Bees, Wasps & Hornets

Resource Page

There are more than 4,000 species of bees and wasps in the United States. Bees and wasps are very important to the environment. The focus of this website is on nuisance wasps and bees that nest in or around buildings, recreational areas, and garbage collection areas.

Learning more about the biology and habits of bees and wasps will help you decide if they pose a serious enough threat that you need to take steps to control them.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE BEES, WASPS, OR HORNETS?

  • The presence of many bees, wasps or hornets flying around your home or the observance of a nest is the main indicator of a problem.

  • Bees are beneficial to humans because they pollinate plants, whereas wasps and hornets help out by feeding their larvae on various insects, mites or spiders. Therefore, unless the nest is close to a door or activity area in your yard, it is better to avoid the nest than to remove it.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEES, WASPS, AND HORNETS?

  • Bees are fuzzy pollen collectors with yellow and black stripes.

  • Wasps are members of the family Vespidae, which includes yellow jackets and hornets.

  • Wasps generally have two pairs of wings and hairless bodies.

  • Wasps are about 1/3” to 1” and some species have black and yellow rings on their bodies.

  • Common wasps are paper wasps and yellow jackets

  • Hornets are a large species of wasps and can be extremely aggressive.

  • The only true hornet found in North America is the European hornet or brown hornet. Common wasps referred to as hornets include the bald-faced hornet.  

  • Hornets are larger and typically brownish and have dull orang stipes on their bodies.

IDENTIFY A SPECIFIC BEE IDENTIFY A SPECIFIC WASP

Additionally:

  • Bees collect pollen; wasps do not

  • Bees store food; wasps do not

  • Bees make honey; wasps do not

  • Bees nests are made of wax; wasp nests are made of paper

  • Bees mouth parts are designed to lap liquid; wasp mouth parts are designed to chew food

  • Honey bees can only sting once; wasps can sting more than once

WHY DO BEES, WASPS, AND HORNETS STING PEOPLE?

  • Generally, bees, wasps, and hornets do not sting unless handled, disturbed, threatened, or harmed.

  • Wasps sting to defend themselves, to subdue prey to feed their developing larvae, or to defend their nests

  • Due to their barbed stingers, honey bees sting only once and die because they leave their stingers in the victims’ skin.

  • Wasps can sting more than once because they have a lance-like stinger without barbs; thus wasps are able to pull out their stinger without injury to themselves.

  • Only female wasps and bees have stingers.

  • When they sting, wasps and bees inject venomous fluid that creates allergic reactions to sensitive people. Individual response to a sting may vary from a brief swelling of the immediate area of the sting to a more severe, and potentially fatal, allergic response involving the entire body.

  • It is estimated that close to 100 people die annually in the United States from the reactions produced by wasp and bee stings.

WHERE DO WASPS LIVE?

  • There are two types of wasps and bees, solitary and social.

  • Solitary bees and wasps, by far the largest subgroup, do not form colonies. Depending on the species, solitary wasps live in holes that are already in existence, build nests from materials they collect, or dig a hole in the ground for their nests.

  • Social wasps build nests of chewed up fibers or decaying woods mixed with saliva. The nests are usually found in sheltered areas outdoors in gardens, hedges, forest edges, and other similar locations.

  • In urban settings, wasps can also nest under stairs, in fence posts, in brick walls, under eaves, under porches, and in discarded mattresses, carpet, or boxes.

WHY IS THERE A NEST IN MY HOUSE?

  • Wasps and hornets build nests in protected and easy to get into places, such as attics and under eaves.

  • Wasps like other insects cannot regulate their body heat. They depend on the surrounding environment to warm them up. They are active at warm temperatures and slow down otherwise.   

CAN MY HOUSE BE DAMAGED BY BEES, WASPS, OR HORNETS?

  • Yes, some wasp species can damage your home.

  • Carpenter bees can tunnel into decks, porches and other wood structures. If you see what looks like a bumblebee emerging from a hole in your porch or the siding of your house, it may be a carpenter bee.

  • Wasps and bees can nest inside wall voids and make a hole in the wall to enter or exit from.

  • Also, wasps that nest inside may damage the wallboard or ceiling.

  • Another problem associated with nests inside wall voids is the possibility of scavenger pests that infest abandoned wasp nests.

WHAT DO BEES, WASPS, AND HORNETS EAT?

  • Wasps feed on pollen and nectar from a variety of flowers. This helps move pollen from one flower to another, pollinating various crops.

  • Besides pollen and nectar, adult wasps feed on sweet materials such as honeydew, fruit, and other sweet resources, and feed their larvae on paralyzed bugs.

  • Since wasps enjoy sweet food, they often invade honey bee nests to steal the honey and sometimes the bee larvae.

  • Female wasps have stingers that they use to subdue and capture prey, such as insects and spiders, which they use as protein food for their larvae.

  • Yellow Jackets eat just about all “human food”.

WHAT IS THE LIFE CYCLE OF BEES, WASPS, AND HORNETS?

  • Nuisance wasps and bees can be categorized as either solitary or social insects.

  • Solitary wasps, as the term implies, live a solitary life without the company of other wasps. They do not build their own nests, and they are all fertile.

  • Social wasps, on the other hand, can live in colonies of thousands; they build their own nests and have three castes: the egg-laying queens (one or more per colony), male drones, and sterile female workers

  • During the late fall and early winter, as harsh weather approaches, newly fertilized queens seek protected habitats to spend the winter. Overwintering places may differ depending on the species. However, overwintering locations are normally located under tree bark, woodpiles, stumps and logs, and inside walls of structures.

  • In early spring, every queen will build a new nest. She will not use an old nest, but may build a new nest on the side of an old nest.

  • The storage of sperm inside the female queen allows her to lay eggs without the need to mate again with a male wasp.

  • Initially, the queen lays approximately 10-20 eggs. These eggs will develop into sterile females or workers that take care of the colony (raising, feeding, cleaning, fixing, defending, and construction).

  • Thereafter, the queen's only job is to lay more eggs.

  • By the end of summer, when the colony is mature and enlarged in size and number, males and new queens are produced in a large number to fly out and mate.

  • Males die soon after mating; while, the newly mated queens seek protected areas for overwintering, and repeat the life cycle.

  • With the onset of cold weather, workers, immature stages and the original founding queen die.

  • Usually, social wasp workers live for 12-22 days, and the average lifespan of queens is about one year.

NINE INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT BEES, WASPS, AND HORNETS:

  • There are approximately 75,000 species of wasps and 20,000 species of bees worldwide.

  • The paper-like nest of social wasps (family Vespidae) consists of chewed plant material or wood pulp mixed with saliva and arranged in adjacent hexagonal cells.

  • Unlike the honey bee, wasps do not store food for the winter, and this is why their colonies only last for one season in temperate regions.

  • Despite beekeepers’ efforts, wasps impact honey production by reducing nectar and honeydew supplies for honey bees.

  • Wasps will attack honey bee hives in the spring to take away foraging worker bees. Later in the year, wasps will also steal honey and carry off bee larvae and pupae.

  • Dragonflies, robber flies, centipedes, birds, and badgers eat wasps.

  • Bees and wasps use visual and audible communications for mating and defense purposes.

  • Chemical stimuli (pheromones) are used for maintaining the social behaviors and tasks of the colony members. For example, queens produce a pheromone to regulate workers’ behavior and to inhibit the development of their sexual organs. In case of danger, wasps also produce an alarm pheromone to provoke aggressive behavior towards the intruder.

  • Foraging worker wasps bring raw food that they cannot digest into the nest and pass it to other workers to feed the larvae. In response, the larvae release a creamy drop of predigested materials that contains all necessary ingredients for the workers to eat.