have been wiped out by a hurricane, wasps weren’t on the top of my list.

The disappearance of the Jack Spaniard did make sense. Wind would have destroyed most nests. It also destroyed the flowers where adult wasps would feed on pollen. For the adults that did survive, it was probably hard to find caterpillars to feed to their young. Some did survive, but with dry weather last spring and summer, it took time for them to recover.

Jack Spaniards pollinate flowers.

The Jack Spaniard plays many roles in nature. It pollinates flowers so plants can reproduce. It hunts caterpillars, keeping them from eating all the plants. When caterpillars ate every leaf from every Flamboyant tree on the island last year, the Jack Spaniard wasn’t there to bring balance by eating the caterpillars. The Jack Spaniard is also food for birds like the Gray Kingbird and Caribbean Elaenia. It’s a busy insect!

Jack Spaniards care for their young.

When I started seeing Jack Spaniards again in October, I was surprisingly happy. It was a sign that the island hadn’t changed completely. It was a reminder that natural recovery was still happening in subtle and unseen ways. When I spotted a new nest in December, I wasn’t overjoyed, but they do deserve their place on the island.

Have you seen signs of nature’s recovery lately? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to [email protected].


  1. Serena Preservati says:

    Hi, Mark! We’ve experienced quite a few of these in our yard in Dawn Beach as well as while we are out hiking. Any idea as to why they always sting my husband over me?

  2. Xlator says:

    Hi Mark.
    Lots of nests being built outside our apartment here at Mt. Vernon, including on our door frame this morning. I swept away the nests without killing the builders. Hope I discouraged them from starting over. On the overhangs they are very persistent with their construction activity.

  3. Carol Bartholomew says:

    Hi Mark,
    The Jack Spaniards have certainly returned to Anguilla too . There seem to be way more Jack Spaniards now than I can ever remember…I am wondering if the birds you mentioned were wiped out with Irma so there are not as many natural predators for the wasps. I feel we have an imbalance now with too many Jack Spaniards and they seem to be nesting everywhere. Are you finding that is the case in SXM??? Do you have any suggestions for ways to deter them from nesting in doors and windows etc. Seeking solutions.
    Thanks …Carol

  4. Hi Carol! Regarding how many there are, could be fewer Gray Kingbirds, which eat them. Also the wet year means lots of caterpillars for them to feed to their babies. I wish I had good advice about getting them to nest away from buildings, but I have nothing on that!

  5. Pearl says:

    They are back in the BVI as well, post Irma. And tons of them as Carol from Anguilla mentioned, and they are nesting everywhere. I leave them alone for the most part, except when they nest on our balconies.

  6. Roger FRANCOIS says:

    Connaissez-vous ce que l’on appelait American Jack spaniard à Saint-Martin ?
    C’st une guêpe bien plus grosse que la guêpe commune, d’un bleu brillant intense
    qui faisait son nid dans la terre. C’est du moins le souvenir que j’en ais.

  7. Willie says:

    STX…. Boy are they back!!! Passed under a nest under my house, the whole nest unloaded on me!!!! 20 plus stings back of my neck and shoulders. Passed out did a face plant on stones. Out for ten minutes,had to go to an urgent care center..steroids and stitches for my lips,,,,not fun

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