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Bees, Hornets and Wasps

People often mistakenly call all stinging insects "bees".
It is important to distinguish between these insects because different
methods may be necessary to control them if they become a nuisance.

Wasp and hornet control

Wild Bees

Honey Bee Nests

Bumble Bee Nests


Ground Nests

Old Nests

Concealed Nests

Exposed Nests


Ground nesting bees


Trap Placement

Food Preferences

Life Cycle




Orchard Bees

Cheap and effective wasp traps you can build yourself.  Sophisticated or simple
Don't kill this one!   Build a nesting board for Orchard Bees Natures best pollinator


Wasps have a slender body with a narrow waist, slender, cylindrical legs, and appear smoothed-skinned and shiny. Yellowjackets, boldfaced hornets, and paper wasps are the most common types of wasps encountered by people.



Bees are robust-bodied and very hairy compared with wasps. Their hind legs are flattened for collecting and transporting pollen. Bees are important pollinators.



Control of Nests

The first step in wasp or bee control is to correctly identify the insect and locate its nesting site. An experienced pest control service may provide wasp or bee control service or you can use the following information to attempt to control them yourself. ( Directory of Canadian Pest Professionals)


The best time of the year to control wasps is in June after the queen has established her colony and while the colony is still small. But because nests are small, they are also harder to find. The best time of the day to control wasp nests is at night, when they are less active.

Exposed wasp nests

Wasp nests that are visible and near human activity can pose a potential problem. If there is a concern about stings, you should eradicate the nest.

Apply a ready-to-use aerosol "wasp and hornet spray" into the entrance of the nest during late evening according to label directions. To avoid pesticide falling down on yourself do not stand directly under the nest and spray up. Plan your escape route.  Be very careful if you must climb a ladder. If live wasps are still observed the next day, repeat the treatment.

Mechanical control without insecticides is possible for small, exposed nests. At night, cover the nest with a large, heavy, plastic bag and seal it shut. Cut the nest from the tree and freeze it.  Use caution: there is more risk involved in this procedure than in spraying the nest.

Ground wasp nests

When yellowjackets are found nesting in the ground, first try pouring a soap and water solution into the entrance. Many types of soap will work, including dish and laundry soap. (Do this at night)

If that doesn't work, apply an insecticide into the nest opening. Be sure you use a product that is registered for use in lawns or soil. After you are sure all the wasps have been exterminated, cover the nest entrance with soil.

Concealed wasp nests

The most challenging nests to control are those that are concealed in voids behind walls or in attics. Often, the only evidence of the nest is wasps flying back and forth through a crack or hole in the home.
It may be wise to hire someone experienced to exterminate a wasp nest. Contact a pest professional service listed in our directory.  Aerosol insecticides usually do not work very well on hidden nests.

 Old wasp nests

Old nests are not reused by wasps. Wasp nests found during winter or early spring are old nests from the previous summer. There are no live wasps in the nest; they have already left  or died inside it. The nest can be safely removed and disposed of if desired.

Honey bee nests

Honey bees are normally housed in manufactured hives and managed by beekeepers. In some instances wild colonies of honey bees may nest in hollow trees or in wall voids. Honey bees may become a nuisance in the spring at bird feeders and swimming pools as they forage for water. They seldom, if ever, are a nuisance in summer or early fall.

Wild colonies can be treated with the same insecticides and methods as described for exposed or concealed wasp nests. Control of honey bee nests can be challenging. Consider hiring an experienced pest control service if a honey bee job appears too difficult. ( Directory of Canadian Pest Professionals)

Bumble bee nests

When a bumble bee nest is a nuisance, treat it with the same insecticides and methods as described for ground-nesting or concealed wasp nests.

Ground-nesting bees

There are other types of bees you may encounter that do not form colonies. Solitary andrenid bees are common ground-nesting bees. They are also important pollinators of native plants. They usually nest in sun-exposed, dry areas of yards. Although there is just one bee per nest, many of these bees typically nest close to each other. They are usually most conspicuous to the public during spring. Although many ground-nesting bees may be found flying around their nests in the spring, they are gentle and very rarely sting people. Sprinkling the area of their nests with water may be enough to encourage them to move as they avoid damp areas. The same insecticides that control ground-nesting yellowjackets and bumble bees are effective against andrenid bees.

Bald Faced Hornet Nest


 Wild Bees                       
These small- to medium-sized bees may be any of a wide range of colors: metallic red, black, blue, green, or copper. Usually no distinctive spots or bands are present. Length ranges from 8.5 to 17 mm.

Several wild bee species build nests in the soil.  They are most common, in soils with sparse to moderate plant growth, little organic matter, and good drainage.

Essentially beneficial insects, wild bees feed on the nectar of many plants and gather pollen for the larvae to feed upon and are excellent pollinators of vegetable and fruit crops.

They prefer to nest in soils with a sparse vegetative cover, As the bees tunnel in the soil, the excavated dirt forms mounds 1.5 to 6.0 cm wide and 0.25 to 1.5 cm high. The bees are often exterminated out of fear of their stinging but Wild bees seldom sting unless stepped upon or squeezed.

Wild bees generally overwinter in their soil burrows as adults. They emerge by early April and begin digging new burrows. The burrow consists basically of a vertical shaft 8 to 15 cm deep. The number and size of side tunnels varies with the particular bee species. Unlike some bees, soil-nesting species are not social in that each female makes her own nest, provisions it with food, and lays eggs. There is no worker caste. The bees, however, are gregarious and often nest closely together. However, there is no "nest guarding" instinct.

Wild bees first begin to fly in early spring. Mating takes place soon afterwards and females begin storing pollen in burrows. Furnishing each cell of their burrow with a pollen ball 3 to 5 mm in diameter, females then deposit a single egg on each pollen ball. Eggs hatch in early May. Throughout the summer, the larvae feed and develop within the burrows. Pupation occurs in later summer, usually in August. With some species, adult bees develop sometime in the fall but remain in their burrows to overwinter. Other species overwinter as larvae. A single generation is completed each year.

Orchard Bees   Natures best pollinator


Wasps and Outdoor Activities During Late Summer and Fallyellowjacket wasp

During late summer and fall, yellowjackets become aggressive scavengers and frequently disrupt outside activities where food or drink is served. Control of scavenging wasps is difficult, as there are no insecticides that effectively repel or discourage them.

The best strategy is to minimize attracting them. Wait to serve food and drink until people are ready to eat. Promptly put away food when done and throw garbage into a container with a tightly fitting lid. Examine glasses, cans, and other containers before drinking from them to check for wasps that may have flown inside. If a wasp flies to your food, wait for it to fly away or gently brush it away.  If you crush them they will give off an alarm scent that will attract others wasps.


Many people make the mistake of placing wasp traps in areas of human activity.  This of course attracts more wasps.  Place the traps in a wide circle 40 or 50 feet away from the area you want to be wasp free.  Sweet smelling liquids are the best attractant.  (Carbonated soda pop)  Placing traps early in the season will have more effect at reducing the population later in the summer.
To make a cheap and effective wasp trap see this page.

Food Preferences

Wasps are beneficial because they prey on many insects, including caterpillars, flies, crickets, and other pests. During late summer and fall, they are more interested in collecting sweets and other carbohydrates. Some wasps may become aggressive scavengers around human food and may be common around outdoor activities where food or drinks are served.

Bees feed only on nectar (carbohydrates) and pollen (protein) from flowers. Honey bees sometimes visit trash cans and soft-drink containers to feed on sugary foods.

Nesting Sites

Yellowjackets, baldfaced hornets, and paper wasps make nests from a papery pulp comprised of chewed-up wood fibers mixed with saliva. Yellowjacket and baldfaced hornet nests consist of a series of rounded combs stacked in tiers. These combs are covered by an envelope consisting of several layers of pulp.

Yellowjackets commonly build nests below ground in old rodent burrows or other cavities. They can also build nests in trees, shrubs, under eaves, and inside attics or wall voids . Baldfaced hornets commonly build nests in the open in trees as well as under eaves and along the sides of buildings.

Honey bees make a series of vertical honey combs made of wax. Their colonies are mostly in manufactured hives but they do occasionally nest in cavities in large trees, voids in building walls, or other protected areas.

Bumble bees use old mice burrows, cavities in buildings, and other locations to make their nests. Like honey bees, bumble bees make cells of wax.

Life Cycle of Wasps and Bees

Wasps and bumble bees have annual colonies that last for only one year. The colony dies in the fall with only the newly produced queens surviving the winter. The new queens leave their nests during late summer and mate with males. The queens then seek out overwintering sites, such as under loose bark, in rotted logs, under siding or tile, and in other small crevices and spaces, where they become dormant. These queens become active the following spring when temperatures warm. They search for favorable nesting sites to construct new nests. They do not reuse old nests.

Honey bees are perennial insects with colonies that survive more than one year. Honey bees form a cluster when hive temperatures approach 57 F. As the temperature drops, the cluster of bees becomes more compact. Bees inside this mass consume honey and generate heat so that those in the cluster do not freeze. As long as honey is available in the cluster, a strong colony can withstand temperatures down to -30 F. or lower for extended periods.


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Yellowjackets are small yellow-and black-banded wasps that build nests in the ground or paper-like nests in trees. The colony will reach maximum size in late summer. Worker yellow-jackets are common around picnic areas where they forage for food.


  • Perfumes and other scents

  • Hairspray

  • Suntan lotion

  • Cosmetics

  • Sweet food


  • Don't go barefoot

  • Don't swat with your hands

  • Use lids on soft drink cups

  • Put tight-fitting lids on trash cans

  • Empty trash frequently


Health Threats to School Children from Stinging Insects
Jerome Goddard, Ph.D.
Medical Importance. Wasp, bee, yellowjacket, and fire ant stings are serious health considerations for school children in two primary ways: 1) the direct effects of stings -- pain, itching, swelling, etc., and 2) the indirect effects such as allergic reactions to the venom.1 Direct effects are bad enough, with many children experiencing severe pain and localized swelling after an insect sting.2,3 In others, the direct effect may be even worse with extensive swelling that may be debilitating for days or weeks (termed a large local reaction). Indirect effects of stings -- primarily allergic reactions -- vary from mild systemic (all over the body) reactions such as hives, itching, runny eyes and nose, and wheezing, to severe systemic reactions such as sudden swelling of the respiratory tract, crash in blood pressure, collapse and death within 15-30 minutes.4,5

Contrary to what people think, there are more deaths each year in the U.S. from bee and wasp stings than from snake bites.6 In addition, fire ants have increasingly become a costly medical threat to adults and children in institutions, schools, and day care centers.7-11 For example, in 1998, there were an estimated 660,000 cases of fire ant stings in South Carolina, of which approximately 33,000 sought medical treatment for an estimated cost of $2.4 million.12

Biology of the Pest Species Involved. Paper wasps (including yellowjackets and hornets) build their nests in protected places such as hollow trees, thick bushes, holes in the ground, and the like. The problem is they often build them under the eaves of human dwellings, in wall voids or in attics. Paper wasps begin their nests in the spring with a single mated female wasp (queen), and gradually enlarge the nest, producing more and more worker wasps until winter kills most of them. Accordingly, the worst problems with paper wasps occur in late summer and early fall (unfortunately, this coincides with the start of school). Paper wasps will aggressively defend their nest when disturbed, stinging repeatedly (honey bees sting only once; paper wasps can sting multiple times).

Honey bees (including both the European variety and the newly arrived "killer bee") build their nests in hollow trees, but may also build nests in wall voids. They do not construct a paper nest, instead making a waxy, comb-like structure. In addition, honey bees can overwinter -- cold weather does not kill the hive. Accordingly, a honey bee hive could remain inside a wall for several years. Honeybees also aggressively defend their nest when disturbed. Interestingly, killer bees are no bigger in size or more poisonous than regular honey bees -- only more aggressive. They are more easily alarmed, more of the hive emerges to chase intruders, and they chase intruders much further.

Fire ant stings can even be more serious than bee stings. There are some native fire ants in the U.S., but the imported ones are the worst pests. At least 300 million acres in the U.S. are now infested. Imported fire ant sting aggressively and inject a necrotizing venom to paralyze or kill their prey. The ants characteristically boil out of their mounds in great numbers at the slightest disturbance. Worker imported fire ants attach to the skin of their victim with their mandibles and lower the tip of their abdomen to inject the stinger forcefully; therefore, fire ants both bite and sting, but their stings cause the subsequent burning sensation and wheal. As is the case with any stinging insect, hypersensitivity to fire ant venom may result in severe allergic reactions from just a few stings.

Outdoors, fire ants are best recognized by the appearance of their mounds, which are elevated earthen mounds 3 to 36 inches high surrounded by relatively undisturbed vegetation. In some areas, there are as many as 300-400 fire ant mounds per acre of land, greatly interfering with any outdoor activity. But fire ants may be present in an area even in the absence of visible mounds, because some soil types make mound building difficult. In addition, foraging tunnels 50 to100 feet long are used by workers to collect food for the colony. Children at play may not see these feeding trails and inadvertently get into them. Foraging tunnels are excavated just below the soil surface and extend outward from the mound in all directions. Worker ants travel through these tunnels, emerge from an opening, and search for a food source. Once a food source is located, the foraging worker returns to the tunnel laying a trail of pheromone for other worker ants to follow.

Control Options and Health Effects from Non-use of Pesticides. Paper wasp nests can be mechanically removed (knocked down), especially early in the spring. However, there are obviously some health risks to the person doing the nest removal. A few of the "green" pesticides or other products may also work on paper wasp nests. For example, a soap/water mixture does effectively kill wasps and bees. Nonetheless, there are many instances in which traditional pesticides are needed. Some of the synthetic pyrethroids, packaged as long-range sprays, provide instant knockdown of wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, and bees. In addition, insecticidal dusts are extremely effective tools in controlling hard-to-reach wasp or bee nests in wall voids. Fire ants pose a different problem, being extremely difficult to control without a combination of insecticidal baits (broadcast in the school yard) and individual mound treatments using traditional, residual insecticides. In a recent study of health effects from fire ant stings, the authors (all physicians) recommended pesticidal control of fire ants according to Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service guidelines.12 Alternative, non-pesticidal control measures were mentioned in the official Extension Service guidelines, but were said to be "not very effective."

If traditional pesticides are not available to pest control personnel for the removal of wasp, ant, or bee nests in/around schools, then successful elimination of the nests -- and their associated health risks -- will be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Pesticides should be considered as important "public health tools" in the removal of such pests. Failure to have such tools available will ultimately lead to children being exposed to stinging insects, and possible liability on the school's part for not having provided a safe, pest-free environment.

1. Goddard J: Physician's Guide to Arthropods of Medical Importance. 3rd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2000.

2. Keegan HL: Some medical problems from direct injury by arthropods. Inter Pathol 1969; 10: 35-45.

3. Alexander JO: Arthropods and Human Skin. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1984.

4. Kunkel DB: The sting of the arthropod. Emerg Med 1996; (May 1996 Issue): 135-141.

5. Reisman RE: Insect stings. N Engl J Med 1994; 331: 523-527.

6. Parrish HM: Analysis of 460 fatalities from venomous animals in the U.S. Am J Med Sci 1963; 245: 129-145.

7. deShazo RD, Williams DF, Moak ES: Fire ant attacks on residents in health care facilities: a report of two cases. Ann Intern Med 1999; 131: 424-429.

8. deShazo RD, Butcher BT, Banks WA: Reactions to the stings of the imported fire ant. N Engl J Med 1990; 323: 462-466.

9. deShazo RD, Banks WA: Medical consequences of multiple fire ant stings occurring indoors. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1994; 93: 847-850.

10. Levy AL, Wagner JM, Schuman SH: Fire ant anaphylaxis: Two critical cases in South Carolina. J Agromed 1998; 5: 49-54.

11. Kemp SF, deShazo RD, Moffitt JE, Williams DF, Buhner WA: Expanding habitat of the imported fire ant: a public health concern. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2000; 105: 683-691.

12. Caldwell ST, Schuman SH, Simpson WM: Fire ants: a continuing community health threat in South Carolina. J SC Med Assoc 1999; 95: 231-235.

Jerome Goddard holds a Ph.D. in medical entomology from Mississippi State University. He is a public health entomologist and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. Dr. Goddard has written a medical entomology textbook, "Physician's Guide to Arthropods of Medical Importance" which is now in its Third Edition and is used by physicians worldwide. In addition, Dr. Goddard has written two other books on medically important pests, three book chapters, and 80 scientific articles. He has been a visiting professor in the Department of Dermatology at the Mayo Clinic, as well as a member of a National Institute of Health panel convened to study the future of tick taxonomy in the U.S. In 1999, he testified before a congressional committee on the public health benefits of pesticides.

See Also:  Bee, Wasp and Hornet Stings

Ordinarily, Hymenoptera stings will only cause local pain and swelling. 
However, some individuals may be allergic to Hymenoptera stings. An allergic reaction to Hymenoptera stings occurs once the victim becomes sensitized to the venom from a previous sting. The allergic reaction is caused by the immune system, which has now been oversensitized to the venom and releases histamines into the bloodstream. Histamines dilate blood capillaries, causing the skin to appear red and feel warm, and also makes the capillaries more permeable, which allows fluid to escape into the tissues. This causes swelling, which is manifested as rapidly appearing hives, accompanied by severe itching. In a severe allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock, the tissues of the throat swell and the victim may have difficulty breathing and, unless promptly treated, death may result

Other Reference Sources

The Life of the Bee

Excerpts from: The Life of The Honey Bee, Its Biology and Behavior with an Introduction to Managing the Honey-Bee Colony, by C. L. Farrar. This paper originally appeared as three articles in the American Bee Journal


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