Wasps are stinging insects that are often feared and misunderstood. However, wasps are actually important pollinators and play a vital role in the ecosystem.
This article will provide an overview of wasps, including their types, characteristics, and behaviors. We’ll also discuss how to remove and repel wasps, treat wasp stings, and compare wasps to bees and hornets.
So if you’re curious about these fascinating creatures, or if you’re looking for ways to avoid being stung, read on!
Wasps: Description and Characteristics
Wasps are flying insects that have four wings, a narrow waist, and a long, pointed stinger.
They’re predators and feed on other insects, spiders, and caterpillars. Wasps also play a role in pollination, as they help to transfer pollen from flower to flower.
Here are some of the key characteristics of wasps so we beekeepers can easily spot them:
- Body: Wasps have a slender body that’s typically black, yellow, or red in color. They have four wings that are attached to the thorax.
- Waist: Wasps have a narrow waist that separates the thorax from the abdomen. It’s a distinguishing feature that sets them apart from bees and ants.
- Stinger: Wasps have a long, pointed stinger that they use to inject venom into their prey. The stinger is located at the end of the abdomen.
- Food: Wasps are predators and feed on other insects, spiders, and caterpillars. They also eat nectar and pollen from flowers.
Social Behavior of Wasps
Some wasps are social insects and live in colonies, while others are solitary or semi-social wasps. Any wasp colony though, is made up of a queen, workers, and drones.
The queen is the only female that can reproduce. The workers are responsible for building the nest, gathering food, and caring for the young. The drones are male wasps that don’t have a stinger. They mate with the queen and then die.
Types of Wasps
There are over 10,000 species of wasps in the world. However, only a few species are widespread in North America. Those include the following:
Paper wasps are small, brown social wasps that build nests out of paper. They’re found in a variety of habitats, including gardens, parks, and woodlands. Paper wasps are generally not aggressive, but they can sting if they feel threatened.
Yellow jackets are larger and more aggressive than paper wasps. We often spot them around food sources, such as picnic tables and garbage cans.
Also, yellow jackets are another type of social wasps. They’re known for their painful stings and can be rather hostile if they sense you’re a threat to their nests.
Hornets are the largest type of wasp in North America. They have a black and yellow striped body and are found in wooded areas. From experience, hornets don’t mess around and can deliver painful stings.
Mud daubers are solitary wasps that build nests out of mud. Solitary wasps are wasps that don’t live in colonies.
That said, Mud daubers typically hang out in gardens, fields, and woodlands. They aren’t aggressive and don’t sting unless they feel threatened.
Cicada killers are large, black wasps that are found in wooded areas. They get their name from the fact that they prey on cicadas. Cicada killers are peaceful—except when threatened.
Digger wasps are another kind of solitary wasps that dig burrows in the ground. They usually build their own nests and raise their own young. They prey on spiders and other insects as well.
Here’s a table that summarizes the different types of wasps mentioned above:
|Type of wasp
|Small, brown insect that builds nests out of paper.
|Gardens, parks, and woodlands.
|Generally not aggressive, but can sting if they feel threatened.
|Larger and more aggressive than paper wasps.
|Found around food sources, such as picnic tables and garbage cans.
|Known for their painful stings and can be very aggressive if they feel their nest is threatened.
|Largest type of wasp in North America.
|Black and yellow striped body. Found in wooded areas.
|Very aggressive and can deliver a painful sting.
|Solitary wasps that build nests out of mud.
|Found in a variety of habitats, including gardens, fields, and woodlands.
|Not aggressive and don’t sting unless they feel threatened.
|Large, black wasps that prey on cicadas.
|Found in wooded areas.
|Peaceful till threatened.
|Solitary wasps that enjoy digging burrows.
|Usually nest in soil and open sandy areas.
|Not aggressive as they reserve their venom for hunting prey.
Types of Wasp Nests
Wasps build nests to protect their young and to provide them with a place to live. The type of nest that a wasp builds depends on the species of wasp.
Here are some of the different types of wasp nests:
Paper wasps build their nests out of chewed wood pulp. They attach the nest to a tree branch or other structure. Paper nests are typically small and cup-shaped.
Yellow jackets and some other species of wasps build their nests underground. The nest is made up of a series of tunnels and chambers. Ground nests are often found in loose soil, such as under a deck or shed.
Mud daubers build their nests out of mud. They attach the nest to a wall or other structure. Mud nests are typically small and cylindrical.
Hornets build their nests in trees or shrubs. The nest is made up of a papery material that’s held together with saliva. Hornets’ nests are typically large and can be quite intimidating.
How to Remove and Repel Wasps
Wasp nests can be a nuisance, especially if they’re located near your home or property.
When you find a wasp nest, it’s important to take steps to remove it safely. You can hire a pest control professional to remove the nest, of course, or you can try to remove it yourself.
If you choose the DIY road, it’s important to wear protective gear, such as a beekeeping suit and gloves.
Here are my tips for removing a wasp nest safely:
- Identify the type of wasp. Doing so helps you determine the best method of removal.
- Wear protective gear. As mentioned, this will protect you from being stung.
- Avoid disturbing the nest. Naturally, this could cause the wasps to become aggressive.
- If possible, remove the nest at night. I’ve found that wasps are less active at night.
- Use a vacuum cleaner to suck up the nest. From experience, this is the safest way to remove a small nest.
- If the nest is large, you may need to use a pesticide. Remember to follow the directions on the pesticide label carefully.
- Alternatively, use wasp repellent. There are a number of commercial wasp repellents available. These repellents can be sprayed on surfaces around your home to deter wasps.
Once you’ve removed the wasp nest, it’s important to dispose of it properly. You can bury the nest but don’t burn it.
Can I Stop a Wasp Nest from Forming?
In my research, I’ve found that while this may sound tricky, it’s pretty doable. So, here are some of our tips for preventing wasp nests from forming:
- Remove food sources: Wasps are attracted to food sources, like garbage cans, pet food bowls, and open containers of food. Make sure to remove such items from your yard and garden.
- Seal up cracks and holes: Wasps can enter your home through cracks and holes in the foundation, siding, and windows. Better to seal up any cracks or holes with caulk or weatherstripping.
- Plant wasp-repelling plants: There are a number of plants that wasps don’t like, such as mint, lavender, and eucalyptus. Planting any of these plants around your home can help to deter wasps.
How to Treat Wasp Stings
Getting stung by a wasp isn’t pretty—trust me, I’d know. Not just that, but how painful the sting is will depend on what type of wasp stung you.
Fret not! We’re here to tell you how to treat wasp stings effectively and eliminate the pain.
Simply follow these steps:
1. Remove Stinger
If you can see a stinger, gently remove it using a flat-edged object. That can be a business card or a credit card. Alternatively, you could use a pair of tweezers or your nails if they’re sharp enough.
Whatever you use though, avoid squeezing the stinger’s venom sac. It’ll release more venom into your blood, harming you further.
2. Disinfect the Area
Clean the affected area with mild soap and water to prevent infection. This step helps wash away any venom residue, germs, or bacteria. After, pat it dry gently.
While you’re carrying out this step, I recommend that you keep the area as still as possible.
Don’t move around too much, bend it, or walk too quickly as this only helps the venom spread faster.
3. Reduce Pain and Swelling
You’ll be in a lot of pain and discomfort for a while so apply a cold compress or ice wrapped in a cloth to the sting site to relieve some of it.
In our research, we found it’s best to use the cold compress on and off to keep the blood circulating. This is especially true if you have poor circulation to begin with.
Additionally, over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate some of the discomfort too.
4. Consider Natural Remedies
Believe it or not, applying a mixture of baking soda and water or a paste of meat tenderizer and water may help neutralize the venom and provide instant relief.
5. Manage Itching
No matter what, avoid scratching to prevent further irritation. Change into loose clothes if needed and take off any accessories that may prevent appropriate blood flow. Using calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can help relieve itching as well.
6. Monitor for Allergic Reactions
Most importantly, you or your beekeeper partner must watch for signs of severe allergic reactions. While most people have a serious reaction to being stung, a few are deathly allergic to the venom.
Symptoms to look for can include difficulty breathing, hives, or swelling of the face and throat. If these occur, seek immediate medical attention.
7. Seek Medical Help
If you experience a large area of swelling, persistent pain, or if the sting site becomes infected, consult a healthcare professional. Call emergency services or the poison hotline.
Bees vs. Wasps: What’s the Difference?
Bees and wasps are both flying insects that are closely related. They’re both members of the order Hymenoptera, which also includes ants and sawflies.
However, there are some key differences between bees and wasps. Here’s what I’ve learned from both my research and experience as a beekeeper:
One of the most obvious differences between bees and wasps is their appearance.
Our bees are typically hairy, with a plump body and a narrow waist. Wasps, on the other hand, are usually hairless or have very little hair, with a slender body and a more pronounced waist.
Bees also tend to be more brightly colored than wasps, with yellow, black, and brown stripes being common. Wasps, however, can be a variety of colors, including black, red, yellow, and green.
Bees and wasps have vastly different diets.
We know that bees are primarily pollinators, meaning that they collect nectar and pollen from flowers. They use the nectar to make honey, and the pollen to feed their young.
Alternatively, wasps are predators or scavengers. They eat other insects, spiders, and even small vertebrates. Some wasps, such as yellow jackets, also eat fruit and nectar.
Bees and wasps nest differently too.
Bees typically nest in hollow trees, in the ground, or in man-made structures. They build their nests out of wax, which they produce themselves.
As mentioned before though, wasps often build their nests out of paper. They chew wood into a pulp, which they then mix with their saliva to create a paper-like material. Wasp nests can also be found in a variety of places, including trees, shrubs, eaves, and even underground.
Bees and wasps are both social insects, meaning that they live in colonies. However, there are some differences in their social behavior.
Honey bees are eusocial insects so they have a caste system with three distinct types of individuals: queens, workers, and drones. Queens are the only females that reproduce, workers are female but don’t reproduce, and drones are males.
Wasps, on the other hand, aren’t as highly eusocial as honey bees. Some wasps, such as yellow jackets, are semi-social as they live in colonies—which aren’t as organized as honey bee colonies. Other wasps, such as digger wasps, are solitary and don’t live in colonies at all.
Both bees and wasps can sting, but they do so for different reasons.
Bees only sting when they feel threatened. Their stingers are barbed, which means that they become embedded in the skin when they sting. This can be fatal to the bee, as it leaves its stinger and part of its abdomen behind.
To us, honey bee stings are usually not fatal, but they can cause pain, swelling, and allergic reactions.
Wasps are more aggressive and will sting more readily. Their stingers aren’t barbed, so they can sting multiple times without injury.
Wasp stings can be just as painful and can cause allergic reactions too. In rare cases though, wasp stings can be fatal.
Here’s a table that summarizes the key differences between bees and wasps:
|Fuzzy, rounder bodies
|Slender, smooth bodies
|Pollen and nectar
|Insects, spiders, and sometimes small animals
|Hollow trees, underground, or in man-made structures
|Wood pulp and saliva nests, abandoned rodent burrows, or other cavities
|Solitary or social
|Can only sting once
|Can sting multiple times
Hornets vs. Wasps: Aren’t They the Same?
Not exactly. Here’s how I remember it: Hornets are wasps, yes, but not every wasp is a hornet.
So even though, both are closely related, there are still some differences you can spot between the two. I’ve gathered what I’ve learned and put it for you here:
One of the most obvious differences you’ll notice between hornets and wasps is their size.
Hornets are typically larger than wasps. Bald-faced hornets, for example, can grow up to 2 inches long, while yellow jackets are typically only about 1 inch long. Hornets also have a thicker body than wasps.
Another difference in appearance is the color pattern. Hornets are often brown or black with yellow or orange markings. Wasps, on the other hand, can be a variety of colors, including black, yellow, orange, red, and white.
Hornets and wasps eat insects, spiders, and other small animals since they’re both predators. That said, they do eat different types of prey.
Hornets, for starters, prefer to eat large insects, such as caterpillars, beetles, and spiders. Wasps, however, are more generalist predators and will eat a variety of insects, including smaller wasps, flies, and mosquitoes.
Did you know that hornets can feed on our precious honey bees too? This is because hornets have a stronger venom than wasps, and they can kill honey bees with their stings.
Both build nests, but the nests of the two insects are quite different.
Hornet nests are typically large and papery, and they can be found hanging from trees or other structures.
Wasp nests are often smaller and less conspicuous, and they can be found in a variety of places, such as underground burrows, hollow trees, or even inside walls of buildings.
Fun fact: hornets and wasps are social insects, meaning they live in colonies. However, there are some key differences in their social behavior.
Hornet colonies are typically larger than wasp colonies, and they can have up to 500 or more members. Wasp colonies, on the other hand, are typically much smaller, with only a few dozen members.
Both hornets and wasps can sting, and their stings can be quite painful. There are some key differences in their stinging behavior, though.
Hornets are more aggressive than wasps and are more likely to sting if they feel threatened.
Wasps are typically more docile than hornets (believe it or not!) and will only sting if they’re provoked.
Here’s a table that summarizes the key differences between hornets and wasps:
|Brown or black with yellow or orange markings
|Variety of colors, including black, yellow, red, and white
|Large insects, such as caterpillars, beetles, and spiders
|Variety of insects, including smaller wasps, flies, and mosquitoes
|Large, papery nests that are often hanging from trees or other structures
|Smaller, less conspicuous nests that can be found in a variety of places
|Larger colonies, with up to 500 or more members
|Smaller colonies, with only a few dozen members
|More aggressive and more likely to sting if they feel threatened
|More docile and will only sting if they are provoked
FAQs: More on Wasps
Do wasps pollinate?
Yes and no. Wasps aren’t efficient pollinators, but they can pollinate flowers. They do this by collecting nectar and pollen from flowers, and then transferring the pollen to other flowers.
However, wasps aren’t as good at pollinating flowers as bees, because they have smooth bodies and don’t have as much hair. This means that pollen is less likely to stick to their bodies and be transferred to other flowers.
Are wasps aggressive?
Not all wasps are aggressive. Some species, such as paper wasps and yellow jackets, are more docile and will only sting if they feel threatened.
However, other species, such as hornets and bald-faced hornets, are more aggressive and are more likely to sting if they feel threatened or if their nest is disturbed.
What are the benefits of wasps?
Wasps are beneficial insects in many ways. They help to control insect populations by eating pests, such as caterpillars, mosquitoes, and flies.
They also pollinate some flowers, although not as effectively as bees. Additionally, wasps are a food source for other animals, such as birds and bats.
Summary: Do You Like Wasps Now?
Wasps are often seen as pests, but they’re actually beneficial insects that play an important role in the ecosystem.
While they can be aggressive if they feel threatened, most wasps aren’t interested in stinging humans unless they’re provoked. They help to control insect populations, pollinate flowers, and provide food for other animals.
So, do you like wasps now? If not, I hope this article has given you a new appreciation for these fascinating insects. They may not be as cuddly as kittens or puppies, but they’re still important members of our environment.
Next time you see a wasp, don’t be afraid! Just give it a wide berth and let it go about its business.