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Wasp, Hornet, and Stinging Insect Control

Augusta, Georgia Regional Office of Rid-A-Critter

Paper wasps in an attic

Paper wasps in an attic

We get a lot of calls for "bees" that aren't really bees at all. In fact, most of the stinging insects that make nuisances of themselves in Georgia are various species of wasps, not bees.

Wasps and bees both belong to the taxonomic order Hymenoptera, as do ants and sawflies. This classification has to do with similarities in bodily characteristics (especially their wings), not with any behavioral commonalities. Bees, for example, are highly social, pollinate plants, and make honey. Wasps can be highly social, loosely social, or solitary, depending on the species; and although some wasps are minor pollinators, none of them make honey or are important pollinators of plants.

Some wasps, like yellow jackets and hornets, are both common enough and ornery enough that they've developed reputations of their own. Those two species actually account for the bulk of the wasp-control work that we do because they're very aggressive and likely to sting. Other wasps, like most of those in the genus Polistes (commonly known as "paper wasps") and mud daubers are less of a problem because they're less likely to sting a human. But even most of those relatively mellow wasp species will sting you if you annoy them enough.

The long and short of it is that unless you're familiar with the different wasp species (and more importantly, can tell wasps from bees), you probably shouldn't do your own wasp control. Using over-the-counter "wasp-freeze" products can result in a very nasty attack if, for example, you try to take out a hornets' or yellow jackets' nest with it and miss. You get exactly one chance with those products. If your aim is off, the wasps will attack: and they can fly a lot faster than you can run. So do yourself a favor and don't try to do your own wasp control. Call us instead.

Lets take a look at some of the wasp species most common in our area, in order of aggressiveness.

Baldfaced Hornets

Baldfaced hornets nest in a tree

A baldfaced hornets' nest in a tree

If there were an award for the most aggressive wasps in Georgia, baldfaced hornets would win hands-down. They are not only the most aggressive wasps, but their stings are among the most painful of any insect. They're also unpredictable. They may ignore you one day, but attack you the next. You really don't want to mess with these wasps.

Baldfaced hornets are predominantly shiny black in color, with white or light yellow markings. They build hanging nests that are enclosed in paper. The nests are predominantly grey in color and most commonly are hung from tree limbs or built in shrubbery; but they'll also hang them from man-made structures like roof soffits, playground equipment, or utility poles sometimes. They strongly prefer building their nests in open, outdoor areas, but once in a while they'll build them in attics, barns, or other large enclosed areas.

One of the keys to the baldfaced hornet's aggressiveness and unpredictably is their sentry system. At any given time, several hornets will be stationed right outside the nest hole, either flying around it or sitting on the exterior of the nest. These hornets are the "sentries," and their job is to keep a lookout for threats to the nest. If they see something they don't like, they call out the rest of the troops, and they attack as a unit. It's believed that differences in what the different sentries believe to be threats is the reason for the unpredictably of hornet attacks. Some sentries are quicker to pull the trigger than others.

Hornet stings are extremely painful, and individual hornets are capable of multiple stings. That means that even a medium-sized nest of around 500 hornets can deliver more than a thousand stings if they have a mind to really punish you. These are really not insects that you want to deal with yourself.

European Hornets

Top view of a European hornet

European hornets are common in the Augusta area

Ranking below baldfaced hornets in terms of aggressiveness are their cousins from overseas, the European hornets. They're a bit larger and more strikingly colored than baldfaced hornets. Their bodies are a mix of burnt orange, black, and yellow with bold color distinctions in adjacent body sections.

European hornets are very aggressive, and they also will attack in groups and deliver very painful stings. But being European, they're a bit more refined about it. They usually give you a warning before attacking. That warning comes in the form of a fly-over accompanied by a very loud, intimidating buzz if you get closer to their nests than they're comfortable with.

Unlike baldfaced hornets, European hornets prefer building their nests in protected void areas like hollow trees, roof soffits, electrical transformer housings, abandoned cars, or in the ground. They sometimes build nests in exposed areas, but those cases are the exception. When they do, the nests are usually attached to a surface on one side rather than hanging from it.

European hornets also have an incurable case of body odor. Their rank, intensely unpleasant body odor can be smelled from at least several feet away and even farther if you're downwind. In fact, because they prefer to build their nests in protected places you're probably more likely to smell a European hornets' nest than to see one.

When European hornets build their nests inside a home, the smell can be unbearable. The nests can also be difficult to locate. Back in the old days, we just followed our noses. Nowadays, we have newfangled equipment like infrared FLIR cameras that make it a lot easier to find, treat, and remove their nests.

Yellow Jackets

Yellow jacket wasp

Yellow jacket wasps are very common in Georgia

In common usage, the term "yellow jackets" is used -- often incorrectly -- to refer to many wasp species that happen to have some yellow in their coloration. When we talk about yellow jackets, however, we're referring to wasps in the genus Vespula, that are collectively known as vespids.

There are many species of vespids, but one of the most common in Augusta and throughout Georgia is Vespula germanica, commonly known as the European wasp or the German yellow jacket. We also get some other vespid species, all of which have similar enough characteristics and habits that we'll just mention that they exist rather than go into detail about each one.

As a group, yellow jackets prefer enclosed void areas that are shielded from the elements such as hollow trees that are not open at the top, attics, soffits, vehicles, mechanical or electrical equipment, rock walls, or abandoned animal burrows. They build paper nests that are round or oblong in shape if the void is large, but which conform to the shape of smaller voids.

One of the things that makes yellow jacket control challenging is that their nests may be located quite a distance from the visible entry holes. For example, the wasps may be entering or leaving the house through a hole between the bricks, but the actual nest could be in the attic, with the yellow jackets traveling back and forth in the gap between the brick face and the framing. In a case like this, treating the entry hole could result in the wasps entering the living area of the home, especially if the house has recessed lighting fixtures. It's important to locate and treat the actual nest. (Unlike the case with honey bees, however, yellow jackets' nests do not have to be removed after treatment because they contain no honey or wax.)

Yellow jackets are slightly less aggressive than hornets. They will attack in great numbers if they feel threatened, but they're unlikely to attack based solely on proximity to their entry holes. If you get too close to their actual nests, however, all bets are off.

Paper Wasps

Paper wasps on a nest

Polistes wasps are common in Augusta and throughout Georgia

"Paper wasps" refers to any of a large variety of wasp species that build non-enclosed nests made of paper. These nests are usually built on the undersides of roof soffits, window and door frames, porch ceilings, playground equipment, and other areas shielded from the rain.

Some species of paper wasps prefer building their nests on horizontal surfaces, others prefer vertical ones, and still others don't seem to care very much as long as the location is out of the rain. They do, however, prefer areas that are open to the elements on all sides except the top, so they rarely build their nests in voids.

Unlike hornets and yellow jackets, most paper wasps are solitary insects that can survive quite well on their own without neighbors. Quite often, however, multiple yellow jackets will build nests in the same area. When this happens, the wasps may become loosely social, even to the point of tending each others' young or occasionally sharing a nest. But there's no formal structure nor division of labor such as exists in colony of truly social insects.

In terms of aggression, paper wasps rank pretty low on the scale. They're capable of stinging if they have to, but they're usually pretty content to coexist with humans. They will sting, however, if you do something that they perceive as threatening them, such as reaching your hand close to their nests. Their territoriality range usually extends about a foot or so from their nests.

Paper wasp stings can be quite painful, however, and can trigger reactions in people who are allergic; so nests that are close to places such as playground equipment or doors that people have to walk through should be treated. If you are allergic to stings, you'll want to give yourself a much wider safety margin.

Cicada Killers

Cicada killer wasp

Cicada killers are large, stocky, solitary wasps that prey on cicadas.

Even pests have their pests, and for cicadas, that pest would be the cicada killers. These wasps are solitary, but they often exist in great numbers in the same area. They build their nests in holes in the ground, usually in lawns. Left untreated, the number of wasps and holes will increase every year.

Cicada killers have a very interesting and mildly grotesque like cycle. Female cicada killers hunt down cicadas, paralyze them with their venom, carry them to their holes, and lay a single egg on each cicada. When the egg hatches, it starts to eat the cicada, which presumably is still alive but paralyzed. It's the stuff of cicada nightmares.

Because of their large size and extremely loud buzzing, cicadas can be quite intimidating to people, as well, especially when there are many of them in the same area of lawn. But there's really very little to worry about. Male cicada killers may fly around aggressively and try to intimidate you, but it's all just bravado. They have no stingers and can't do you any harm. Females do have stingers and can inflict stings, but they rarely do unless you do something really rude like stick your finger into their nest holes. Their stingers are intended for paralyzing cicadas, not stinging people.

In fact, the worst thing that cicada killers do is mess up your lawn. Their holes can be quite unsightly, and their buzzing and aggressive flight quite annoying and intimidating. Left untreated, it will only get worse every year.

Digger Bees

Digger bees are not wasps, but are actually true bees. We're including them on this page because unlike many wasps that are mistaken for bees, digger bees are often mistaken for wasps and incorrectly referred to as "digger wasps." Go figure.

Unlike other bees, digger bees build their nests in the ground. They can do extensive damage to lawns, as the video below shows; and their numbers and aggressive flight can be very intimidating. But digger bees very rarely sting. They're an annoyance, for sure, but they're only a serious risk to people who are allergic to stings.

Because they're useful pollinators, many people prefer to leave digger bees alone if they're in a location where they're not bothering anyone, such as in a meadow or field out back that's not being used for any useful purpose. Unless you're allergic to stings and can't take any chances, whether or not you want to treat them is pretty much a function of where they are and how annoying you find them. Like cicada killers, however, they will get more numerous with each passing year if left untreated.

Stinging Insect Gallery

Here are some pictures of stinging insect work we've done in and around the Augusta area.

 

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The Augusta, Georgia office of Rid-A-Critter provides stinging insect control in Augusta Georgia and its surrounding areas, including Appling, Evans, Grovetown, Hephzibah, and Martinez, Georgia. Your town not listed? Contact us.

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