Bees & Wasps



(AKA white-faced or white tailed)

baldfacedhornetTaxonomists are a strange group. What is a taxonomist you ask? They are the biologists who like to name organisms (sometimes after themselves!) with those fancy Latin names. This black and white wasp (Dolichovespula maculata) has been named bald-faced hornet based upon its size and habits. In reality, it’s closer to being a yellow jacket (Vespula sp.) but calling it as such doesn’t quite fit. These large wasps (up to ¾ inch long) construct impressive paper nests (imagine basketball sized or larger by summers end) and are extremely dangerous when threatened or disturbed. With their nasty reputation for aggressiveness, bald-faced hornets nests located near entryways, eaves, tool sheds, or in foundation plantings should not be taken lightly.


(Bombus spp.)

bumble-beeBumble bees are medium to large bees that are similar in appearance to carpenter bees but are distinguished by their dense “fur coat.” They’re distantly related to honey bees but their habits are different and colonies are much smaller. Bumble bees are primarily ground nesting seeking shelter in old rodent burrows, rock walls, beneath landscape timbers, sheds, but they also will nest in buildings. Bumble bees are mostly beneficial insects, but nesting in unwanted areas, their ability to sting, and the fear they can cause makes nuisance bumble bee control an option for homeowners.


(Xylocopa virginica)

carpenter-beeCarpenter Bees have emerged in recent years as a significant pest problem in the Northeast. In appearance, they look similar to bumble bees, but not as large. Carpenter Bees are known for the perfectly round holes they bore into the dry wood of homes, decks, and fence posts. These holes are typically 4-to-6 inches deep and are most often seen along the eaves of homes. Once a hole has been bored, the female Carpenter Bee will line the hole with a mixture of pollen and nectar, and then lay an egg and seal up the hole. A Carpenter Bee infestation can be a recurring and persistent problem since the males and females will winter in existing holes and may even use these same holes for egg laying the following season, while excavating new holes in the same general area.


(AKA digger wasps)

cicadakiller1Cicada killers are very large (1½ in.) ground-nesting wasps with coloration and markings similar to yellowjackets. Appearance aside, these wasps are very different from yellowjackets, which are social and form large underground colonies. Cicada killers are solitary wasps that belong to the family Sphecidae. The female cicada killer (plus a few related species) will excavate large (½ inch wide) burrows in foundation plantings, lawns, or along walkways. Each burrow she constructs is provisioned with paralyzed insects and spiders, which serve as food for a single developing wasp. Though not terribly aggressive, females will sting if handled and may harass children playing near their nest. Other related wasps of concern to homeowners known as mud daubers. These wasps are generally smaller than the digger wasps, metallic blue/black in color, and construct mud nests in attics, garages, or on the sides of buildings.


(Vespa crabro)

HORNET EUROPEANThe European or giant hornet is the largest species of social wasp found in North America. Workers are brown and yellow in color with most exceeding one inch in length! They construct large brownish paper colonies (of up to 800 individuals) primarily in tree cavities but will nest in buildings too. They are not known for being terribly aggressive but will defend their nest vigorously if disturbed. These hornets have a few habits that make them unique. First, they will forage at night and are highly attracted to outdoor lighting plus they’ll harvest living plant tissue to construct their nests. Like most wasps or bees, they will feed upon the nectar of flowers but will also take sap from landscape plants by chewing twigs and causing injury in the process.


(Apis melifera)

honeybee2Honeybees are important, well-studied insects found throughout the world and have been cultured for thousands of years to produce honey and beeswax. Many different strains (or races) have been identified and crossbred to create more productive hybrid bees. As you may know, sometimes this crossbreeding goes awfully wrong as in the case of the Africanized honey bee (a.k.a. killer bee). Oh well! In general, honey bees play an incredibly important role in the production of nearly all types of food crops (Yes, even broccoli and lima beans) simply by gathering up their favorite foods — pollen and nectar.

Honey bees are social insects with colonies that often contain tens of thousands of workers. These bees are yellow-orange in color, ½ to 5/8 inch long, mostly covered with hairs. Queen and male bees are similar but slightly larger. Honey bees will swarm whenever existing quarters become unsuitable due to crowding or when their queen is on the decline. Swarms that gather around a new queen are a spectacular sight and need not cause panic because they are very docile, (have you ever seen a picture of someone wearing a “beard” of bees?) and should never be killed. The cooperative extension service can be a source of referrals for beekeepers willing to collect swarms and for other experts that specialize in live removal of colonies from difficult situations like walls or attics.


paperwaspAll the social wasps (bald-faced hornets, yellowjackets, paperwasps and true hornets) produce a papery material to construct their nests. Paper wasps are really distinguished from their cousins by the type of nest they make which is open-celled (some say umbrella shaped) as opposed to being completely wrapped in paper. Another habit they have is that they fly relatively slow with their legs held below the body. Paper wasps are “tame” by comparison to their relatives (especially yellowjackets) but will deliver very painful stings if threatened or disturbed. Two troublesome species encountered by property owners are the northern paper wasp (which is dark brown and approx. 5/8 inch long) and the slightly smaller European paper wasp. The European paper wasp (often confused with yellowjackets because of similar coloration) is an aggressive newcomer, which was first recorded right in Massachusetts in the early 1980’s. Both species will nest in attics, beneath decks, shingles, and building overhangs but the European type is adept at nesting in all types of outdoor items from gas grills to play sets. Each year, people suffer serious medical complications and even death from hypersensitivity to wasp stings.


(Vespula sp.)

Eastern Yellow JacketYellowjackets are yet another stinging member of the social wasp family that causes headaches for homeowners. New England is home to many species, all of which are about 3to5/8 inch long, black and yellow in color. They’re quite different from their very distant relatives the honeybees. Both build combs for raising their brood but yellowjackets make them out of paper instead of wax. Yellowjackets do not make honey like bees preferring instead to hunt or scavenge for their food. Yellowjackets will nest mostly in old rodent burrows and are usually discovered the hard way by children playing too close or by accidentally mowing over their nest. Here they’ll build layers of comb completely enveloping them with paper and expanding the size as needed throughout the summer. Sometimes, yellowjackets will invade wall voids or nest between attic rafters in your home.

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