Hornets & Wasps
Hornets and wasps are both stinging insects of the Vespidae order, distant cousins of the ant. Like bees, hornets and wasps tend to set up their nests in trees under eaves, behind siding and in other unwanted locations around the home. Hornets and wasps are generally much more aggressive than bees, however, and pose a real risk to humans. In fact, thousands of people are killed every year in the United States due to allergic reactions to hornets and wasps.
What is the difference between a hornet and a wasp?
Hornets and wasps are closely related; in fact, the hornet is a specific type of wasp. All hornets are wasps, and some wasps are hornets. One problem in distinguishing the two insects is that the terms “wasp” and “hornet” are somewhat generic. For example, what most people refer to as a “hornet” is actually a bald-faced hornet, which is a small subset of the wasp family. Hornets are generally a little bit rounder and fatter than wasps and can be more aggressive. Yellowjackets, commonly mistaken for bees because of their black and yellow coloring, are also a form of wasp.
The most common wasps found in Michigan are the mud dauber and the paper wasp. The mud daubers are easily identifiable by the mud nests they build, which in Michigan are usually found on the walls of garages, under eaves and in cracks and corners. The nests are composed of a series of cylindrical cells that are smoothed over to form a lemon-sized nest. Mud daubers are solitary wasps and are rarely aggressive, though they will sting if molested. Mud dauber nests can last for many years if left undisturbed and may be reused by other types of wasps. Mud daubers are predators and prey on spiders; their natural prey are the black and brown widow spiders.
Paper wasps are 3/4 to 1 inch long and may be brown or black with yellow spots. They take their name from their nests, which are made from plant stem pieces and fibers of dead wood mixed together with the wasp’s saliva to form a brown paper-like material from which they construct their nests. These nests are made up of several open combs with cells where young are reared, all connected to a single, thin stalk that anchors the nest. Paper wasps are very territorial and will attack people if they believe their nest is threatened. Paper wasp stings are particularly painful and can cause an anapylactic reaction in individuals allergic to wasp stings. Paper wasps build nests under any horizontal surface and are often found on tree branches, overhangs, eaves of buildings, beams and supports in attics, garages, barns, sheds, and other similar places.
Though paper wasps are predators, they will scavenge around areas where human food is present and often become unwelcome guests at outdoor events.
The bald-faced hornet is the most common Michigan hornet. The bald-faced hornet is about 3/4 an inch long and recognizable by the white pattern it bears on its face. They are common in both rural and urban areas and making their homes primarily in trees. Like paper wasps, the bald-faced hornet will make paper-like nests out of wood fibers and saliva; unlike paper wasp nests, however, bald-face hornet nests can grow to extreme sizes, sometimes becoming larger than a football. Bald-faced hornets are more aggressive than wasps or yellowjackets. They will often sting without much provocation and, like wasps, can sting repeatedly. Because of the danger inherent in disturbing bald-faced hornets, removal of their nests should be left to pest control professionals. In Michigan, bald faced hornet nests are usually found suspended from low hanging branches in trees or decorative bushes.
Yellow jackets are another common stinging insect. There are different kinds of yellow jackets that have different behaviors. German yellow jackets have much more in common with bees than other yellow jackets. They build large complex hives in wall cavities and ceilings that can reach 12 feet in length. The most common location for these hives is on a vertical section of dry wall under the attic insulation. Property owners usually discover the yellow jackets after the colony’s workers have chewed through the dry wall and gotten into living quarters; this is a natural result of hive expansion. The workers chew up the dry wall and mix it with saliva to make a paper-like product used to build the hive. German yellow jackets are extremely common in Michigan.
Common yellow jackets, on the other hand, have much more in common with wasps and are treated as such. The common yellow jacket builds small (1-12 inch wide) flat and open celled hives under overhanging structures. Ground hives are built by a third species found in northeastern United States, the Eastern yellow jacket. Eastern yellow jacket colonies can reach numbers upwards of five thousand yellow jackets. Most of these hives start out as natural depressions in the soil, or old abandoned ground burrows dug by rodents and other small mammals. As the hive grows, the workers expand the hive by burrowing through the soil around the original borrow. This activity loosens up the soil, creating a natural sinkhole 1-2 feet deep and 1-2 feet wide. If stepped on the burrow will often collapse, resulting in an eruption of yellow jackets that swarm the surprised bystander.
In either case, yellow jackets can be unpredictable and are extremely aggressive when provoked. Yellow jackets have painful stings and in some cases may be deadly. Yellow jackets can carry anaerobic bacteria on their stingers, which the yellow jackets pick up from frequent visits to landfills, sewage, or damp manure. The sting can result in blood poisoning in the victim. If you discover a ground hive make sure to keep all pets and children well out of harms way until the hive has been removed or exterminated. Because of their aggressive nature, it is best to call a pest control professional when dealing with yellow jackets.
For more help in identifying the wasps and hornets of Michigan, please see this site from the University of Michigan Department of Zoology.
Facts on stings & allergies
Any stinging insect can trigger an anaphylactic reaction in a human. Anaphylaxis is an acute hypersensitivity reaction brought on by the exposure to a certain allergens; approximately 1,500 people per year die from anaphylactic reactions. It is estimated that 10-15% of the population may be “at risk” of anaphylaxis. It is difficult to determine if one is at risk or not, since persons can develop anaphylaxis over time; a person who was not allergic to bee and wasp stings as a youth may become so as they get older. Whenever you are stung by a wasp or bee, monitor your condition carefully and always be prepared to seek medical attention if circumstances warrant it. Signs of an anaphylactic reaction are hives or rashes on the skin shortness of breath, abdominal pain, light-headedness and sweating. If you think you are having anaphylactic reaction, seek medical attention immediately.
Wasp sting treatment/remedies
What should you do if you get stung by a wasp or hornet? Provided you are not allergic to them and there is no danger of anaphylaxis, follow these simple steps:
- Check to see if the wasp’s stinger is still in your skin. Wasps will not leave their stingers behind unless they have been swatted and the stinger breaks off in your skin. If the stinger is still there, remove it with a pair of tweezers.
- Cover the affected area with ice wrapped in a towel or a bag of frozen vegetables. Do not put ice directly on the skin, as this can cause an ice burn. Leave the ice in place for five minutes; this will reduce blood flow to the affected area and slow the defensive reaction of your body against the venom.
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen is helpful for reducing the pain. Calomine lotion can be applied to the affected area throughout the day to reduce itching. It is important not to itch or scratch the affected area, as this will spread the venom and slow the healing process. Benadryl is also helpful, either taken orally or applied topically to the sting.
- One effective Native American remedy for wasp stings is to simply apply mud to the affected area for about 15 minutes. The mud helps to draw the venom out of the skin.
Residential Stinging Insect Problems
Nothing ruins your summer party like the presence of stinging insects! Summer is a beautiful time of outdoor activities and the enjoyment of your property, but it is also the time of year when wasps, hornets, yellow-jackets, bees and all sort of unpleasant stinging bugs are out in force.
Decks, play structures, landscaping boulders, and brick exteriors are common sites of yellow-jacket nesting. Houses with wood siding attract carpenter bees, large, furry bees that can ruin your wood siding by drilling round holes in it. Of course, overhangs and eaves provide ideal locations for paper wasps and mud dauber wasps to build their hives. And any low lying tree or ornamental shrubbery can potentially host a nest of bald faced hornets, Michigan’s most aggressive stinging insect. Finally, many people who have nicely manicured lawns find that their yard has been taken over by cicada killers, Michigan’s largest stinging insect.
Honey bees are also a common problem during certain parts of the year, but we try not to exterminate honey bees and prefer to opt for live extraction, when possible. To learn more about honey bees, please visit our honey bee page.
Deterrence and Extermination
In some cases it is possible to totally eradicate a stinging insect problem; in others, you may be looking at deterrence. For example, it is not difficult to exterminate a yellow-jacket nest or knock down a bald faced hornet hive. When dealing with carpenter bees, on the other hand, people often find that they need to continue getting treatments for the bees year after year because new carpenter bees continually arrive and start drilling holes in the wood siding. Similarly, there is no guarantee that eaves once cleared of wasp nests will not be settled by new colonies of wasps later in the season. We have even seen situations where a bald faced hornet nest is removed only to have survivors from the colony start rebuilding the hive a few days later.
For the specifics of any stinging insect job, please call Creature Control today to speak to one of our pest control specialists.