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Stinging Insects 101
How to identify the pest, the nest and the threat
Stinging insects such as various types of wasps, yellowjackets, hornets and bees, are common summertime pests and their stings can be more than just a painful nuisance. The National Pest Management Association reports that stinging insects send more than half a million people to the emergency room every year. Those with allergies to stings are most at risk, although anyone can be affected if a large number of stinging insects swarm and sting at once.
One way to protect yourself and your family from types of stinging insects like wasps and hornets this summer is to ensure your property is free from hives and nests. On a routine basis, walk around the exterior of your home, paying special attention to overhangs, eaves, the underside of porches and decks for nests. Also inspect shrubs, trees, sheds and other structures. If you do find a nest on your property, do not attempt to remove it on your own. The colony can become defensive and attack en masse. Instead, contact a licensed pest control professional who will be able to relocate or remove the hive in a safe manner.
Some stinging insects pose more serious threats than others. To determine the risk to your family, you will need to identify the type of insect, especially for wasps and yellowjackets. A trained pest professional will be able to properly identify a pest species and its threats, but you can also use this guide to help determine the species:
Types of Stinging Insects
- Pest: Bumble bees are between ¼ - 1 inch in size, have black and yellow markings, and an overall fuzzy appearance.
- Nest: Bumble bees build their nests out of pollen clumps, usually in the ground or a dense grass clump, and often in an abandoned mouse nest.
- Threat: Bumble bees are considered a beneficial insect because they pollinate flowers. However, they can sting. If a nest is located in or near a structure, then control is necessary.
- Pest: Carpenter bees are between 1/2 - 1 inch in size. They resemble bumble bees, but the top of their abdomen is largely bare and shiny.
- Nest: Carpenter bees do not live in nests or colonies. They bore into wood, where they make galleries for rearing their young. Carpenter bees tend to prefer decaying or weathered wood to new or painted wood.
- Threat: Carpenter bees are a serious property threat, and can cause structural damage over time if they are not eliminated. Male carpenter bees can be territorial and may hover in front of one's face aggressively, but they have no stinger and these actions are merely for show. Female carpenter bees do have a potent sting, which is rarely used.
- Pest: Honeybees are between 1/2-5/8 inch in size and orangish brown or black in color.
- Nest: Honeybees are social insects and live as colonies in hives, with mature colonies of 20,000 - 80,000 individuals.
- Threat: Honeybees are not aggressive and do not search for something to attack. Instead, they are defensive and will attack only whatever seems to threaten the colony.
- Pest: Bald-faced hornets are largely black in color, with a mostly white face.
- Nest: Bald-faced hornets build aerial nests out of paper carton. The nests are usually in exposed locations, often on trees, utility poles, overhangs or other structures. The nests can be quite large, growing to 14 inches in diameter and 24 inches in length.
- Threat: Bald-faced hornets are considered beneficial insects because they control many pest insect species. However, if their nest is located near a structure, control is warranted.
- Pest: European hornets are large in size, between ¾ and more than 1 inch. They are brown with yellow abdominal stripes and a pale face.
- Nest: European hornets build paper carton nests that are usually covered in a brown paper envelope as protection. Typically, the nests can be found in hollow trees, barns, out buildings, hollow walls of houses and attics.
- Threat: European hornets are considered beneficial insects because they control many pest species. However, if their nest is located near a structure, control is warranted.
- Pest: Mud daubers are long and slender, usually black in color, and may have pale markings or a metallic luster.
- Nest: Mud daubers are solitary wasps and do not live in colonies. Females construct nests of mud. Many short mud tubes, usually about 1 inch long, are constructed side by side. They frequently build nests under eaves, porch ceilings, in garages and sheds, barns, protected building walls and attics.
- Threat: Mud daubers are considered beneficial insects because they control spiders. However, if their nest is located near human activity, control is warranted.
- Pest: Despite their name, velvet ants are not ants at all, but are actually types of wasps. Female velvet ants are very hairy and black in color, sometimes with areas of bright red, orange, yellow or white. Males are less hairy and duller in color, but have wings, unlike females.
- Nest: Velvet ants often live in the types of nests used by wasps and ground-nesting bees. In other cases, they build nests in bare or sandy soil.
- Threat: Velvet ants are sometimes called "cow killers" because of their very potent sting. However, only female velvet ants have stingers.
- Pest: The paper wasp, a type of wasp species, is brownish in color with yellow or reddish markings.
- Nest: Paper wasps get their name from the paper-like material of which they construct their nest. Paper wasp nests are often umbrella-like in shape and are never enclosed in an envelope. Nests are often found hanging from twigs and branches of trees and shrubs, as well as porch ceilings, door frames, eaves, deck floor joints, railings, etc.
- Threat: If a nest is touched, there is a high probability you will get stung, although paper wasps are typically not an aggressive type of wasp. Paper wasps are considered beneficial insects because they control many pest insect species. However, if their nest is located near a structure, control is warranted.
- Pest: Yellowjackets have a yellow and black color pattern and are between 3/8 - 5/8 inches.
- Nest: Yellowjackets live in nests constructed of paper carton, which can grow to be basketball-sized. One nest will contain a number of rounded paper combs, attached one below another and covered with a many-layered envelope. Depending on the species, the nest may be near the ground, such as on plant roots, logs or timber, or aerial and attached to shrubs, bushes, houses, garages or sheds.
- Threat: Yellowjackets are slow to sting, unless their nests are threatened. Yellowjackets are considered beneficial insects because they control many pest insect species. However, if their nest is located near a structure, control is warranted.
Remember, it is not advised to attempt to remove a stinging insect nest on your own, and doing so can be extremely dangerous. Instead, work with a licensed pest professional to access your property and the nest, to identify the type of stinging insect (like wasps or other dangerous stingers), and to determine the best way to eliminate the threat to your family.