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Wasp identification

Identifying wasps can be difficult without professional training. It is very important for the correct species of wasp to be identified as that will help determine the best method of treatment. Wasps can be easily mistaken for other stinging insects like bees.

If you have spotted what you believe may be a wasp nest on your property, do not approach the nest yourself as wasps are dangerous. Contact your local pest control experts at Ehrlich at 1-800-837-5520 or schedule a free pest inspection online. We will then visit your property and properly identify the pests. 

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What do wasps look like? What is a wasp?

What makes a wasp, a wasp? What are the differences between wasps and bees? Wasps are insects that are not ants or bees and belong to the order of Hymenoptera or the suborder Apocrita. There are over 4,000 wasp species in the U.S. but only a few social wasps are commonly considered pests. Unlike bees, wasps are predatory creatures that feed on other insects. 

Wasps are close cousins to bees, but are also a separate and distinct species all their own. They are different in appearance and temperament than bees. Most of the types of wasps are social in North America, but there are some solitary and predatory wasps.

Wasps create nests and often build them near human structures. They chew up wood, using their powerful mandibles to scrape up wood and chew it into a pulpy, paper substance. Within the nest, wasps lay eggs and take care of their young. Although wasps prefer to build their nests as far away from people as possible, they often build them close enough to pose a potential threat. 

How to identify wasp species

There are more than 30,000 species of wasp around the world. However, there are 3 types of wasps that are most commonly encountered by pest control professionals: paper wasps, hornets and yellowjackets. 

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Hornets

Hornets are the largest social wasps pest control professionals encounter.  Bald faced hornets have white markings on their head and thorax and build nests that are covered in a papery shell.  European hornets are brownish with orange markings, and build their nests in natural cavities like tree stumps, or in cavities within buildings.  Though not particularly aggressive while out foraging, hornet stings can be very painful.  

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Paper Wasps

Adult paper wasps grow to be 16-20 mm long and tend to have a brownish coloring with yellow markings (although a few paper wasp species have red markings). While their appearance can vary slightly by species, paper wasps have distinctive long legs unlike bees or yellow jackets that have shorter legs.

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Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets have black antennae and shorter legs (relative to the paper wasp). Adult yellow jackets grow to be 10-16 mm in length and feature a black and yellow banded abdomen. Yellow jackets build nests that are surrounded by a papery covering, and are commonly found within wall voids or cavities in the ground. 

Wasps vs. bees

When winter ends and the warmer weather comes, the threat of stinging pests will start to increase. Bees and wasps become active, many of them hibernating over the winter months, and start building their nests over again. This often puts them in close proximity to people and their homes. It's entirely possible for bees and wasps to build their nests next to houses or on people's property which can heighten the risk of being stung.

But how can you tell if your property has been infested by wasps or bees? Many people confuse honeybees with yellow jackets, for example. One of them is a bee and the other is a wasp. Both are beneficial to the environment as pollinators, but one is generally more docile than the other and poses less of a risk of being stung. Which one is on your property?

If you have a health risk associated with stinging pests, you should know which type of insect is on your property.

There are some physical traits that help distinguish wasps from bees.

  • Waist - The thin waistline of wasps is one of the most noticeable physical features that are different from bees. Wasp abdomens narrow before connecting to the thorax unlike bees.
  • Body Hair - Bees tend to have much more body hair than wasps. While some wasps species have visible body hair, they have much less in comparison to bees.
  • Size of Colonies - While some species of both wasps and bees are considered "social' stinging insects that live in colonies, bee colonies and grow to be much larger than wasp colonies. The largest wasp colonies rarely reach more than 10,000 members while honeybee hives can hold over 50,000 members.

The one way you may truly identify a wasp is by their temperament. Wasps tend to be very territorial and will defend their nests fiercely and at a much greater distance than bees. They also tend to swarm and attack in large numbers.

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What is a bee?

A bee is also a species of flying insect and are closely related to wasps. They create hives where they lay their eggs and raise their young. Known for creating honey, bees have a special place within the ecosystem pollinating plants and flowers.

Bees also try to build their hives away from people, but sometimes end up building them within wall cavities which can put them in close contact with humans. Bees will defend their hives and may sting, but doing so comes at a price. When bees sting, their barbed stinger gets stuck in their victim and they are disemboweled.

Bees tend to be smaller than wasps. They also have no discernible waist, unlike a wasp.  Appearing almost as one body segment, bees are also much more hairy than wasps, which is at least part of the reason why they are such effective pollinators. The pollen attaches to the hairs on their body and they then transfer that to other plants and flowers.

Wasp vs bee stings

One of the major differences between wasps and bees is what happens when they sting. If you have an allergy to insect stings, the ways in which wasps and bees sting can create health risks.

Wasps do not lose their stinger. They have smooth stingers which means they can swarm a person and sting them over and over again. Therefore, a swarm of wasps could create more of a risk for stings than you might get from bees. Increased stings mean a greater potential of allergic reactions to the insect venom they produce.

Bees, on the other hand, will swarm out of their hives if they are threatened and a person can potentially be stung. However, bees are just slightly more docile than wasps, so it can take a lot to get them to swarm. They also die after stinging, so you may get stung by multiple bees, but not the same bee.

The one major exception to this rule with bees is if you have run into a hive of Africanized honeybees. They are very aggressive, will swarm with little provocation and in huge numbers, chasing the potential threat much further than other bees would. Considered very dangerous to anyone, Africanized honeybees are particularly deadly to those with insect sting allergies.

Regardless, if you suffer from stinging pest allergies, you should carry medication with you in case you get stung. You should also immediately seek medical attention if you are stung.

How Ehrlich can help you with stinging pests

Trying to take care of a stinging pest infestation on your own can be dangerous. Bees and wasps will both defend their nests and will swarm people who they feel might be a threat to their nests.

If you have noticed increased stinging pest activity around your home and property, contact your local Ehrlich Pest Control office and we will carry out an inspection to determine what kind of stinging pest is there.


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