Stinging Insects

Stinging Insects frighten nearly everyone.  Getting stung is a painful experience and can even be fatal for those few highly allergic individuals. Here are some common stinging insects to watch out for:

Carpenter Bees
Carpenter bees are very similar in appearance to honey bees, except that they lack dense hair on the tail end.  The solitary females bore holes in unprotected wood, where they create and provision chambers for each of their eggs.  They do not consume wood. Rather, they feed on pollen and nectar.  Carpenter bees typically are just nuisance pests that cause cosmetic rather than structural damage to wood.  Females will sting if handled, but they do not sting to protect their nests.  Harmless males readily chase anyone approaching a nest entrance.

Cicada Killers
Cicada killers are large, solitary wasps that use their stinger to sedate and paralyze cicadas.   Cicada killers will hunt cicadas during the summer months when populations are active. They will find a cicada, sting it and provision their nests with them.  Adult eastern cicada killer wasps are large, ranging from .5 to 2 inches long.  They have hairy reddish and black areas on the thorax and are black to reddish brown marked with light yellow stripes on the abdominal segments. Their wings are brownish and their coloration superficially resembles that of some yellow jacket and hornet species.  Adults emerge in summer, typically beginning around late June or early July and die off in September or October.  Cicada killers are commonly seen digging their nests throughout the yard, mulch and sand areas and searching for cicadas in trees and taller shrubs.  Although cicada killers are large, female cicada killer wasps are not aggressive and rarely sting unless they are grasped roughly, stepped upon with bare feet, caught in clothing, etc.  Remember that cicada killers late in the season have already laid eggs and it is highly likely that you will have some activity the following year. Once a good nesting area is located, adults will try to use such ground from year to year. The first few you see should be controlled to prevent large nests from ever forming.

Honey Bees
Honey bees are social insects.  They are small fuzzy brown bees that collect nectar and pollen from flowers to feed other colony members.  Honey bees typically only sting in self-defense if they are stepped on or bumped.  Honey bees will also sting in defense of their nest.  Unlike wasps that can sting repeatedly, honey bees only sting once and then die.

Hornets generally find sheltered places like dark, hollow tree trunks to start their nest.  They first build a series of cells out of chewed tree bark.  These social insects construct hives by chewing wood into a papery construction pulp. They mature from egg to adult inside the community hive.  Workers defend their hive with potent stingers. Though these insects do not sting humans unless provoked, some people are allergic to their venom and can have very dangerous reactions to a sting.  Hornets are often considered pests, particularly when they nest near humans, because they will defend a nest aggressively if they feel it is threatened.

Paper Wasps
Paper wasps’ color ranges from reddish brown to dark brown, to yellow and black depending on the species.  They build gray paper nests that resemble a honey comb when viewed from below.  The nest is attached at the top from a single point near the center of the comb.  If a nest is built in an open area, such as under a window sash or eaves, it will be roughly circular.  Nests built within spaces, such as hedges, flower pots or garden equipment, will conform to fit the available space.   Often time paper wasps will find a spot on your house to build a nest and they may sting in order to defend their nest if sufficiently disturbed.  At the end of the summer, new queens are produced which will found new colonies in the spring.  In their search for a protected dry place to spend the winter, new queens can cluster indoors in large numbers.

Yellow Jackets
These colorful black and yellow insects build gray or tan paper nests, which are hidden in cavities.  Nests can be underground with only a nickel sized hole to allow entry or they may be built in hollow trees or buildings.  A single queen begins her nest in April or May.  The nest grows into a series of combs as the number of workers grows.  Yellow Jackets will remain active until late fall if weather and food supply are favorable.  Yellow jackets cause more human stings than any other stinging insect for several reasons: they are extremely numerous, they often nest around buildings and they are attracted to human food.  Multiple stings are often the result someone disturbing a nest.  Any activity near the nest, such as lawn mowing or hedge trimming can cause dozens of angry wasps to attack.