Wasps are a diverse group ranging in size from the smallest recorded flying insect to giants from Indonesia with a 4-inch wingspan. They sport a wide variety of colors; some species are black while others may be metallic greens and blues.
Many of the more than 100,000 known species around the world are beneficial in controlling agricultural pests. Other species are important pollinators.
Wasps fall into two categories: solitary and social. Solitary wasps live alone or in small groups with no social structure. With few exceptions, solitary wasps are not aggressive and rarely sting.
As their name suggests, social wasps nest together in large numbers.*2 When the nest is threatened they will sting to protect it. Many types of social wasps exhibit similar coloring patterns, such as yellow and black stripes.
The different types of wasp found in the US construct their nests in distinctive ways. All the social wasps use some form of pulped plant fiber. Nests may be built almost anywhere, such as underground, in trees, attached to the side of buildings or in wall cavities.
The main types of social wasps are:
- Yellow Jackets. These are a familiar sight in late summer with their yellow and black pattern. Their nests can be above or below ground and are aggressively protected, making them responsible for the majority of wasp stings in the US. Individuals can sting multiple times in defense of the nest.
- Paper Wasps. Frequently seen in residential areas, their paper-like nests can be recognized by their umbrella shape which and hang down from a single stalk. Some species resemble small Yellow Jackets in coloring.
- Hornets. The largest of the common wasps, their nests are big and typically built in trees or on poles. Because of its size, a hornet’s sting can be painful but they are not normally aggressive.
Viewed as essential pollinators, bees rarely become a nuisance. Where possible pest control experts should be consulted and the hive moved to a safer location.