How to Get Rid of Wasps and Hornets
Unlike bees, wasps and hornets have not been included in the conversation of saving the pollinators. Members of the Vespidae family, often called Vespids, are important pollinators and are predators of other harmful insects. Many species of wasps and hornets act as “organic pest control” as they kill many species of pest insects.
The main reason that wasps and hornets have not been included in the conservation language is because of their propensity to sting. It is true, many species of wasps and hornets are more aggressive than the bumblebee and the honeybee, but most species of wasps are of no real concern to humans. Of the thousands of different species of wasps and hornets, only a few species have an impact on humans.
Because of their benefits and necessity in keeping balance in the ecosystem, a wasp nest on your property may or may not require pest control intervention. For example, if you find a wasp nest deep in the wooded area on your 20 acre property, it can likely be left alone. However, if you live in a suburban neighborhood on a quarter acre with children playing nearby, you should seek professional help in removing the wasp or hornet nest. Every pest situation is unique and should be carefully analyzed. If you or a family member has a known allergy to stinging insects, you will likely be more aggressive about eliminating wasp and hornet nests from your property.
Whatever the situation, here at Nextgen Pest Solutions, we have the knowledge, equipment, and fortitude to safely eliminate bees, wasps, and hornets from your home or property.
Click to View Post Navigation
- Difference between Bees, Wasps, and Hornets
- Life Cycle of a Wasp
- Social Wasps and Hornets
- European Hornet Identification
- Bald-Faced Hornet Identification
- Yellow Jacket Identification
- The Differences between Bees and Yellow Jackets
- Yellow Jacket Nests
- Yellow Jackets in the South
- Yellow Jacket Stings
- Paper Wasps and Umbrella Wasps
- Paper Wasp Identification
- Paper Wasp Nests
- Paper Wasp Stings
- Solitary Wasps
- Bee, Wasp, Yellow Jacket, and Hornet Stings
- How to Prevent Wasps and Hornets
- How to Safely Kill Wasps and Hornets
Difference between Bees, Wasps, and Hornets
Many people equate bees, wasps, and hornets because of their ability to sting, however, they are quite different from each other. Both bees and wasps are members of the order Hymenoptera. Ants are also a member of this large insect order. One of the most common characteristics is an elongated ovipositor in females, which acts as a stinger. However, bees and wasps separate at the family level of classification. As stated above, wasps and hornets are members of the family Vespidae, and often referred to as Vespids. Bees are members of the Apidae family, hence the term apiarian or apiarist when referring to a beekeeper.
Bees and wasps vary greatly in their general appearance. Bees are more round-bodied with a fuzzy or hairy appearance. This fuzz allows pollen to easily cling to them, allowing them to carry the pollen from flower to flower. Wasps are more slender-bodied, often with little to no hair or fuzz, appearing almost shiny. They usually have a visibly cinched waist and thinner legs.
Although a few species of bees are solitary, most bees live in large colonies with honey beeshoneybees living in the largest colonies. Bees generally live in hives which are built from wax they create. Only young female worker bees can make beeswax. At around 12 days old, these young worker bees develop a wax organ. This gland converts sugar from honey into wax. The wax is discharged as flakes from the underside of the bee’s belly. Other worker bees gather these wax flakes, chew them to make them soft and malleable and use them to form the hexagonal cells of the honeycomb. Bees mainly eat nectar, pollen, and the honey that they make. Although bee populations decrease in the winter, bees do not hibernate. Instead, they huddle together and survive on their stores of honey. Unless Africanized, bees are less likely to sting than wasps or hornets. However, when they do sting, usually their stinger detaches from their body, and they will die.
Wasps are often solitary, and if they do live together in groups, they are much smaller gathering than bees. Rather than constructing their nests from wax like bees, most wasp species make their nests from paper pulp. Wasps chew wood products mixing it with their saliva to create a pulp like paste. The nests they create with this substance have the appearance and texture of paper.
Wasps consume honeydew and nectar, but they have a much more varied diet than bees. Wasps are more likely to be attracted to your picnic and land on your ham sandwich or land in your juice or soda. In addition, many species of wasps consume other bugs. In certain situations, farmers may release wasps as biocontrol, to control pest insects. Wasps may eat caterpillars, ants, bees (and honey), aphids, whiteflies, and sugar can borers. Beginning in early fall, most wasps die off. During winter, the queen will seek out a safe and warm place to hibernate during the winter. Wasps tend to be more aggressive than bumblebees and honeybees, and unlike bees they can sting multiple times. Wasps do not loose their stinger when it is injected into a person and can therefore repeatedly sting their victims.
Bees and wasps, both capable of stinging people, yet highly valuable in the ecosystem, are quite different from one another. Despite their differences, the manner in which we get rid of pesky wasps and bees is similar.
Life Cycle of a Wasp
Each species of wasp, and there are about 30,000 wasp species in the world, has differences in the details of their life cycle. The differences revolve mostly around the nesting details. Social wasps and solitary wasps create nests and handle their eggs quite differently. Because yellowjackets are one of the most problematic wasps, we will focus this discussion on the life cycle of a social wasp, the yellowjacket.
In the fall, as weather begins to cool, the worker caste of yellowjackets die off. The only ones that attempt to overwinter are the newly fertilized females. The female yellow jacket will burrow underground, under dead trees, in hollow logs and stumps, in leaf litter, and in man-made structures. When she emerges in the late spring, her immediate concern is finding a place to build her nest and lay her eggs. Once she selects a location, she builds a small nest, and lays her eggs. The queen herself cares for the first generation of young. Once they mature, the adult workers care for the queen and she uses her energy to produce more eggs.
Once the initial eggs hatch, the queen feeds the larvae for about 20 days. These larvae resemble worms and feed on food that is brought to them. During this phase, they are often fed chewed up insects and other arthropods, carrion, and many caterpillars. The yellowjacket larvae pupate in the cell where it has spent its entire life so far. In a few days a fully developed sterile yellowjacket worker emerges. This first generation yellowjacket takes over the “work” of the nest, allowing the queen to only lay eggs. The nest continues to grow until it reaches its peak in August or September. In late summer, the colony produces reproductive males and females. These yellowjackets, capable of reproduction, leave the nest and mate. The male dies and the females look for a place to hibernate. If she successfully survives the winter, the cycle continues the following year.
The major exception to this life cycle is in warm climates, such as Florida, Georgia, and other southern states. If it is warm enough, the yellowjacket population does not die off. Rather they continue to thrive and increase in population. A typical yellowjacket nest at its peak may have several thousand yellowjackets. In warm locations, yellowjacket nests have been found that take up the back seat up abandoned vehicles and large areas of barns and storage sheds. It is believed these nests contain over 100,000 yellowjackets. Should you encounter a perennial yellowjacket nest, do not attempt to control it yourself. Call a licensed and insured pest control company immediately.
Social Wasps and Hornets
Controlling social bees, wasps, and hornets is more difficult because of the high concentration of stinging insects present in a hive or nest. The predominant stinging insects that we are concerned about are social or eusocial insects. There are many species of wasps that are present in our yards and wooded areas, but they are solitary and therefore less of a concern. Social wasps work together to build their hive, care for their young, feed and grow the colony, and most concerning to us… protect their colony. Social wasps are classified into castes, male and female reproductives, known as the queen and drones, and workers.
The three most common types of social wasps we encounter are yellowjackets, hornets, and the common paper wasp. The treatment and elimination of each of these species is similar, but their distinct characteristics and behaviors will be examined below.
European Hornet Identification
Scientific Name: Vespa crabro Linnaeus
European hornets are native to Europe and Asia and were believed to have been introduced to North America in the early 1800s. European Hornets are well established in the eastern United States from New York south to North Georgia. They are spreading westward and have been found as far west as Arkansas and Missouri. European Hornets are actually the only true hornet found in the United States. European Hornets are also sometimes called brown hornets or giant hornets.
European Hornets are among the largest wasps of the areas they inhabit, they are much larger and fearsome looking than your average honeybee. The workers can be nearly an inch in the length and the queens slightly larger. European Hornets have a reddish-brown head. Their abdomen is mostly yellow with characteristic tear drop shaped markings that appear to drip down their backs.
European Hornets are predators and hunt other insects for food. They eat grasshoppers, caterpillars, and many kinds of insects that many farmers consider pests. In the fall, when the colony is in upheaval due to the impending winter, hornets seem to have an insatiable sweet tooth. While they are not aggressive in the sense that they are not defending their nest, they will come uncomfortably close to your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or soda can. Many people are stung when swatting hornets away from their picnic lunch in the fall.
European Hornet Nests
Hornets are most known for aerial nests. European Hornets prefer to construct their nest at least 6 feet off the ground in a tree void or suspended from a tree branch. However, in a pinch, a wall void or the attic space of your home will do as well. Hornets’ nests are constructed of a papery pulp which is created when they chew and salivate wood. The worker hornets create hexagon shaped chambers to rear the young, and cover the nest with pulp so that they look like a paper mache football hanging from a tree. Most hornet’s nests have a single entrance.
Hornets use this nest for only one season. The hornet’s nest is at its largest in mid-September. Most hornet’s nests have between 200-400 workers, but large nests can house up to 1,000 stinging insects. Each winter the workers die off and the fertilized queen abandons the nest and overwinters in a warm safe location. She may choose to hibernate underneath the bark of a tree, inside a crevice of a rock, or underground in a small animal burrow. When she emerges in the spring, she will begin construction of a nest anew.
When you determine you have hornets nesting nearby, it is important to attempt to locate the nest. The nest location in relation to human activity is a highly important factor in determining the next steps. To locate a hornet’s nest, place a bit of meat, like deli ham or turkey, or a bit of sweet fruit like an apple in the area where you have seen hornets. If hornets are in the area, they will begin to feed on your piece of bait. From a safe distance, and preferably wearing a professional bee suit, follow the hornets back to their nest. They are fast fliers; if you lose them, simply place another piece of food out.
Once you locate the nest, consider the amount of human activity nearby, the proximity to the fall season and the decline of the colony, and any known allergies of people in the area. If you determine that the hornet’s nest must be removed, great care and planning should be utilized before you approach and irritate the hornets. Or call the professionals at Nextgen Pest Solutions. We have the equipment, knowledge, and experience to safely remove a hornet’s nest from your property or home.
European Hornet Stings
Although they are larger in size than other stinging insects, European Hornets are not as aggressive as other Vespidsaes. However, never approach a hornet’s nest without affording it its due respect. They will defend their nest and their queen. European Hornet’s have a smooth stinger which allows them to sting their victim multiple times. If the stinger does become imbedded in your skin, remove it as soon as possible to prevent additional venom from entering your body. Over-the-counter pain relievers and antihistamines may help soothe the pain and inflammation associated with hornet’s stings. Just as with bees and wasps, some people are allergic to hornet stings and may experience If a more serious reaction occurs, seek medical attention immediately.
Murder Hornets (Asian Giant Hornet)
Scientific Name: Vespa mandarinia
As if 2020 didn’t present the world with enough challenges, news of murder hornets began to fill social media news feeds. The proper name for murder hornets is actually Asian Giant Hornets, or Vespa mandarinia. Sometimes these giant hornets are referred to as Japanese hornet, yak-killer hornet and the giant sparrow bee. These hornets are native to Asia and only within the last few years have been found in North America. At the time of this writing, in North America, they have only located in British Columbia and Washington state. Efforts have ramped up to learn about their spread and eradication efforts. Scientists project that in 20 years, they could be widespread from Glacier Bay in Alaska to Oregon.
Many people claim to have found murder hornets across the United States. Except for a few localized colonies in Washington state, these soghtingssightings have all turned out to be false. Typically, these sightings turn out to be Cicada Killers or European Hornets which are both common in the Eastern United States.
As murder hornets are still rare in North America, scientists are holding out hope that they can be eradicated. Several murder hornet nests have been successfully eradicated in Washington state. A tiny tracker was attached to an Asian Giant Hornet with dental floss. This led scientists to the elusive nest about 3 meters high in a hollow of a tree. The tree was stuffed with foam and wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent them from escaping. The murder hornets were vacuumed out and carbon dioxide introduced to the tree to eliminate the remaining murder hornets. With this successful tracking and eradication, scientists are hopeful that this invasive species can be contained and eliminated from our continent.
Asian Giant Hornets are distinctive and much larger than other species of hornets. A typical Asian Giant Hornet will grow to be between 1.5 to 2 inches in length with queens growing even larger. Asian Giant Hornets have a wingspan of approximately 3 inches. Murder hornets have a broad orange-yellow head with dark obvious eyes. Black and orangish colored stripes encompass the abdomen. The stinger is about ¼” in length.
Murder hornets are not typically aggressive towards humans; however their sting can be deadly. These hornets generally only sting humans when they feel threatened or are defending their nest. In Japan, Asian Giant Hornets are blamed for between 30 and 50 deaths per year.
Murder hornets can sting their victims multiple times. Because the murder hornet is larger than other hornets, each sting injects more venom than other wasp and hornet species. In addition, the stinger is longer than other stinging insects and may penetrate typical beekeeping protective clothing. Their sting can be extremely painful and dangerous. A typical murder hornet sting contains 1,100 micrograms of venom, which is 7x the amount of venom in a typical honeybee sting!
Aside from the additional stings associated with a new species of hornets, the main reason for concern with murder hornets is their propensity to kill honeybees. The decline of bee populations is a major environmental concern. In early summer, murder hornets forage and kill other insects for food.
As summer progresses, murder hornets target honeybees more aggressively. The murder hornet workers lure the honeybees from their hive and decapitate them leaving their bodies lying in a pile beneath the hive. The murder hornets then enter the hive and raid the nest, taking the eggs, larvae, and pupae as food for their own expanding hives. Honeybees native to Asia have some natural defenses to this cruel massacre. However, the honeybees responsible for pollinating our crops and gardens are a European variety. The European honeybee’s small stinger is useless against the large stinger of the murder hornet and cannot combat the invasion and plundering of their hive.
Bald-Faced Hornet Identification
Scientific Name: Dolichovespula maculata
Bald faced hornets are not true hornets, they are actually wasps. This species acquired its name due to its characteristic mostly white face, large size, and the fact that they typically build aerial nests as hornets tend to do. Bald faced hornets have mostly white face and have a mostly black body. They have white markings near the end tip of their abdomen. Bald-faced hornet workers are typically about ¾” in length with queens growing larger.
Bald-faced hornets are highly aggressive and are located throughout most of the United States except some of the driest regions of the Great Plains. Bald-faced hornets are particularly sensitive to sounds and vibrations. Lawn mowers and weed whackers and other such equipment are particularly irritating to these stinging insects. There are many stories of homeowners and landscapers viciously attacked by a nest they didn’t even know was present.
Like other wasps and hornets, bald faced hornet colonies die off in the winter and only the mated females attempt to overwinter. When the queen emerges from hibernation in the spring, she builds a small nest and lays her initial eggs. The queen cares for the initial brood, and as they mature, they become the colony’sies workers and defenders. The colony continues to grow until mid-September when it reaches its peak population; usually about 300 – 400 bald faced hornets, but sometimes up to 700 hornets.
Like other wasps, bald-faced hornets eat both other insects and nectar. Bald-faced hornets are particularly fond of eating yellowjackets. Bald-faced hornets are pollinators, particularly in the fall when they seek out more sugar, and often go unnoticed all season long.
Bald Faced Hornet Nests
Bald-faced hornets create their nests in the air. The nests are usually built at least 3 feet in the air, but sometimes these nests are built up to 60 feet high. Baldfaced hornets usually construct their nests in hollows of trees or hanging from tree branches or shrubs, but occasionally they create their nests under the eaves of a structure, in barns or sheds, and near or on play structures. They may also build a nest inside your structure, such as in the attic or in a wall void. The location of the bald-faced hornet’s nest is directly related to if you decide to have the nest removed.
A female bald-faced hornet emerges in the spring after over-wintering behind bark or nestled in a crevice or burrow. She collects cellulose from nearby rotting wood and chews the wood. Her saliva is mixed with the wood and it becomes a paste like material. The queen uses this paste to create her nest. She creates a small number of chambers and lays eggs into them. She cares for this first generation, and when they are mature, they take over the work responsibilities of the nest. Bald-faced hornet workers build and grow the nest, gather food and feed the immature bald-faced hornets and queen, and defend the nest.
Unlike European Hornets, Bald-faced hornet nests often have more than one entry/exit hole. The nestsy are grey in color, and have a papery look and feel to them. This papery covering encompasses the rearing chambers and provides some measure of water resistance for the colony. Baldfaced hornet nests are usually football shaped and can reach 24 inches in length and 18 inches across. A bald faced hornet’s nest should be approached with extreme caution and always with proper personal protective equipment.
Bald-Faced Hornet Stings
Bald-faced hornets are considered an aggressive stinging insect. They seem to be particularly annoyed by loud noises and vibrations which often travel through the air. Bald-faced hornets will attack if you are simply in their area, even if you are not approaching or threatening the nest. Bald-faced hornets have smooth stingers and can sting their victim more than once.
For the benefit of science, Entomologist Justin Schmidt has purposefully allowed himself to be stung by the most painful stinging insect on planet earth. He has created a pain scale from 1-4. Likely, the most entertaining aspect of his work, is the verbiage he uses to describe the searing pain of these stings. The descriptive, flowery language he uses often sounds like a description of a fine wine rather than the sting of a venomous insect. He rates a bald faced hornet sting as a 2 and describes it as, “Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.”
When hornets attack, they often target your face area. If you are stung by bald-faced hornets, extreme pain and localized swelling are the most likely symptoms. Over the counter medications and ice packs to the effectedaffected area can be helpful.
Like other stinging insects, bald faced hornet stings can trigger allergic reactions in some people. If you have a known allergy to bee stings, do not approach a bald-faced hornet’s nest. If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, seek medical attention immediately.
- Swelling on the face, tongue, lips, or throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Rash that spreads beyond the sting site
- Changes in heart rate
- Dizziness or confusion
- Drop in blood pressure
Bald-faced hornets can pose a threat to your family and your customers and should be approached with the caution. To prevent bald-faced hornet stings, allow the professionals at Nextgen Pest Solutions to eliminate the hornets from your home or business.
Yellow Jacket Identification
Scientific Name: Vespula spp.
Yellow jackets are a common pest in the United States throughout the summer and become more problematic during the fall. Yellow jackets rightfully send people in the opposite direction. They are highly aggressive if they feel their nest is in danger, and smart humans have adapted to learn that it is often better to avoid yellowjackets than challenge them. While yellowjackets are predators to many insects that are considered pests to humans and they do perform an important ecological function, most people decide their nests have no place in and around our yards, playgrounds, and businesses.
Yellowjackets are smaller in size than the other stinging insects we have discussed so far. They range from ½” to ¾” in length. True to its name, yellow jackets have stripes of yellow and black on their abdomens. Their head is a combination of yellow and black markings. Like other insects, they have six legs and 2 antennae.
The Differences between Bees and Yellow Jackets
Because of the yellow and black bands and similar size, yellowjackets are sometimes confused with honeybees. For the most part, honeybees are docile and will not chase or pursue you when you flee, whereas yellowjackets will pursue you if they feel threatened.
A quick visual check of the banded buzzing insect will help you differentiate bees from yellowjackets.
- Have fuzzy/hairy body
- Broad and wide body shape with a harder to see narrow waist
- Slow circular flight pattern, usually around flowers
- Have a smooth shell like body
- Slender body with a pinched in/narrow waist
- Rapid side-to-side flight pattern just prior to landing
While not visual clues between the differences between yellowjackets and bees, there are many behavioral differences between these 2 species. Sometimes the circumstantial evidence may help you determine if you have a hive of beneficial docile honeybees or aggressive yellowjackets. As stated above, yellowjackets will chase you down while most honeybees will allow you to leave the area. Bees will sting if directly threatened, while yellowjackets are more likely to attack if you are simply in their vicinity. Bees can only sting one time and then they die, yellowjackets can sting repeatedly. If you locate the nest or hive, a yellow jacket nest is papery and often found underground. Bees build wax combs in cracks and crevices throughout the landscape. Bees eat pollen and nectar, where yellowjackets and other wasps and hornets eat other insects in addition to nectar.
Determining whether you have bees or yellowjackets in your yard is an important fact in weighing the risks that the hive poses to you and your family. Let the experts at Nextgen Pest Solutions investigate and make a recommendation to keep your family safe.
Yellow Jacket Nests
Yellow jackets’ nesting habits are unique in the Vespidae world. Yellow jackets most often create their nests underground, but occasionally they do create aerial nests. The underground yellowjacket nests usually take over an abandoned animal burrow. As the nest expands, the yellow jackets simply expand the colony. The entry hole to a yellowjacket nest is about the size of a nickel. Often, a sign of an underground yellowjacket nest is dirt or small stones piling up around the entrance to the burrow. Yellowjackets are known for creating nests in man-made materials as well. Stories of yellowjacket nests in rolled up carpets or blankets, concrete blocks, abandoned vehicles, or even wall voids or the attic of your home.
One of the reasons that yellowjackets are so feared is their nests contain more insects than other wasps and hornets. The future queen is the only yellowjacket that survives the winter. She survives by hibernating in crevices or between the bark and the trunk of a tree. She emerges in the spring to lay her eggs and start her colony. The yellowjacket chews wood, mixing it with her saliva until it becomes a paste. She uses this substance to create chambers into which she lays the first eggs of the season. The queen nurtures and feeds these first baby yellowjackets. The yellowjacket larvae are often fed chewed up insects, mostly caterpillars and flies. A small colony of yellowjackets may consume about 5,000 caterpillars in a summer. Despite the danger, many farmers consider yellowjackets a friend for this reason.
As the young yellowjackets mature, they take over the nest building, food gathering, and child rearing responsibilities. The queen becomes a full-time egg layer. At the peak of its season, a yellowjacket nest is about the size of a volleyball and contains 4,000 – 5,000 yellow jackets.
Yellowjacket colonies typically die off as winter approaches. During this transition in the fall, yellowjackets tastes seem to change from craving meat to craving sweets. Outdoor picnics or camping trips during this time of year will reveal high numbers or aggressive yellowjackets. I have seen yellow jackets land on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just as children were preparing to take a bite. Yellowjackets regularly swarm to sodas and juice boxes, and your fruit tray will be a yellowjacket favorite. Your reaction to this yellowjacket feeding behavior may determine if you get stung or not. Stay calm, don’t swat at or try to squish the yellowjackets. Unfortunately, during these few months of high activity you may have to move your picnic indoors.
Yellow Jackets in the South
As stated above, typically, yellowjacket colonies die in the winter with only the queen attempting to over-winter. The queen yellow jacket has anti-freeze like compounds in her blood that allows her to survive typical winters. However, in climates that have mild winters, such as Florida, Alabama, and other areas of the south, entire colonies have been known to survive the winter. This is more likely if the nest is located in a shed or some other area that offers some additional protection from the cold. In these warm climates insect food and nectar from flowers remains available all year and allows the workers to survive. These nests are known as super nests or perennial nests because they remain active for more than one year.
The largest of these super nests often have more than one queen, although it is unknown if they are related or if the nests were close by and they decided to team up. A typical yellow jacket super colony contains about 15,000 yellowjackets. One of the largest of these super nests was found in Alabama inside of a 1957 Chevy. This perennial yellowjacket nest filled the interior of the vehicle. Another super colony was found in South Carolina, which contained approximately 250,000 jellowjackets.
If you have what you believe to be a yellow jacket super nest, please do not attempt to remove it yourself. Even though these huge colonies, tend to more docile than normal yellowjackets, the sheer number of individual insects is overwhelming. In addition, your pest control company may choose to contact Entomologists or a local extension agent. More research on these nests is necessary so that we can safely treat and remove them.
Yellow Jacket Stings
Unlike bees, yellow jackets are not reluctant to use their stingers. These aggressive insects can sting repeatedly and will chase you down. Yellowjackets often create their nests in the ground. When you run over that nest with the loud vibrating blades of your lawn mower, you are sure to raise the ire of the yellowjackets within. When the first yellowjacket stings you, it releases an alert pheromone which tells the other yellowjackets to attack. These irate insects will chase you for many yards and dodge obstacles in their pursuit of you. If you jump in a pool or a lake to escape, they will hover over the water waiting for you to come up for a breath. Pursuing yellowjackets will follow you indoors and attack within your home as well. These swarm style attacks are very dangerous because of the sheer number of stings you will sustain should you be so unlucky. If you are attacked by a swarm of yellowjackets, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Entomologist Justin Schmidt describes a yellow jacket sting as, “Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.”
Paper Wasps and Umbrella Wasps
Scientific Name: Polistes spp.
Paper wasps derive their name from the papery look and feel of their nests. They are also sometimes called an umbrella wasp because their nest resembles an open umbrella. There are about 22 individual species of paper wasps in the United States. Some species include the annularis paper wasp, apache paper wasp, dominulus paper wasp, dorsalis paper wasp and golden paper wasp. However, for our purposes, it is best to speak of them generally as paper wasps.
Paper wasps live in much smaller colonies than yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets. The colony reaches its peak in late summer, and usually contains between 20 – 75 adults. Paper wasp colonies begin in the spring when a queen, who mated in the fall or early winter, emerges from her hibernation and lays eggs. A few species of paper wasps begin when multiple females work together to start a colony, but it is usually only one. The queen cares for the first brood, then usually transitions to producing more eggs.
The paper wasp colony continues to grow until the fall when it begins to die off. As the colony begins to decline it produces reproductives who fly off in order to mate. Paper wasp mating habits have an unusual characteristic. The male paper wasps tend to “hang out” on tall structures such as a NASA launch pad, the top of a roller coaster, or the top of cell phone towers. They emit a pheromone which attracts female paper wasps and mating occurs. Scientists are unsure why paper wasps tend to perch on the highest point available, but it in urban or suburban areas it may be a substitute for a tall tree. With regards to home pest control, it is common for a home that stands higher than others in the neighborhood to have paper wasps, while the single story homes surrounding it have none. After they mate, the male paper wasp dies and the female seeks shelter for the winter.
Paper Wasp Identification
Paper wasp is a general term for approximately 22 species of wasps in the United States. Identifying these wasps down to the species is usually unnecessary as they have similar characteristics. In general paper wasps have the slender body shape of yellow jackets, but their color markings are different. Depending upon the species, paper wasps are between ⅝” – ¾” in length, with smokey-black wings that are folded lengthwise when the wasp is at rest. Paper wasps are mostly brown with yellow or sometimes red markings. Each species has slightly different yellow or red marks that differentiate the species from one another. However, they lack the definitive and bold markings of yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets.
Paper Wasp Nests
Paper wasps build nests with wood fiber collected from wooden posts or live plants. They chew the wood and mix it with saliva until it becomes a paste-like substance. They form this substance into hexagon shaped cells which is the basis for their nest. The eggs are laid into these cells and when they hatch the larvae are housed and fed in these cells until they mature.
Unlike other wasp species, paper wasps do not encase their colony with a protective layer. Rather, they leave the cells exposed. Paper wasp nests have the appearance and feel of a paper product and the shape of an umbrella. They are often found hanging from trees or branches, soffits and eaves, attic rafters, deck railings, and porch ceilings. At the nest’s peak occupancy in the late summer, the nest is usually about 3” in diameter.
Paper Wasp Stings
Paper wasps are most likely to sting during the summer months, when the colony is rapidly expanding. Although, paper wasps are not considered one of the most aggressive of the stinging insects, they can and do sting. They are most likely to sting if they are disturbed or their nest is threatened. Only female paper wasps can sting, and they can sting multiple times. Entomologist Justin Schmidt has described a paper wasp sting as, “Burning, throbbing, and lonely. A single drop of superheated frying oil landed on your arm.” On a scale of 1 – 4, he rated the sting of a paper wasp as a 1 ½. If a paper wasp stings, it is likely during wasp pest control.
Paper wasp stings usually induce localized pain and swelling. Upon getting to safety, remove any stinger that may be imbedded in your skin. Clean the area with soap and water. In most cases the pain from the sting resolves in a few hours. Some people find over the counter anti-inflammatory medication may help reduce the pain and an antihistamine may help to reduce a local reaction.
If you are allergic to insect stings, the symptoms can be much more severe. These may include generalized itching, hives, nausea and vomiting, swelling of the throat, shortness of breath, and a drop in blood pressure. Extreme anaphylactic reactions may cause loss of consciousness and death. Each year, stinging insects send about 500,000 Americans to the emergency room. Contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
While not typically a pest control concern, there are several species of solitary wasps that are either particularly interesting or commonly seen in and around homes. As the name suggests, solitary wasps do not live together in colonies like many other insects. Rather, they live alone. They are typically not aggressive towards people and rarely sting. Many solitary wasps are beneficial in the landscape and should be tolerated if possible.
Scientific Name: Sphecius speciosus
Cicada killers are large, fierce looking wasp that are often mistaken for yellow jackets. Cicada killers are sometimes 1.5” in length, with dark colored heads, and black or brown thorax. Their abdomen is black with yellow markings. It is more common to observe the males, patrolling the nesting area, but male cicada killers do not have stingers, therefore pose no threat to humans. Female cicada killers, who do have stingers, do not fiercely protect their nest, and tend to only sting if they are directly handled.
Female cicada killers burrow into the ground in well drained, light textured soil. They tunnel between 6-10 inches deep and create rooms and chambers underground. Cicada killers do not live together in these tunnels and chambers, but often aggregate together. Sometimes there are hundreds of cicada killer holes and tunnels in a given area, and the aggregation may continue for years. In areas where many cicada killers are nesting, pest control applications may be considered necessary to prevent unsightly mounds of soil.
Here is where the cicada killer gets interesting though! After the tunnel and chambers are prepared, female cicada killers go out in search of a cicada. When she locates her prey, the female cicada killer delivers an accurate injection of venom which immediately paralyzes and immobilizes the cicada. The wasp then drags or flies back to her chambers bringing the cicada with her. This is an amazing feat as the cicada is usually larger and heavier than the wasp. The cicada killer then stashes the not yet dead but paralyzed cicada into one of the chambers that she has prepared, and lays an egg on the cicada’s body. She then seals the chamber like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh’s tomb.
In 2-3 days the egg hatches, and the cicada killer wasp larvae emerges. The wasp larvae burrows into the cicada on which it was born and begins to devour the cicada. To ensure the larvae has enough food, sometimes the female cicada killer will place more than one cicada in the chamber. The larvae feeds on the cicadas in the chamber for approximately 2 weeks, then pupates in a cocoon like case. They emerge as adults in the summer to continue this cycle.
Mud Dauber Wasps
Scientific name for Black and Yellow Mud Dauber: Sceliphron caementarium
There are quite a few species of wasps that are considered mud daubers, including organpipe mud daubers, black-and-yellow mud daubers, and blue mud daubers. Mud daubers make their nests from mud, live alone, and pose little risk to humans. Mud daubers are between ¾” – 1” in length. The most common species are black with yellow markings or a metallic blue shade. Mud daubers are considered a thread-waisted wasp, because they possess a long, thin, thread-like connection between the thorax and the abdomen.
Mud daubers create their nests from moistened earth or mud. The shape of mud dauber nests varies by species. Sometimes they are shaped as balls, others create short tubes side by side (they look like cannoli in the bakery case), and yet another species creates larger tubes that look like organ pipes. The shape of the mud dauber nest can help to identify the species, but this can be deceiving. Sometimes a blue mud dauber will take over an unused nest of a black and yellow mud dauber.
Mud dauber nests are commonly found in sheltered areas such as under the eaves, in garages, sheds, barns, and porch ceilings. If there is a small hole on the nest, it is probably empty. Mud daubers do not defend their nest and almost never sting humans. However, always use caution when dealing with stinging insects. Sometimes a more aggressive stinging insect takes over the abandoned mud dauber nest.
Mud daubers feed primarily on spiders; some species even feed on black widow spiders. Sometimes mud daubers fly up to a spider web and shake it. When the spider comes to investigate, the mud dauber injects venom into the spider which paralyses it. The mud dauber brings the paralyzed spider to her nest. When the nest is filled with paralyzed spiders, the mud dauber lays a single egg and seals the nest with mud. When the egg hatches the larvae emerges and feast upon the spiders which were prepared for them. After a few weeks, the larvae pupates and overwinters in a silk cocoon. The adult mud dauber emerges from the nest in the spring to continue the cycle.
Velvet Ants or Cow Killers
Scientific Name: Dasymutilla occidentalis
Probably the most unusual solitary wasp is the Velvet Ant, which is sometimes called Cow Killers. The female of this species looks like a hairy red and black ant, but it is actually a wasp. Adding to the confusion, the female of this species does not have wings but does have a stinger. The male velvet ants have a more wasp-like appearance; they do have wings but do not have stingers.
Velvet ants are most commonly found running erratically on sunny sandy areas. Velvet ants enter the nesting chambers of bees and wasps that nest in the ground. They lay their eggs inside the nests of these other insects. When the egg hatches, the velvet ant larvae eats the host and ultimately pupates.
Aside from its brightly colored and hairy ant-like appearance, the sting of the velvet ant is notorious. It is so painful, it is said that the sting of a velvet ant can kill a cow. Although terribly painful, the venom of a velvet ant is not highly toxic and would likely not kill a cow. Should you encounter one of these insects, observe it from a distance.
Bee, Wasp, Yellow Jacket, and Hornet Stings
All stings are not equal. The sting a single honeybee is quite different than being attacked by a swarm of yellowjackets. The different species of wasps and hornets have different characteristics and levels of aggressiveness. Recall that bees sting one time and often leave the stinger in the injection site. Yellow jackets, wasps, and hornets are able to sting repeatedly and sometimes attack in large numbers. According to the CDC, on average 62 people per year die of wasp, hornet, and bee stings; 80% of these deaths are men. Approximately 500,000 people go the emergency room every year in the United States because of insect stings or bites.
For most people, a sting is a painful but minor medical event and treatable at home. However, for people with allergies, medical care is required. Insect stings are serious and may be life threatening for people who are allergic to the venom. It is believed that approximately 5% of the population is allergic to insect stings, but until you are stung, you simply don’t know. Therefore, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of a “normal” reaction to a sting vs an allergic reaction.
Common Symptoms of Insect Stings:
- Mild swelling
- White spot in the center of redness
Symptoms of Allergic Reaction May Include:
- Difficulty breathing or wheezing
- Swelling, redness, or hives
- The throat feels like it is closing
- Low blood pressure
- Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
- Headache, muscle aches, or cramps
- Fever, chills, or sweating
If you have any of these symptoms of an allergic reaction, seek medical attention immediately.
If you have a known allergy to bees, wasps, or hornets, your doctor will likely prescribe an EpiPen to self-administer epinephrine in the event of a sting. The epinephrine injected via this life saving device works to reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxes. It raises the blood pressure, relaxes the muscles of the throat so you can breathe, and increases the heart rate which improves blood flow. Be sure your epinephrine device is fresh and available at all times.
If you are not allergic, and the stings were few and minor, over the counter medications may ease the symptoms. Remove any stinger than may be imbedded in the skin and wash the affected area with soap and water to prevent infection. To reduce inflammation and swelling, apply a cold compress such as an ice pack. Pain medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may reduce pain and inflammation. Antihistamine or hydrocortisone cream may alleviate itching and discomfort. In most cases symptoms diminish within a few hours. In a small number of cases the redness around the injection site grows larger (about 4” in diameter) and lasts for several days.
How to Prevent Wasps and Hornets
Your yard should be a sanctuary for BBQ, backyard football games, and maybe even a nap in a hammock. Hornets and yellowjackets can chase you indoors quicker than any other insect. Because of their life cycle, there is a strong seasonal component to their likelihood of attack. For example, in the late summer yellow jacket colonies are at their largest and most aggressive. As the colony begins to decline and die off for the winter, the yellow jackets seek food from our fall picnics and outdoor activities. Yellow jackets are strongly attracted to proteins and sweets, such as a turkey sandwich, a can of soda, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The following are steps you can take to keep wasps and hornets away from your home:
- Clean outdoor trash cans and keep the lids tightly secured
- Clean up food and drink spills quickly
- Do not plant flowering bushes or plants near entryways or walkways
- Reduce access to water by repairing dripping faucets or plumbing leaks
- Seal gaps and holes in walls, doorways, and eaves
- Keep bushes and trees properly pruned
- Reduce yard debris and clutter
Spring Wasp Inspection
Aside from the general sanitation measures mentioned above, you may prevent wasp or hornets from becoming a major issue by inspecting for a nest in the early spring. In the early spring, the nests are small and comprised mainly of the founding queen and her first brood. Search in areas where people congregate and areas that are conducive to nests. Search areas that have previously had wasp or hornet nests. By removing these nests when they are small and immature, you may prevent a much more difficult pest problem.
Wasp traps should not be relied upon to eliminate an entire established colony, but in some circumstances, they can reduce the danger posed by wasps or hornets in the area. Wasp traps are usually composed of a container with an odorous attractant placed inside. The vespids fly into the container and cann not escape. These are usually hung in areas of high wasp activity. However, be sure not to place these traps in areas of high human activity such as on a play set or near the picnic table as it will attract wasps to the area.
Wasp traps are best utilized when a nest is on adjacent property, and you cannot remove the nest or to keep wasps at a minimum while preparing to eliminate the colony. Wasps reproduce and grow their colonies faster and more efficiently than you can trap them, but well-placed traps can mitigate some risk of stinging insects.
How to Safely Kill Wasps and Hornets
Once you have decided that a nest needs to go, it is time to make a plan. For some, the plan involves simply calling an experienced, licensed, and insured pest control company. Here at Nextgen Pest Solutions, we have the expertise, equipment, and knowledge required to take care of wasp and hornet nests large and small.
The risk that a wasp nest presents is dependent upon many factors. Are you allergic to stinging insects? Is the nest in question full of angry bald-faced hornets or is it a docile solitary wasp species? Are you early in the season when the nest is small, or is it midsummer when the nest is at its peak in size and aggressiveness? By properly identifying the wasp or hornet you are dealing with and learning its characteristics and behaviors you can assess the risk and decide to call in a professional or do it yourself.
Do not disturb the nest until you are ready to treat the nest. Do your research, gather safety and insecticide supplies, and carefully plan the treatment before you aggravate the hornet’s nest.
Protect Yourself from Wasps and Hornets
If you are treating a hornet, yellowjacket, or large paper wasp nest you must wear personal protective equipment. Do not even consider doing this job yourself if you do not have a complete bee suit that covers every area of your body. Once you disturb the insects, they will ferociously attack you; complete body coverage is essential. It is recommended that you duct tape all connections on the suit as they are adapt at finding the smallest entry hole. The bee suit should be worn over regular long sleeved shirt and pants.
A quality bee suit should include the following:
- Coveralls with long sleaves
- Wide brimmed hat with a bee hood or veil
- Metal screen face plate
- Long gloves that protect the wrists
Choosing an Insecticide for Wasps and Hornets
There are many different pesticides labeled for use on wasps and hornets. The size, species, and location of the nest determines what product should be used and in what formulation. All pesticides must be used in accordance with the EPA approved label. Check that the label allows you to treat the location where the nest is located and that your target species is on the label.
- Dusts – Dusts are often used when a nest is in a wall void or underground. They are slower acting than liquid treatments, but dust is easily transferred deep within the nest by the wasps themselves.
- Wasp “Freeze” Products – Freezing products are sprayed from between 10-20 feet away and project a stream of product that stuns or freezes the wasps. They are immediately stunned. Once immobilized, an insecticide kills the wasp. A small paper wasp nest can be handled with this product alone. In a larger job, this type of product is used to eliminate the wasps guarding the entrance to the nest.
- Silica gel and Pyrethrin – These products are in an aerosol can. They work by absorbing the waxy coating on the insect’s body causing it to dehydrate.
- Other liquid sprays – This includes many common insecticides. Liquids act quicker than dusts on wasps and hornets. Because of the water proof/resistant nature of yellow jacket and hornet’s nests the liquid may need to be injected directly into the nest.
Traditionally, some people have used gasoline for in ground yellow jacket nests. This practice creates a fire hazard, typically isn’t effective, and contaminates the soil. Do not do this, rather, choose an EPA approved insecticide for this purpose.
Applying Insecticide to Wasp and Hornet Nests
Once you have chosen and purchased your bee suit and insecticide and gathered your supplies, it time to treat the nest. Always apply pesticides to wasp and hornet’s nests in the evening when there is less nest activity. Think about lighting, ladder safety, and the safety of your neighbors. We recommend warning your neighbors on the evening of your treatment and encourage them to stay indoors and turn off their porch lights.
For large aggressive nests many professionals utilize a distraction technique. When angry yellowjackets are disturbed they will fly towards a light. Set up bright shop lights or car headlights on the opposite side of where you will be standing on your ladder. Do not stand between the lights and the nest. As the hornets or yellow jackets emerge, they will fly away from you and towards the light.
To reduce the number of angry hornets set up a wet/dry vac at the entrance of the nest. With a bit of soapy water in the canister, many of the wasps or hornets will be eliminated as an immediate risk as they irritably emerge. Some large nests with multiple openings may require more than one vacuum set up. Vacuums should be used in conjunction with insecticidal products. You should not expect to eliminate an established colony by simply vacuuming it up.
If you are dealing with a large colony, you should use all the weapons in your arsenal… lights, vacuums, and pesticides. With lights shining and vacuums sucking, begin by spraying a fast-acting freeze spray on the guard wasps and at the entrance. Follow this with a residual dust or liquid spray applied to interior of the nest. Thoroughly coat the entrance and all parts of the nest. Dusts will be transferred around the nest by the activity inside. Liquid treatment may need to be applied with an injection wand to ensure a thorough treatment. Amidst the activity of a large-scale hornet’s nest removal, remember safety first, and don’t fall off your ladder!
Removing Wasp or Hornet Nest
After the treatment, allow time for the insecticides to kill all the remaining wasps and hornets. It may take between a few days and a few weeks for all of the insects to be eliminated. Retreat after one week if there is still activity in the nest.
Once there is no longer a threat, it is important to remove the nest. If you allow the nest to remain, other stinging insects may attempt to colonize the nest and establish a new infestation. If the nest is hanging from a branch of a tree or the eaves of your house, the nest can be placed in a double lined plastic bag, sealed, and disposed of. If the nest is underground, collapse it and fill it with sand.
Getting rid of wasps and hornets yourself can be a dangerous proposition. From the risk of multiple insect stings to falling from ladders, this job requires balancing of nerves of steel and a healthy degree of respect for the insects. Call Nextgen Pest Solutions today to receive a free quote for wasp and hornet removal.