Wasps sitting on a nest

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Types of wasps

Wasps are often difficult to identify. Not only are there several different types of wasps that look similar, but bees and wasps can be hard to differentiate. However, wasps are typically more aggressive than other types of bees and have the capability to sting a person multiple times if they feel threatened, which means quick identification is essential.

Knowing which stinging insect you have in your yard could save you a lot of pain. Most people will see a nest in their yard and decide to take action, even if it could potentially put them in danger. It's important to determine what you are dealing with before taking action.

The most common types of wasps in the Western United States are below, but if you still cannot tell what is in your yard, contact our experts to help.

Unsure about what wasp you're seeing? Contact our experts.

Bald-faced hornets

Found throughout the United States, bald-faced hornets are some of the more aggressive wasp species. As social insects, they live in colonies, defending their nests aggressively. They feed on nectar, other insects, and sweet fruits, foods and drinks. They are especially aggressive in the fall when their food supplies begin to deplete.

Overhead view of a bald-faced hornet

Quick guide

Characteristics: 5/8" to 3/4" long; black and white with a smooth body.

Nests: Paper nest; at least 3 ft. off the ground, can be as high as 60 ft. Seen on trees, overhangs, and shrubs.

Risk of sting: Aggressive; can sting repeatedly. 

Habitat and nests

In the spring, the queen builds a nest from chewed wood. She feeds the larvae protein from flower nectar and other insects. It takes a month for the first workers to emerge, but they get right down to work, taking over the feeding and nest building so the queen can concentrate on her egg laying. 

Nests are gray and full of many compartments, with a papery outer covering. They hang near the ground or else very high, in trees, shrubs, vines, overhangs, sheds, or utility poles—in the open or well-hidden. Nests can be as long as 24 inches, with a diameter of 14 inches.

At its peak, the nest will be buzzing with 100-400 workers. When the colony goes into decline, larger cells are built to raise new queens and males that will leave the nest to mate.

Behaviors and damage

As stored food supplies lessen in the fall, the hornets become more aggressive in their search for sweet, sugary foods and drinks. And, although these stinging insects don’t intend to sting people, their persistence, paired with people's reactions to swat or run away, often triggers a less than favorable result—being stung.

When a hornet senses danger, it’ll release a pheromone alerting the others in the colony to attack, so it’s best to avoid any sudden movement and remain calm. Hornets can be especially dangerous because they can sting multiple times. For people allergic to hornet stings, their venom can prove to be lethal.

Prevention and control

Preventing hornets may be difficult, especially when they decide to build their nests near high-traffic areas like patios, decks, doorways, sidewalks, paths or driveways.

Removing any stinging insect nest is dangerous. If you need advice about a stinging insect nest in your yard or near your home, our stinging insect control experts can recommend the safest and most effective solutions for keeping you and your family out of harm’s way.

Unsure about what wasp you're seeing? Contact our experts.

European hornets

Side view of a European hornet

Quick guide

Characteristics: 1" - 1½" long; larger than a yellowjacket.

Nests: Sheltered nests have no covering; unsheltered nests have paper covering. Found on trees and structures.

Risk of sting: Typically not aggressive; can sting repeatedly.

Habitat and nests

Hornets are actually a species of wasp known as Vespa. With approximately 20 hornet species in the world, the majority of them reside in the tropical regions of Asia but are also found across regions in Africa, Europe and North America, where they are known as European hornets. As omnivores, they consume insects such as bees and flies as well as tree sap and leaves. Like bees, they are also pollinators.

Using tree bark or plants mixed with their saliva, they create a paper pulp-like material to build their nests from. With one entry hole on the outside and several layers of comb chambers on the inside, they build up a papery covering that encapsulates the nest. Although they prefer to build their nests in dark locations, when a dark location is not available they will add additional layers to the outside of the nest to help keep the light out.

Behaviors and damage

With an average hornet nest accommodating 200 to 400 workers by late summer, and guards on the alert for potential threats to the colony, caution should be used if a nest is located near a path, entryway, or high traffic area, to avoid being stung. No one wants to be stung, especially people who are allergic to wasp stings. Besides protecting their colony, hornets can also be aggressive around food sources.

If the nest is not in close proximity to your home or business, and does not pose an immediate danger, then it is best to leave it alone. Hornet colonies will not survive the winter. Workers die by late fall, and a few fertile females will leave the nest to seek shelter, either in their natural environment or inside manmade structures. In the spring, the queens will establish a new colony.

Prevention and control

A thorough inspection in the fall - once hornet activity has decreased, or in the spring - before new colonies become established, will help to deter hornets from building nests in wall voids, attics, sheds or any other structures or buildings. Seal up any cracks, crevices or holes you notice, and repair or replace torn screens. This will help to minimize any hornet entry points.

If you do happen to discover a hornet’s nest inside a wall void or tight area, refrain from sealing it up. Hornet’s will find a way out, possibly by chewing through your drywall. Don’t try to tackle the removal or treatment of potentially dangerous stinging insects alone. Western’s hornet control specialists are here to help. Our licensed and state certified specialists are trained to safely and effectively treat and remove hornets and their nests.

Unsure about what wasp you're seeing? Contact our experts.

Mud dauber wasps

Mud Dauber Wasp

Quick guide

Characteristics: ½" - 1" long; black and yellow or metallic blue and black, with slender waist.

Nests: Small mud nests built in or under sheltered areas.

Risk of sting: Typically not aggressive; can sting repeatedly.

Habitat and nests

Mud daubers live up to their name, they create their nests by constructing tubes out of mud. Their nests may be found on the sides of rough-surfaced buildings, under eaves, in garages, attics, and sheds, or in tight, sheltered spaces. If there’s a nice supply of mud nearby, you will most likely encounter a mud dauber nest on your property.

Preying on spiders (such as black widows) to provide food for their offspring, the females inject the spider with venom, paralyzing it and allowing it to safely handle the spider while placing it in a cell. Each cell containing a spider and a single egg is then sealed with mud. Once this is done, the female abandons the nest. The larvae will emerge in the spring as adults.

Behaviors and damage

Mud daubers are solitary wasps, which means they spend most of their time preparing nests and hunting for food for their young. Unlike social wasps, they don’t have a colony and are not aggressive about protecting their nests. If their nest is destroyed they will most likely build another one somewhere else. They mainly use their stingers for hunting prey. Mud daubers will only sting out of self-defense and can actually be beneficial for controlling other pests and spiders.

Prevention and control

Mud daubers are not only beneficial for spider control, they are generally harmless. If a mud dauber nest is not in close proximity to a high traffic area and does not pose an immediate threat to someone who is allergic to wasp stings, it is best to leave it alone.

If nests become unsightly or you fear the thought of any stinging insect buzzing around, their nests are easy to remove. Beware! Although mud daubers are not aggressive in defending their nests, other wasps may take over abandoned nests so it’s important to be sure you know what species of wasp you're dealing with before you remove it. If you need help with mud daubers, one of our licensed and certified stinging insect control specialists would be happy to provide you with a safe and effective solution.

Unsure about what wasp you're seeing? Contact our experts.

Paper wasps

Paper wasps can easily be identified by the appearance of their inverted, umbrella-shaped nest that is held by a single comb. Unlike a hornet’s nest that is completely encased, a paper wasp’s nest is exposed. Common paper wasp species are the European paper wasp and the red wasp.

Side view of a paper wasp

Quick guide

Characteristics: 5/8" - 1" long; yellow and black, smooth body, slender waist, and orange-tipped antennae.

Nests: Exposed umbrella-shaped paper nest built in or under sheltered areas. Nests often hang from twigs, branches, porch ceilings, and more.

Risk of sting: Typically not aggressive; can sting repeatedly.

Habitat and nests

Paper wasps construct their nests on twigs and branches of trees and shrubs. They will also readily construct their nests on porch ceilings, under eaves, and in attic rafters. Paper wasp nests are water-resistant, made of grey or brown paper mache-like material. Nests are fairly small and will contain less than 100 wasps.

Behaviors and damage

Paper wasp nests may not cause structural damage to buildings or homes; however, their ability to sting makes them a threat to people. Paper wasps will sting when they feel their nest is threatened and can sting multiple times.

Prevention and control

It is important to treat a wasp nest as soon as it’s discovered. To avoid the risk of painful wasp stings (and possible allergic reactions), we strongly advise against removing a wasp nest on your own. Remember, you could cause serious injury to yourself or others if you provoke the wasps in the nest. Western’s licensed wasp control specialists are specially trained to safely and effectively treat and remove wasp nests. Call today to find out what solutions are available for keeping you and your family safe against these stinging insects.

Unsure about what wasp you're seeing? Contact our experts.

Yellow jackets

Known as picnic pests, yellow jackets are relentlessly aggressive when sweet drinks and grilled meats are on the menu. Regardless of where their nests are, these stinging insects seem to appear out of nowhere, as one quickly becomes a dozen or more. And, because they will travel 1,000 feet from their nests to make sure they are not missing out on a free meal, they can be very difficult to control.

Side view of a yellowjacket

Quick guide

Characteristics: 3/8-5/8” long, queens up to 3/4” long; yellow and black, black antennae, smooth body.

Nests: Layers of comb built in the ground, hollow trees, under eaves, and attics.

Risk of sting: Aggressive; can sting repeatedly.

Habitat and nests

Yellow jacket nests are mainly built in the ground; however, you may also find nesting sites in hollowed out trees, under eaves, in attics, and in wall voids.  

As social insects, a yellow jackets colony is made up of a queen, males (for mating) and sterile female workers. A colony may contain 1,000 or more workers. Workers will protect their nest aggressively, attacking anything that is perceived to be a threat.

Behaviors and damage

Yellow jackets seen buzzing around your property does not necessarily indicate that you have a nest on your property. However, it does indicate that there is one nearby and that something has gotten their attention. Whether it is other insects, colorful clothing, perfume, sugary drinks, or grilled foods—they are either foraging or scavenging. 

In spring, yellow jackets will seek out protein sources, mostly insects, to feed to developing larvae. Come fall, when the larvae have grown into adults and food sources begin to deplete, they shift to scavenging mode, seeking out sugary substances as a food source. During this time of the year, yellow jackets are especially aggressive. With their ability to sting repeatedly, and in abundant numbers, this can make yellow jacket nests especially dangerous to treat and remove.

Prevention and control

Avoiding cookouts and outdoor activities during the height of yellow jacket season (late summer to early fall) is a safe strategy, but not the best solution. There are several steps you can take to help reduce yellow jackets from invading your outdoor space. While proactive measures are most effective in the early spring, before the establishment of colonies; preventative measures work best in the summer and fall, after colonies are established.

Proactive measures (early spring)

  • Look for any holes, cracks or crevices on the outside of any buildings or structures around your property and seal them up. 
  • Repair or replace screens on windows and doors. 
  • Remove any old, abandoned nests. 
  • Fill in abandoned rodent burrows or holes around the yard. 
  • If possible, fill in tree hollows.

Preventative measures (summer/fall)

  • Remove pet food, if kept outside.
  • Pick up rotting fruit around fruit trees.
  • Avoid wearing perfumes or heavy scents.
  • Set up yellow jacket traps away from outdoor spaces.

By late fall, yellow jacket colonies have stopped growing. If the winter temperatures are cold enough, colonies will die off. However, in areas where winters are mild, colonies can survive several seasons and become quite large.

Although these proactive and preventative measures will help to reduce the amount of yellow jackets around your property, they will not eradicate the entire colony. For yellow jacket extermination, it is best to call a professional. Our stinging insect control specialists are professionally trained and licensed to safely and effectively treat and remove yellow jacket nests. Don’t risk being stung. Give Western a call today to learn more about our stinging insect control solutions.

Unsure about what wasp you're seeing? Contact our experts.

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