Scroll To Top


Bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets

In North America there are about 16,000 species of wasp, bees and hornets. They go from the big cicada killers down to ones smaller than a spider mite. At least 8900 species are very small and seldom noticed. Very few of these can even sting humans and almost none of them are eager to sting humans. I have been stung twice by small wasps that parasitize wood boring beetles. These wasps are as small as little ants. Most people probably shrug it off as an ant bite.

Honey BeeThere are 3500 different types of bees. Again the vast majority of bees will not sting. The exceptions are the honeybee and bumble bees. These two will sting in defense of their nest. Most bees live in individual tunnels. I have caught these bees on purpose to show people they don't sting. Their wings beat so fast that it almost feels like an electric current which is a scary sensation, but they don't sting.

There are around 500 different species of insects most people would call wasps, yellow jackets or hornets. These get to be a little more aggressive when defending their home. Yellow jackets are so aggressive, that I destroy their nest when I find them around my home. I tolerate the hornets or wasps unless their nest is in or on equipment I want to use.

99% of the bees and wasps can be ignored. All bees, wasp and hornets can be ignored when away from their nest. You still have to avoid crushing them. Simple ways to avoid accidental crushing include; watching when you pick up wet towels where they might be drinking moisture, using a lid and straw when drinking soft drinks, and not carrying open containers of sugary foods. Bright clothing and clothing with high contrast patterns are more likely to attract bees or yellow jackets. Also wearing perfume and other scents is not good for outdoors since it will attract insects.

If a bee, wasp or hornet gets into the car, the best thing is to pull over and open the windows to allow it to leave on its own.

Bees and wasp can see you better if you are swatting or waving your arms real fast. If you observe beekeepers you notice a slow deliberate movement. This almost makes them invisible to the bees.

When a bee or wasp gets tangled in your clothing the correct solution is not as clear cut. I have found I get less stings by quickly crushing the insect. I use a sharp swat with no extra movement. When I try to brush it away I sometimes manage to turn it enough for it to sting me. Unfortunately, a crushed insect may release an attack hormone that triggers aggressive behavior by nearby insects. I solve this problem by leaving the immediate area. With our current bees this has always been less than 50 foot. Africanized bees will chase a person up to a half mile. Running into thick brush also helps.

Destroying entire nests

BeeSometimes it becomes necessary to destroy a nest of honeybees, wasp, yellow jackets or hornets. It is safer to do this at night. All of the bees wasp and hornets are at home, so none will sneak up behind you and get tangled in you hair or clothing. Also they see mostly with visible light so they won't be able to attack as effectively if you do something wrong. If you do it right, they will not have a chance to attack anyway. I have killed several nest during the day.

The safest chemical to use is a pyrethrin that has been formulated with a freezing agent. This is something that evaporates quickly and cools the insect off until the insecticide will work. Often these are pressurized so they shoot out several feet. Other chemicals labeled for bees, wasp and hornets nest include Sevin, Diazinon, Baygon, and resmethrin. Sevin has good residual effect. Sometimes it is hard to get enough in the nest to kill it immediately and the residual will kill the nest over time. In underground nest, some people plug the holes with steel wool. As the insects chew on the steel wool they get exposed to more of the insecticide.

A couple of other things to keep in mind. First, honeybees are protected by Federal lawn. It is illegal to do anything on your property to kill bees foraging from managed hives. There is no problem with killing bees that have taken up residence in you house. Nationwide honeybees are worth at least 20 billion dollars so it makes sense to protect them. Second, it seldom makes sense to use gasoline on yellow jacket, bees, wasp or hornet. I often hear that people do this. It is a fire hazard, can produce an angry swarm of stinging insects, contaminates the soil and damages vegetation. By law, a person using gasoline on a yellow jacket nest should have to answer to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Natural Resources, and the Department of Agriculture as a minimum.


Several wasp species can be found around the yard. Although wasps feed on insects such as house flies and garden pests, some can also be dangerous to people. Most wasps typically ignore people. For example, social insects that live in colonies will readily sting when they perceive their nest or territory is threatened while solitary insects only sting in self-defense when mishandled. In addition, only female wasps can sting. In any case, it is best to regard any wasp with care before attempting to control it, since stings can be very painful. The best and easiest way to tell wasps apart is to look at the relative size of the wasp, and the pattern on the abdomen.

Small wasps include yellow jackets and white grub parasites. Yellow jackets are social insects. Fertilized queens over winter,then start a colony in the spring and provision the first brood of young. Once the first brood has matured, they will take over the provisioning duties, care for the queen and the following broods throughout the summer. In late summer, reproductive males and females will be produced, which consequently mate and then the females over winter (colonies always die out at the end of the year). In order to eliminate yellow jacket wasps that are indirect competition with humans, the entire colony or nest must be eliminated. Football-shaped nests may be either in the ground or above ground, and will be paper-like.

  • Brown with long legs, the wasp builds its nest under the eaves of buildings.

  • It is capable of stinging multiple times when disturbed.

Yellow jackets Yellow Jacket

Yellow jackets are social colonizers with a queen/worker structure. Yellow jacket queens are about 3/4 inch long, the workers are a little shorter, and all have a typical pattern of black and yellow markings. It is a pest because it is abundant and is often a scavenger. They are most probably the one buzzing  around your food on a picnic, especially late in the summer.

Yellow jackets usually construct a subterranean nest, but occasionally build them in wall voids, attics and above ground sites. Their numbers are great in public camps in mountain areas. Wasp outbreaks are believed to be the result of mild winters and an early spring. These insects are most adversely affected by severe spring weather. In hot weather, wasps seek water wherever it is spilled or in the wet sand of bathing beaches along the shores of mountain lakes.

The numbers found in late summer depends on the weather during the preceding spring.

Adult wasps feed on nectar, honeydew, fruit juices, sap or similar sweet substances. The larvae are given protein food by the adults and in return secrete a sugar substance on which the adults feed. Protein foods for the larvae consists of other insects and spiders if the wasps are predators, or bits of meat from any source if they are scavengers.

Do not try to control yellow-jackets yourself, but I keep a fly swatter at my house because usually only one or two of these wasps are bothering me at a time. I swat them down, step on them and go about my meal.

  • Black with yellow-white markings on its face, its chest and at the end of its abdomen.

  • Hornets and yellow jackets live in colonies in nests usually attached to the underside of a tree limb or eaves of a house. Some species nest in the ground.

  • Can be aggressive and may sting multiple times.

Hornets and paper wasps

Paper WaspHornets may become a nuisance when nesting around homes and other structures where people live, work or play. Although considered beneficial to agriculture, (since northern or paper wasps feed abundantly on corn earworms, armyworms, tobacco hornworms, etc. and hornets on house flies, blow flies, harmful caterpillars, etc.), it is their painful stinging ability that causes alarm and fear. Nevertheless, unless the threat of stings and nest location present a hazard, it is often best to wait for Mother Nature to kill these annual colonies with freezing temperatures in late November and December. Stinging workers do not survive the winter, and the same nest usually is not reused the following year, except by the yellow and black dominulus paper wasp, on occasion.

  • Black with yellow-white markings on its face, its chest and at the end of its abdomen.

  • Hornets and yellow jackets live in colonies in nests usually attached to the underside of a tree limb or eaves of a house. Some species nest in the ground.

  • Can be aggressive and may sting multiple times.

Sting prevention

Paper wasps and hornets have a lance-like stinger and can sting repeatedly. When a paper wasp or hornet is near you, slowly raise your hands to protect your face, remaining calm and stationary for a while and then move very slowly away. Never swing, strike or run rapidly away since quick movement often provokes attack and painful stings. Restrain children from throwing rocks or spraying nests with water. Avoid making loud noises and disturbance near the nest.

Avoid heavily scented soaps, shampoos, perfumes, colognes, after-shaves and cosmetics. Avoid wearing shiny objects such as buckles and jewelry. Cover exposed skin and wear gray, white or tan rather than bright colors.

If a paper wasp or hornet gets into the automobile while driving, don't panic. It wants out of the car as much as you want it out. Slowly pull over off the road, and open the car windows and doors. Attempting to remove or kill a paper wasp or hornet while the car is moving can result in accidents.

Honey bees

The honey bee benefits the economy immensely. Honey bees produce millions of dollars worth of honey and beeswax, as well as pollinate commercial fruits, vegetables, and field crops. However, by establishing a colony in a house, building, or hollow tree next to the home, honey bees may become a nuisance or hazard to humans. Some people have severe allergic reactions to the sting of a honey bee. Although it is not unlawful to destroy honey bees, it is always best to save them if possible.


Honey bees are characterized by the presence of a long, pointed tongue, social habit, front wings with three closed sub-marginal cells, and no spurs at the tips of the hind Tibiae (4th segment of the insect's leg). Adults consist of three castes: queens (3/5" — 3/4" long) are fully developed egg layers with only one in each colony; drones (3/4" — 5/8" long) are functional males; and workers (2/5" — 3/5" long) are undeveloped females.

The first honey bees introduced from Europe were black German bees. The common midwest variety of honey bee is the Italian, which is a golden-brown and black bee covered with short, dense hair. The forepart of the abdomen is yellow and there is some yellow between the four brown bands on the rest of the abdomen. The Caucasian variety, a mild-tempered bee, is dark, and its abdomen is banded with gray. The carniolan is a gray bee similar in appearance to Caucasian. Most people see only the workers, which regularly fly in and out of the nest.

The Queen

The queen is the only female in the colony capable of laying fertilized eggs. She is extremely important, because without her no young bees would be replacing the old bees as they die. The rest of the bees pay a lot of attention to her. There is only one queen to each bee colony, and she may live two to five years. She must be fed by the others in the colony, and she can do none of the rest of the chores that need to be accomplished to make honey and keep a clean nest.

The Drone

Drones are male bees within the colony. There may be several hundred drones in the spring and summer, but they are all eliminated in the fall and winter when their services are no longer wanted. The drone develops from unfertilized eggs and exists only to fertilize or mate with young queens. He typically lives 40 to 50 days, and is bigger than either the queen or workers.

The Worker

The majority of bees in colony are worker bees. They perform most of the functions bees are known for, such as making honey and stinging for defense. Although workers are females, they cannot lay fertilized eggs. There may be as many as 60,000 workers in a colony, though the average figure for the whole year is 30,000.

Workers live only 40 days in the summer, but may live several months during winter. Some gather nectar and pollen in the field; others process the honey. Usually, the workers perform their duties based on age. The younger ones are cleaners and helpers. The older, more experienced bees, are builders and do the foraging in the field.

The nest is the comb on which the bees rest, rear brood, and store honey. The comb is constructed of wax. It has a central rib, with six-sided cells constructed on each side parallel to the ground. The cells are the storage area for the bee colony and at the same time serve as the nursery for rearing young bees.

The life cycle of the brood is egg (3 days), larva (6 days), pupa (12 days) for a total of 21 days from egg to adult worker. This cycle is longer (24 days) for drones and shorter (16 days) for queens.

  • The black and yellow honey or bumble bee is important for its role in pollination of fruit trees, vegetables and flowers.

  • Its stinger is barbed (like a fishing hook). The muscles around the venom sac of the stinger continue to work for up to 20 minutes after the stinger has become detached from the insect's body. It is important to remove the stinger as soon as possibl

Carpenter bees

In the late-spring and early summer, homeowners often notice large, black bees hovering around the outside of their homes. These are probably carpenter bees searching for mates and favorable sites to construct their nests. Male carpenter bees are quite aggressive, often hovering in front of people who are around the nests. The males are quite harmless, however, since they lack stingers. Female carpenter bees can inflict a painful sting but seldom will unless they are handled or molested.

Carpenter BeeCarpenter Bee

Bumble Bee Bumble Bee

Carpenter bees resemble bumble bees, but the upper surface of their abdomen is bare and shiny black; bumble bees have a hairy abdomen with at least some yellow markings.

Despite their similar appearance, the nesting habits of the two types of bees are quite different. Bumble bees usually nest in the ground whereas carpenter bees tunnel into wood to lay their eggs. Bare, unpainted or weathered softwoods are preferred, especially redwood, cedar, cypress and pine. Painted or pressure-treated wood is much less susceptible to attack. Common nesting sites include eaves, window trim, fascia boards, siding, wooden shakes, decks and outdoor furniture.

Carpenter bees over-winter as adults in wood within abandoned nest tunnels. They emerge in the spring, usually in April or May. After mating, the fertilized females excavate tunnels in wood and lay their eggs within a series of small cells. The cells are provisioned with a ball of pollen on which the larvae feed, emerging as adults in late summer. The entrance hole and tunnels are perfectly round and about the diameter of your finger. Coarse sawdust the color of fresh cut wood will often be present beneath the entry hole, and burrowing sounds may be heard from within the wood. Female carpenter bees may excavate new tunnels for egg laying, or enlarge and reuse old ones. The extent of damage to wood which has been utilized for nesting year after year may be considerable.