Bees, Wasps, and Hornets
Wasps and bees (along with ants) belong to the taxonomic suborder Apocrita of the order Hymenoptera. They can be readily identified by their constricted petioles (or “waists”) and membranous wings.
Stinging insects in Oregon and Washington state range from relatively passive insects like carpenter ants (shown in the picture to the right), which almost never sting; to baldfaced hornets, which will sting in great numbers just because you looked at them funny. Most of our stinging insects fall somewhere in between the two.
By the way, most stinging insects in our area are wasps, not bees. But because of their similar appearances, many people confuse stinging insects with each other. In addition, the common names for different wasps are more loosely applied than for most other insects. It’s not unusual for several wasp species to share the same common name, or for one wasp specie to be known by several common names.
Here are some of the more common wasps and bees found in Oregon and Washington state. We’ll talk about the wasps first because they’re more commonly encountered as pests, and talk about the bees a bit later on down the page.
Bald Faced Hornets
Bald faced hornets are among the most aggressive of stinging wasps. They build paper nests that usually baldfaced-hornetare suspended from trees or attached to structures. If you’re smart, you’ll stay far away from these nests because hornets have been known to attack in great numbers if you get too close.
Hornets typically have two or three members circling around the nest standing guard. These hornets are commonly known as “sentries,” and their job is to keep on the lookout for threats. If they see something that they don’t like, they call the rest of the colony, and they attack as a group.
The problem is that sometimes the sentries get a bit paranoid and order an attack just because you happened to look at them funny. And you really, really don’t want that to happen. Don’t ask us how we know.
The long and short of it is that hornet control isn’t a DIY sort of job. You get one shot at taking out a hornets’ nest. If you miss, you’ll be sorry you even tried. So do yourself a favor and call us instead.
There are many species of paper wasps, all of whom build paper nests with hexagonal (six-sided) cells. One egg is laid in each cell, starting in the center and working outward, and is tended there throughout the larval stage until pupation.
Different species have very different coloration, from jet black to red. They’re commonly found around door and window frames and under porch roofs.
Paper wasps vary in their aggressiveness from relatively passive to downright ornery. The group also includes both solitary and social species, but most species are social, and even the solitary species often build their nests very close to each other.
Most paper wasps are primarily beneficial because they eat more noxious insects. But when an aggressive specie builds a nest in places where humans congregate, they can create a problem because of their ability to deliver painful stings.
There are several wasps commonly called “yellow jackets,” but the one we get most often in Portland and Vancouver is the German yellow jacket (Vespula germanica), shown here, which is also known as the German wasp or European wasp. We also come another specie one in a while called the common yellow jacket (Vespula alascensis), which is almost identical.
Yellow jackets are primarily beneficial because they prey on noxious insects and feed them to their young. They’re also a minor pollinator because the adults primarily feed on nectar.
Unfortunately, yellow jackets aren’t exactly the friendliest wasps you’ll ever come across. They’re fairly aggressive and are attracted to human food and beverages, especially sugary drinks. They also build nests that can get quite huge, usually inside wall voids, attics, and other hidden areas. If for some reason they perceive you to be a threat, things can get nasty pretty quickly, with hundreds or thousands of wasps attacking en masse.
Another problem that occurs sometimes is that the wasps may get trapped inside a home and get into the living area. Most often this happens when someone doing a DIY yellow jacket job seals up their entry holes or treats with a chemical that it highly repellent to the yellow jackets.
The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the most important pollinator in North America and most of the world. As such, it is worthy of a special measure of respect: honeybees are controlled by killing only when there’s no other reasonable alternative. Preferably, they should be removed by an experienced beekeeper.
Honey bees have a fascinating system of communication that seems to use both pheromones and bodily movements to communicate ideas, such as the distance and direction to sources of food or threats to the hive. This is one of the things that makes them problematic: if they think you’re a threat, they’ll attack in great numbers — which is always extremely painful, and can be life-threatening to people who are allergic to bee stings.
Another problem with honey bees is that they often build hives inside wall and ceiling voids in homes. The honey attracts other insects (and sometimes wildlife), and can stain or damage your home when it leaks. It’s usually necessary to locate and remove the hive after honeybees have been removed because it’s their flapping wings that act as an air-conditioning system. Once they’re gone, the honey melts quite quickly.
What it really comes down to is that if you have honey bees in some part of your property where they’re not bothering anyone, you really should consider leaving them alone. If they have to be controlled, live removal is the preferred method. Killing them should be considered a last resort.
Bumblebees are large, social bees that usually nest in the ground. Unlike honey bees, bumblebee colonies are annual. Toward the end of the summer, reproductive bumblebees will leave the colony and mate, the mated queens will burrow into the ground to overwinter, and the colony they emerged from will die.
Like honey bees, bumblebees are important pollinators of both wild and agricultural plants. Their long tongues make them able to pollinate some plants that honey bees cannot. They also have a longer pollination season (they start pollinating earlier in the spring, and keep pollinating later in the fall), and pollinate on cloudy days.
The problem with bumblebees is that their nests are easy to stumble upon, and the bees are quite aggressive in defending it. Bumblebees station “guard bees” around the hole to watch for threats; and unlike honey bees, bumblebees can sting more than once, and the stings are very painful.
Because of their value as pollinators, we really hate to kill bumblebees. If they’re in some out-of-the-way place where they’re not bothering anyone, you may want to consider leaving them alone. They’re pretty mild-mannered as long as you stay away from their nests.
Carpenter bees are large, solitary bees that look a lot like bumblebees, except that the carpenter bee’s abdomen is shiny black, and the bumblebees fuzzy yellow and black. Although technically “stinging insects,” they almost never sting. The males don’t even have stingers (although they like to act as if they do), and the females rarely sting unless you practically sit on them.
In addition to being quite passive as stinging insects go, carpenter bees are also efficient pollinators. They’re especially good pollinators of garden vegetables (especially nightshades like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers) and most ornamental flowers.
In fact, if it weren’t their annoying habit of drilling holes, carpenter bees probably would be the most popular bees around. Unfortunately, drilling holes is a central part of being a carpenter bee. They drill perfectly round, one-half inch holes in wood, then they make a sharp turn and burrow along the grain. They make tunnels that can sometimes reach over a foot in length in which they lay their eggs and rear their young in the tunnels.
Over time, carpenter bees can do extensive damage to houses, playground equipment, wooden lawn furniture, and other wooden structures.
Stinging Insect Control
Bugaboo Pest Control provides a full range of control for these and other stinging insects. For more information, please contact us for a no-obligation consultation.