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Summer Pests: Wasps

By Chris Williams on September 10, 2019.

There are a variety of ways to get rid of wasps in your yard. Zack Ciras, quality manager with Colonial Pest Control, talks about the types of wasps and how to identify and rid your yard of their nests. Listen or read more to find out about the summer pests: wasps.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Zack Ciras, Quality Manager with Colonial Pest Control. Today our topic is summer pests: Wasps. Welcome, Zack.

Zack Ciras:   Thanks, John.

John: Sure. So, Zack, when are wasps the most active in New England?

Zack:  Well, it depends on the type of wasp you’re talking about. In the spring time, early spring times, some of the first wasps what we see flying around are a variety of Paper wasps and there’s a large variety of Paper wasps who fly around. They make those little umbrella nests with the exposed cones. You’ll see inside, it’s almost like you’re looking in a honeycomb, but there’s no honey in there. They’re fairly solitary, not so aggressive unless you try to grab them.

When I was a little kid, I remember these guys nesting between my front door and my storm door and I was four or five, six years old, I want to be friends with everything. I tried to catch them and pet them and they didn’t like being pet, so I’m still trying to exact my revenge.

These are the Paper wasps that can be scary, especially to folks who might have allergies. They’re not very aggressive mainly because they’re not very social, but they’re highly reproductive, so you can have not just one queen of a colony to reproduce. You’ll have these Paper wasps where if you have the nest, you’d knock down the nest, but you don’t target the individuals, the females can go off and each one of them will start their own colony or their own nest. So, they’re pretty good at reproducing and they start early. They’re active all spring, summer, and fall.

Right now, we’re in the middle of summer as things are getting hotter and hotter, we’re starting to see more softball, baseball, cantaloupe-size wasp nests. The ones that have the ball of paper covering the nests, covering the actual cones. Those are generally of two varieties, the Bald-faced Hornet, which is very, very aggressive. Technically it’s a type of Yellow Jacket, but then you have the more common Yellow Jacket varieties and both of those are pretty aggressive because they’re pretty social.

The more social a creature is, generally the more aggressive it is, the more it wants to protect its nest. We’ll see those nests growing and growing and growing the further into the fall we get.

You’ll also see some other pollinators, some Thin-waisted wasps, some Grass-carrying wasps. They’re not aggressive. Again, they’re not social, they’re more solitary and they’re cool looking. They have different colors and different shapes and very long skinny waist in a lot of them; they’re neat. You’ll see those mostly pollinating, sometimes the Grass-carrying wasp and they’ll go to a window sill, bring a bunch of grass or pine needles in there and make a very small little nest.

So, they can be annoying that you clean the window and then a week later there’s a bunch of grass stuffed in the window, but they’re really not a bigger problem than that.

Another one that is related to the Thin-waisted wasp; we see a lot of Mud daubers. Again, they’re pollinators. They’re fairly solitary, not social, nonaggressive, but they can make some pretty ugly mud nests right up on your house. They lay their eggs in the larva and the pupa make their way into growing inside of . . . if you took a handful of mud and threw it up against the house and rounded it over, that almost looks like what a Mud dauber nest is. So, they can be pretty unsightly.

The aggressive ones we’re concerned about for enjoying your backyard without getting chased away. Those are the Bald-faced Hornet and the Yellow Jackets.

Identifying Aggressive Wasps

John: So Yellow Jackets are the ones that you see a lot, I think when you have a picnic out in your backyard or something like that and they seem to be attracted… you have maybe a can of sugary soda or a lemonade or something like that and those Yellow Jackets just get over everything. I always thought of those when I was younger as being a type of bee, but they’re really not. They’re hornets, aren’t they?

Zack:  Well, the term hornet is a little misleading. A hornet is something that makes the nest high up, so they’re not a bee, they’re a wasp. Most hornets, it’s like rectangles and squares, whiskey and scotch. One is of the other. So, most hornets are really a type of wasp. The hornet like a Bald-faced Hornet, it’s a wasp. It’s in the same vespidae family as a Yellow Jacket or even a Paper wasp. But they always build their nests out and exposed and up.

We have another European Hornet. They’re pretty common in the wooded areas, but we’re seeing more and more activity inside voids of houses. Just like a Yellow Jacket will build inside of a wall void or a hole in the ground. Yellow Jackets builds in the holes in the ground. The European hornet usually builds in a void in a tree, in a hollowed-out tree. But we’re seeing those build inside the house as well, but they are two, three, four sizes larger than the biggest Yellow Jacket you see.

John: Oh wow!

Zack:  So, the ones that are buzzing around you at the summer cookout, a lot of times they are the Yellow Jackets and they might be working, they’re looking for food, they’re looking for the sugary drink, they’re looking for some kind of food. It could also be a Paper wasp and Paper wasps are often confused with Yellow Jackets because of the coloring.

There’s a lot of varieties of Paper wasps. Some of them are black and yellow, just like a Yellow Jacket. The key thing to look for between the Yellow Jackets and the Paper wasps is the Paper wasps has a lot skinnier waist, a lot more defined segments to them, and then the long dangly legs and the wings, especially when they’re resting are a lot more narrow and spread out.

The Yellow Jacket, a little bit more dense, a little bit more uniform-size, definitely segments to them, but not quite as obvious for the segments, smaller, the less dangly legs. They’re a little bit smaller, not quite as long and they can be very easily confused with a Honey bee. Honey bee, if you look at it closely though is very hairy, very furry because when they’re pollinating, they’re in the flowers, they’re rolling around in all that pollen to bring that back to the nest and make honey, with the pollen and the nectar.

The Yellow Jackets and Honey bees are very often confused. I think when you’re especially dealing with meat around a barbecue, it’s less the sugary drinks, beer is a favorite for wasps, but it’s really rotten meat or meat that’s about to turn. A lot of your homemade wasp nests, wasp traps, Yellow Jacket traps especially they have a sugary, almost like a hummingbird food or a simple syrup that goes inside the bottom of them to attract them.

If you really want to high-test those up, you want to empower those to catch a lot more wasps and Yellow Jackets, you want to put some kind of rotten deli meat or something that starts to grossly decay that has animal proteins in it and that’s going to be a lot more attractive.

Wasps are not beneficial pollinators, they are pollinators, but they’re not great pollinators like a Mason Bee or European Honey bee or a Bumblebee. The bees are the big pollinators, wasps, Yellow Jackets, Bald-faced Hornets, those guys are beneficial in that they eat other insects, they’re more carnivores. They’ll eat anything, they’ll eat the sugar or they’ll eat the pollen, they’ll eat all that sweet stuff, but they really want meat. So, you’ll see them feeding on other meat-based things.

Where to Find Wasp Nests

John: That’s interesting. You talked a little bit about wasps and where they nest, but what are some of the most typical places around the house where I might see wasps’ nest?

Zack:  Yeah, so I would say, let’s start with the Paper wasps. Paper wasps, they’re generally somewhat tucked away from the weather, but they’re still exposed enough that there are pretty obvious. The common spot for them to nest is behind some shutters. So, if you put the hose behind the shutter or you’re having a pesticide application done, spray behind the shutters. What comes out of those areas? Relatively small compact area, but they can spread out. Those are common spots for the Paper wasp. You’ll also see the Paper wasp, if you look up at the peak of the house above the garage or whatever peak underneath the soffit, behind the fascia board, those areas where Paper wasps are going to build.

They don’t need a lot of room and they don’t grow very, very large. They will not reinvest an old dead nest too. So those areas underneath the gutters, you’ll see the exposed nests, behind the shutters, inside the lamp posts, a lot of times you see those close enough where it’s to the outside world where it’s easy to fly around in and out.

I see those in gable vents of the house as well, but it’s somewhat protected but also somewhat exposed. The Bald-faced Hornet nests, they’re always exposed, but they grow bigger and bigger and bigger. They’re a ball shape, they’re rounded, they have the paper coverings. A lot of times the window, the entry and exit will be almost like a shoot out of the bottom of it.

In fact, it looks very similar to an exposed Yellow Jacket nest, Bald-faced you’ll see a lot of those and trees and shrubs, 10, 15 feet up is about as high as most of them go. Some of them will be wild and go way up to the top of the tree, but they’re out of sight, out of mind anyway. Trees and shrubs around the house, be mindful of those because they get into a bush, a Holly bush or a Rhododendron, you might not see it until it’s the size of a basketball.

Same type of nest, same type of areas for a Yellow Jacket. The Yellow Jackets in addition to having the ball shape exposed nests that are out in the open in trees and bushes, attached to the side of a house. Both Yellow Jackets and Bald-faced Hornets both attach to the side of a house underneath the drip edge, underneath the eve or under the soffit.

The Yellow Jackets will also take advantage of voids, so that’s voids inside the house. If things aren’t cocked up around the entry points where the penetrations are for the power lines, the gas, the oil, even in the soffits, if that’s not all really sealed up well they get into the attic and expand there. They like those voids, but these are the ones that when we get to call, my husband was attacked by bees, they say. It’s usually wasps, but we don’t need to get too sematic.

We say, “Okay, we’ll come out, we’ll take care of it, where is the nest?” She said, “He was mowing the lawn. You’ll see where he stopped.”

John: Oh wow!

Zack:  The lawn mowers is just staying where it is until we take care of these wasps, and the Yellow Jackets they’ll take over a hole in the ground. A lot of times a snake hole or even a chipmunk hole, they’ll go right down into that hole, start to take it over, expand it, and they’ll grow as large as they can.

You’ll have a large colony buzzing in and out of a hole in the ground, and a lot of times those are the Yellow Jackets.

Wasp Nests in the Ground

John: So, you might not even notice that that hole is there until, like you said, maybe you run over it with the lawn mower and then they get mad and come flying out right at you?

Zack:  Exactly. Exactly. Another type of wasps that we see digging in the ground is not aggressive like that. They’re getting their solitary . . . not social, not aggressive. The Cicada Killer, they’re huge though. They look prehistoric, they are wild. When you hear the cicadas, those little beetles that live up in the trees. The high pitch all summer long, so the Cicada Killers kill Cicadas. They’ll go up to the trees, grab a Cicada, grab a beetle, bring it down into this little hole in the ground. They go at an angle, five or six inches down. You’ll see the little sandy soil that’s kicked behind them. They have their larva feed on the still live Cicada after they’ve paralyzed it. It’s not a pleasant idea for what they do to Cicadas, but I’ve never seen anybody, you’re talking to anybody or even heard of anybody who’s been attacked by Cicada Killers.

When we treat them, we try to get in the hole and right around where they’re digging, never been attacked, never even suit up for those. They’re pretty docile. If there’s smaller wasps in and out of the hole and a lot of them, those are your Yellow Jackets and they do not like the vibrations of a lawn mower.

Getting Rid of Wasps

John: Yeah, yeah. I could see why that would be a problem. So obviously, there’re a nuisance around the house. You don’t want to have them stinging people. You have guests over to have a cookout in the backyard and you always hate when that happens and one of your guests’ kids get stung or something like that. So, I want to get rid of them. What’s the best way of ridding myself of wasps around my house?

Zack:  Prevention is the best way. Doing a structural chemical application where they’re going to be nesting, especially those key areas behind the shutters, under the soffit, around the light posts. We can do some dusting and into some openings, help you do some caulking or mechanical exclusion to prevent void nesting.

Sometimes they’re just going to find that spot in the house or even in the tree or the bush that you can’t just go around spraying the tree and the bush every single week to get some prevention. So, with aggressive wasps or social wasps, prevention isn’t always the best way to go because they’re going to build regardless.

So, what we want to do is keep you in the kids and the dog . . . I had a yellow lab when I was a kid. He was not the brightest dog. He used to run around all summer long catching the bees and wasps and his tongue would be so swollen and stung by the end of the summer.

John: Oh geez.

Zack:  We want to treat the nest. We want to eliminate as many individuals on contact as possible and then we want to remove the nest.

So, we wanted to do those two things and our technicians have, they’ve been trained, they know what kind of wasp it is, how to attack it. If it’s a Paper wasp we want to try to get some kind of liquid on all the individuals that we can get to.

If it’s a Bald-faced or Yellow Jacket, we know we want to remove as many individuals. So, doing a treatment inside the nest as well as grabbing the nest off of the tree or the house, removing that. All of our technicians, in addition to being trained with the materials and with the pests, we all have the be suits, the white canvas suits that the kids love to watch from out the window, to protect us as we’re going over to really fight the enemy and it remove the wasps.

Usually you might have some workers flying around for up to a week after, they’re out pollinating, they’re out looking for food, they’re out working and we take their home away, we want to leave some residual behind so that as they come back to contact where they used to live, there’ll be something there to eliminate those ones as well.

So, in that way we know where they’re going to try to get back to. So, we’re going to have something in place with them wherever we can. On a house is easier than on a tree or shrub, but having something when we can to draw it back on the population that might try to rebuild. If we eliminate as many individuals as possible and remove the nest, then we have a really good chance of them never even having the chance to breed again, to really start that nest over again.

Another thing, I’ll finish with how I started with those traps. Having us out to eliminate an existing problem, that’s the best way to go because putting your hockey gear on and your three sweatshirts and all of that, it’s not fun. You try to do it at night, so you get most of them while they’re in there, they’re not as active. They’re still going to sense you coming, they’re going to smell your CO2, they’re going to know that you’re messing with the nest, even if you’re 10 feet away with the spray that can get them.

It’s tough to penetrate that out outer paper, so that’s not the best way to go. Have us out, it’s quick, it’s easy. We’ll take care of it for you. But long-term to keep the populations down, those simple traps with some kind of meat inside, they like beer, who doesn’t? Some liquid inside that might be sweet or bitter, but especially that meat, if you have a real problem, having rotting meat inside the trap where they fly in, go for the food source and have difficulty flying back out.

That’s going to go for a long way for preventing the population from building up to the point where they need to build and build and build near the house, because they’re pretty territorial. So, if there’s five nests out in the wood line, then they’re going to look to expand closer to the house further away from their competitors.

Wasps Removal Without Harming Bees

John: Right, right. Are there any issues with those traps in terms of killing bees? I always hear it about how we’re losing the bee population, the Honey bees and the pollinators and things like that. Any issues with traps and Honey bees?

Zack:  The Honey bee population, there’s a lot of news with those and they are concerned, they’re European Honey bees, so they’re not from here anyway, but we do want to protect them. We want to encourage them to be healthy and help us produce food and all of that.

I think the population is pretty resilient though, despite all the headlines that you see, I see more and more Honey bee nests that are not just in hives that people have in their backyard or commercial beekeepers around here. We’re seeing them starting to build again, inside homes, inside wall voids, inside hollow trees, things like that, so that the Honey bee population is expanding.

The detrimental aspect of having a trap to attract wasps if you’re using, especially the more of the meat lure rather than a sweet lore, you’re not going to like get a lot of Honey bees in there. The Honey bees they’re dedicated workers, if you have a factory or an office building that is set up and everybody calls the workers drones because they’re just mindlessly doing their work, that’s a compliment to a Honey bee. They are excellent workers. They’re focused, they’re going to find the pollinating flower, the pollinating shrub and they’re going to focus in on those. They don’t stray as much. They’re not really scavengers like the wasps are.

You might catch a few Honey bees, but you’re not going to catch enough to really make any kind of impact to the hive. So, I wouldn’t consider that any real concern.

John: All right, well that’s really great advice Zack, thanks again for speaking with me today.

Zack:  My pleasure, John.

John: For more information, you can visit the Colonial Pest Control website at colonialpest.com or call 1-800-525-8084. That’s 1-800-525-8084.

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