Nothing can ruin outdoor fun faster than the presence of yellow jackets, hornets and wasps; aggressive insects capable of inflicting painful, repeated stings that may cause severe allergic reactions.
Do not confuse yellow jackets, hornets and wasps with beneficial insects like honeybees and bumblebees, which are important pollinators and contribute to a healthy eco-system. Besides, they are naturally nonaggressive and none of the males can sting. The females may sting if the nest is threatened. Female honeybees can only sting once while female bumblebees are capable of stinging multiple times.
Capable of stinging repeatedly, often aggressive and potentially deadly are the following:
This yellow and black wasp is about ½” long. It is often mistaken for a honey bee, but honey bees are covered with brownish hairs. Many picnics have been ruined by these stinging insects, which are a common sight throughout New England. Yellow jackets, especially the females, are extremely aggressive and will attack if their nest is being threatened. Yellow jacket stingers stay attached to their abdomens, making it possible for them to sting repeatedly, inflicting pain and injecting potent venom. Many people have serious allergic reactions to their sting. Yellow jackets typically nest in the ground but also nest in voids of man-made structures.
Paper wasps are similar to yellow jackets in color, but have a slimmer, more elongated body shape. Their legs are long and hang down even during flight. Compared with yellow jackets, paper wasps are fairly unaggressive, but will sting to defend their nests. You will find paper wasp nests in just about any protected location, such as inside mailboxes, cable TV and other utility boxes, under the covers of outdoor grills, in bird houses or feeders and in light fixtures. Their nests are often the size of golf balls and consist of 20 or fewer cells, nests may hang horizontally or vertically.
Sometimes called white-faced hornets, bald-faced hornets are basically robust yellow jackets in black and white. They have heavy bodies and pale, yellow-white marks on the head and at the end of the abdomen. Hornets are actually beneficial, as they capture other insects to feed to their larvae. However, they are much more aggressive in defending their nest than the yellow jacket. The hive is a gray paper-like mass that gradually expands throughout the summer until it is about the size and shape of a football with an opening at the bottom. They are built above ground and can usually be found attached to the branches of a tree or shrub. Active nests may contain anywhere from 100-700 hornets.