Identifying Wasps, Yellowjackets, and Hornets

Bees, wasps, yellowjackets, hornets, meat bees, carpenter bees, etc. As a pest control professional I get calls from customers using various names to describe the pests they are seeing. Sometimes the customer has correctly identified which pest they have, while other times they have made an inaccurate assessment. In order to devise a successful treatment strategy, we first must do our best to determine that we have in fact identified which pest we are dealing with. Otherwise our chances of achieving success will be diminished.

Paper wasps, yellowjackets, and bald faced hornets. These are the three most common of the previously mentioned pests found in Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry, and the surrounding area. All three of these are technically wasps. But for identification purposes we will call them by their more precise and commonly used names of paper wasps, yellowjackets, and hornets.

Paper wasps have black and yellow striped segmented bodies with long narrow wings and back legs that dangle below them when in flight. Wasps can be present in many places around your home and outbuildings, but are most commonly found under the eaves of these structures. Their nests are open faced and have a honeycomb appearance to them. Paper wasps will sting if their nest is disturbed or if you are just unlucky and accidentally come into direct contact with them. But if left alone they aren’t overly aggressive.

Yellowjackets are also black and yellow striped, but unlike paper wasps they have a more compact body including their wings and legs. There are different species of yellowjackets that nest in different types of locations. Some nest in holes in the ground, some build spherical shaped nests with a small hole in the bottom, typically attached to a tree limb or under the eaves of buildings, while others will build in a cavity in the wall of your house that they access through a small hole or crack. Yellowjackets can be more aggressive than paper wasps. They are more easily agitated and are quicker to defend their nest when they feel threatened.

Bald faced hornets are larger than wasps, or yellowjackets, and have black and white striped bodies. They usually build their nests attached to a tree limb or under the eaves of buildings, and their nests look very similar to a yellowjackets nest. The best way to tell the difference is to observe the individuals coming and going through the hole in the bottom of the nest. Hornets can also be aggressive, but because their nest are often times higher in a tree, it’s not as easy to disturb them.

Now that we’ve accurately identified which pest we are going after. It’s time to decide the best type of treatment to address the problem. I’ll start with paper wasps, since they are the most common of the stinging pests found in north Idaho. They are also the one that we can be the most successful in treating for. Usually starting around the month of May the surviving queens from the previous year will begin to build their nests. This is also a good time to perform a wasp control treatment. My typical wasp treatment usually consists of power spraying under the eaves and raised decks where wasps like to nest. The spray treatment will kill the existing nests, as well as leave a residual to prevent new nests from being built for a while after the treatment. Most years a wasp treatment done in May or June will be sufficient to keep the wasps under control for most of the summer. However there are years where they start early and continue late into the summer and the possibility of wanting a second treatment to keep them suppressed is desired.

Treating for yellowjackets and hornets can sometimes be a little more challenging depending on the circumstances. If the customer has been lucky (or unlucky) enough to locate a nest, in a tree, in the ground, or even in a cavity in the exterior of their house. I can usually be very successful in taking care of the problem. However the difficulty in dealing with a yellowjacket or hornet problem often lies in knowing where their nests are located. Attempting to locate a nest or nests isn’t something that I usually do, as the nests could be quite a distance from the home and can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Therefore I’ll often advise the customer to do their best to try to find any nests before having me out for a treatment, in order to have a much better chance of being successful.

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