Wasps, Hornets & Yellow Jackets

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Identification and Life Cycle

The three more common types of stinging insects are Paper Wasps (Polistes dominulus), Bald Faced Hornets (Dolichovespula maculata), and Yellow Jackets. Yellow jackets are either aerial- nesting (Dolichovespala arenaria) or ground-nesting (Vespula maculifrons).

The Paper Wasp, is 1/2 to 1 – inch long, and is reddish brown to black in color with yellow rings around its abdomen. Its nest is supported by a single stalk that can resemble an upside down umbrella.

The Bald-Faced Hornet, is closely related to the yellow jacket. It is 5/8 to 3/4 – inch long and is mostly hairless with black and white patterns on its face, thorax, and abdomen. Nests are typically found in high locations of 10-12 feet.

The Aerial-nesting Yellow Jacket, is smaller in size than the hornet. It has a hairless body with a black abdomen and yellow stripes and markings. Its nest location, size and shape is similar to the bald faced hornet. The Ground-nesting Yellow Jacket, is 1/2 to 5/8 – inch long and is mostly hairless. It has black with bright yellow markings on the sides of its head, thorax, abdomen and legs. This type of insect builds it nest in the ground or at ground level in fallen tree stumps.

All three species have similar life cycles and nesting practices; In early spring, a queen bee emerges from hibernation, and builds her nest. She first raises workers that will collect food while she stays behind to lay eggs. At the end of summer, the colony produces males and queens that then leave the nest to mate. After mating, the new queens hibernate in the ground during winter and the remaining colony dies out. The nest site is never reused.

Habits and Damage

Wasps, hornets and yellow jackets all build gray colored papery nests made up of chewed wood fibers. Nests consist of hexagonal-shaped cells arranged side-by-side into horizontal layers of comb. Each species’ nest has a different placement, size, and shape.

These social, stinging insects can be a problem inside homes and yards because of the abundance of food (unsealed garbage, open recycling bins, fallen fruit from trees, etc.). They prefer to nest in meadows, fields, trail and road edges, and under an overhang on a structure, such as a roof eave or gutter. They can also nest inside a structure’s wall by entering cracks and crevices near chimneys, windows, roofs, etc. Yellow Jackets can cause structural damage if a nest is built in a wall or attic by eating through wood and drywall to expand its nest.

Both the hornet and the yellow jacket are protective over their nest and will sting repeatedly. To some individuals, bee stings can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. If its nest is located near a building, home or walkway this can be a problem. Never attempt any control measure yourself if you have a known allergy to bees.

Common Signs Of Bee Activity

  1. Hives. These hives can vary in size and location, and commonly are shaped like a football or tear drop.
  2. Hovering Wasps. They are most active from spring to late fall as they forage throughout the day.
  3. Rusting Sounds. This can be heard from inside the building, caused by wasps chewing though wood.

Prevention and Management

The best strategy for wasp control is to have a professional properly identify the species. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program can help control wasps by targeting their most common nesting sites.

Never physically knock down, cut or burn large nests. This is a high risk for an attack from the colony. You can help manage stinging insects around your home by minimizing the number of wasps foraging for food.

The following tips are recommended to help minimize a potential problem with wasps.

  • Minimize fragrances that wasps can be attracted to such as hair spray, lotions, soaps and colognes.
  • Wear white or tan clothes. Wasps can be attracted to colors like light blues, bright pinks, oranges & reds.
  • Inspect for nests before doing yard work, especially when trimming hedges, mowing your lawn or weeding between rocks.
  • Clean up clutter, unwanted mulch or other organic material that can attract bees to build a nest.
  • Cover serving dishes outdoors and do not leave open soft drink cans unattended that a wasp can crawl into.
  • Keep lids on trash cans. Rinse cans and bottles before placing in outdoor recycling bins.
  • Reduce a wasps’ water source by eliminating drips from faucets, sprinklers and garden hoses.
  • Clean up any fallen, rotting fruit from apple trees, peach trees, etc., around your yard.
  • Do not leave moist pet food outside.

Serving Westchester, Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland, Ulster and Orange Counties.

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