Wasp Identification

Wasp! Just the word can make you tense. That’s because these insects can deliver a painful sting, and many of them can be aggressive, especially if people or pets wander too close to their nests. Not every wasp is aggressive, and many serve important roles as pollinators or in keeping the populations of crop-eating insects in check. And there are some wasps who truly are just as afraid of you as you are of them. Knowing which wasps are more likely to cause problems in your own back yard can help you decide when it’s time to call in a pest control company.

Identifying Wasps

There are several common types of wasps that make Massachusetts and New Hampshire their home. Some are social, meaning they live together in large nests and collectively care for the young, and some are solitary, caring for their own young and often living on their own — although some may nest together in the same areas. Most wasps fall into the solitary category, although it’s the social wasps that can be particularly aggressive if the nest is threatened. Most adult wasps feed on plant nectar or fruit juices but collect insects or spiders to feed their young. Some have a particular fondness for human foods and drinks, especially in the late summer or fall.

Social Wasps

  • Yellow jackets: Perhaps the most widely-recognized of the social wasps, yellow jackets are often uninvited guests at backyard picnics. Most yellow jackets have yellow and black stripes on the thorax (the midsection of the body) and abdomen (lower section), and they prefer to build their nests in hollowed-out trees, in underground holes and even inside building walls, which they enter through tiny cracks. Yellow jackets are aggressive when threatened, and their stings can be quite painful.
  • Bald-faced hornets: These wasps are black and white and derive their name from the white or yellowish patch on their faces. Bald-faced hornets build their gray, papery, covered nests under the eaves of buildings or attached to tree branches.
  • Giant hornets: Giant hornets are also called European hornets and can be up to 1.5” in length – double or triple the size of many other wasps. Giant hornets are rust-colored with yellow and brown markings and prefer to build their nests in hollowed-out trees or inside sheds, barns, attics, and similar protected sites. Their nests are large, consisting of layers of individual combs which may be surrounded by a papery exterior.
  • Paper wasps: Paper wasps have a characteristic thin “waist.” Some are reddish-brown with yellow markings, but others mimic yellow jackets. Paper wasps are relatively common, building the characteristic open comb under eaves of buildings or even suspended from the ceilings or rafters of porches or sheds. Paper wasps are not as aggressive as yellow jackets.

Solitary Wasps

  • Mud daubers: Long and slender, these wasps can have yellow legs and markings or they may be entirely black or blue-tinged, depending on the species. These wasps build nests of mud tubes, which they provision with spiders, plastered on walls in protected sites. They’re not particularly aggressive.
  • Cicada killers: Cicada killers are big – up to 2” long – and like their name implies, they feed on cicadas, often capturing them in midair. The female digs a small burrow in the ground, then buries her prey in the burrow where it serves as food for her young once they hatch. Cicada killers rarely sting humans, becoming defensive only if handled.
  • Sand wasps: With black-and-white stripes on the abdomen, sand wasps dig single nests in the ground and hunt for flies and other insect pests to provide a food source for their larvae. Like cicada killers, sand wasps are not aggressive and rarely sting.
  • Great golden digger wasps: named for their orange-red-colored abdomen and legs, great golden digger wasps dig burrows in the sand, depositing insect prey to feed their young. They can be about 1” long and they are not aggressive – in fact, they can be very beneficial by preying on insect pests.

Most social wasps are aggressive when protecting the nest, and because they like to build nests near homes and other occupied areas, stings are fairly common. Like bee stings, wasp stings can cause a severe allergic reaction in some people — and that means getting rid of their nests is important. Because of their aggressive nature, trying to eliminate nests of wasps on your own is never advisable.

Colonial Pest’s skilled team of pest control specialists is experienced in controlling wasp populations in residential and commercial settings, using the most appropriate approach to rid your property of aggressive wasps safely and effectively. Don’t let wasps or other pests keep you from enjoying the outdoors. Call Colonial Pest at 800-525-8084 and schedule a service call today.




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