Some of the common wasp species homeowners are most likely to encounter include:
The paper wasp, a social wasp, is less aggressive than some of its relatives. However, because the pests can build nests in wall cavities or behind roof eaves, paper wasp infestations still present problems.
This solitary wasp species is important because the pests construct nests made from mud and soil-colored nests under building overhangs and inside outbuildings such as sheds.
Learn more about mud daubers.
Don’t be fooled by their name. This pest is a type of wasp but not a true hornet. Bald-faced hornets are notable for their large colony sizes and football-shaped nests, plus their aggressive behavior when needing to protect their nest.
Members of this species can grow to over one inch in length, making European hornets one of the biggest wasps in the United States.
As their name suggests, this type of wasp is primarily a threat to cicadas since these wasps prey upon cicadas. However, cicada killers’ unground nesting habits may cause minor structural damage to soil under porches and patios. Their large size may cause a sense of fear to homeowners who observe these insects entering their underground nest with a paralyzed cicada that will become food for the immature stage of this insect.
Wasps are a diverse group of stinging insects in the United States. Despite many structural and behavioral differences among species, the pests do have a few things in common. For example, most types of wasps will sting to defend themselves or their nests, making removal a priority for those with infestations in and around their homes. In addition, these pests often prey on other insects, which sets them apart from nectar-drinking bees.
Social vs. Solitary Wasp Species
Generally speaking, types of wasps fall into one of two categories: social or solitary. Since they keep to themselves, solitary wasps typically pose less of a pressing issue for homeowners. Social wasps, on the other hand, are protective of their colonies. Their defensive behavior frequently results in conflicts with people and pets that result in episodes of stinging.
What Do Wasps Look Like?
Size: Yellow jackets are the most common in this group. Workers are about 3/8- to 5/8-inch long. An important descriptive distinction is that bees typically have hairy bodies while wasps do not have visible hairs on their bodies.
Color: The coloration varies by species, but the most commonly encountered yellow jackets in our area typically have abdomens that are banded with yellow and black. Their legs are yellow in color.
Characteristics: Yellow jackets are social insects whose colonies peak in size in the late summer or very early fall. Like most other social insects, the workers tend to the food gathering, nest repairs, and protection of the colony. Most yellow jackets are ground-nesting; however, they may also be found in building voids, in shrubs, bushes, sheds, and garages (places that are generally undisturbed). Nest size will vary from 1000 to 4000 workers at the peak.
The common yellow jacket (Vespula vulgaris) is found throughout most of the U.S., while V. maculifrons is common east of the Great Plains. The German yellow jacket (V. germanica) occurs throughout most of the U.S., except in the far south.
What Do They Eat?
Most wasp workers sting and paralyze live prey including spiders, caterpillars, flies, and other insects. The prey is then brought to the nest to feed developing colony members. Workers also forage on sweet liquids, human food scraps, and other sources of protein.
How Long Do They Live?
Workers live less than a year and will die once the weather turns cold; however, there are species found in the Western states that will live more than one year. The queen will seek a sheltered overwintering site and then re-emerge in the spring to begin a new colony. There are many factors that affect the health and success of a colony. For example, heavy rains in the spring are thought to adversely affect the survival of ground-nesting yellow jacket colonies.
How Do You Find Them?
The best way to detect wasp activity is to inspect for the presence of nests or activity of the workers as they come and go. When a colony within a building wall void gets large, you may be able to hear the noise from within a room. Be very cautious around yellow jackets, since they are known to be more aggressive in the fall.
Whether a wasp species is social or solitary, these pests can put residents in danger when they settle in or around homes. A stinging attack often leads to a few or perhaps even several days of discomfort at the site of the sting. Multiple stings may escalate into a serious medical situation, especially for those with wasp allergies.
The best way to avoid conflict with wasps is to contact professionals as soon as nests show up in the spring or summer.