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Extension > Yard and Garden News > Don't Confuse Yellowjackets and Bees

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Don't Confuse Yellowjackets and Bees

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist



Jeff Hahn, Univ of MN Extension

Photo 1: Yellowjackets are black and yellow with few hairs and construct nests made of a papery material.

As the summer winds down, people have been commonly finding insects nesting in and around their homes. There can be confusion whether people are seeing yellowjackets or honey bees. There is tendency for people to call all stinging insects "bees". This has been compounded with the recent attention in the media on honey bees so people are thinking about them even more. While yellowjackets and honey bees both can sting, they have very different biologies. At this time of the year, people are most often seeing yellowjackets.



Jeff Hahn, Univ of MN Extension

Photo 2: Honey bees are brown and black and hairy. Don't confuse them with yellowjackets.

A yellowjacket is about ½ inch long (this can vary some), black and yellow, and relatively slender with few hairs. A baldfaced hornet, actually a kind of yellowjacket, is a little larger, about 5/8th inch long, and mostly black. Honey bees are about ½ inch long brown and black, relatively slender but have more hair.

Yellowjackets construct their nests from a papery material with the combs surrounded by an envelope, while honey bees produce combs made of wax. Yellowjacket nests can be aerial, e.g. hanging from trees or attached to buildings; hidden in cavities, such as wall voids in buildings; or subterranean e.g. constructed in old rodent burrows. In cases where the nest is hidden or subterranean, a person can see the yellowjackets flying in and out of an opening but cannot see the nest.

Honey bees typically nest in artificially constructed hives. It is possible for them to nest in cavities in homes but this is not very common. While honey bees don't nest in the ground, bumble bees do. Bumble bees are stout, robust insects, usually black and yellow, and hairy. Both yellowjackets and bumble bees have annual nests, i.e. they last one year; they die when freezing temperatures arrive in the fall. However, honey bees have perennial nests which survive the winter and can live for multiple years.



Dan Martens, Univ of MN Extension

Photo 3: While people wonder if nests like this are bee hives, the papery material it is constructed from tells us this belongs to yellowjackets

It is very important to distinguish between yellowjackets and bees. If people believe they have honey bees, they may take steps to try to protect the nest or even try to have it moved despite the potential risk of stings. While it is true beekeepers can remove and relocate honey bees from a nest (if you have a confirmed honey bee nest around a home, contact the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association), they do not want to and will not get involved with a yellowjacket problem. While yellowjackets are beneficial because they are important predators, they do minimal pollinating and do not need to be saved.

If you have a yellowjacket nest on your property, there are several options for dealing with it. If the nest is located a reasonably safe distance from where people may be present and the risk of stings is minimal, then just ignore it. Eventually, all of the insects in the nest die after hard frosts occur.

If a yellowjacket nest is present and you want to control it, keep a few things in mind. First, treat the nest during late evening or early morning when the yellowjackets are least active; this will help minimize the chance of stings. If after a day there is still activity, i.e. yellowjackets are still flying in and out, then repeat the treatment. If you are uncomfortable treating a yellowjacket nest, it is always an option to hire a pest management professional to deal with it; they have the experience and the appropriate tools to expertly eliminate nests.



Jeff Hahn, Univ of MN Extension

Photo 4: Yellowjacket commonly nest in the ground too!

When yellowjackets are nesting in the ground, the most effective means of controlling them is with a dust labeled for ground dwelling insects; the workers get the dust on their bodies and carry into the nest spreading it to the rest of the colony. Pouring a liquid insecticide into the nest entrance is less likely to be effective as the liquid may not reach the nest depending on where it is located within the burrow



Jeff Hahn, Univ of MN Extension

Photo 5: Hidden yellowjacket nests are tricky to control for residents; they should hire a pest management professional to do this type of job.

If you can see the nest, e.g. it is attached to the eaves, use a wasp and hornet aerosol spray and treat directly into the nest. However, yellowjacket nests that are found inside homes in wall voids, attics, concrete blocks, or similar spaces are much more challenging to control. An aerosol insecticide is not very effective. In fact, an aerosol spray can sometimes cause the yellowjackets to look for another way out, which often leads them to the inside of homes. Also, don't seal the nest opening until you know all of the yellowjackets are dead as this can cause the same reaction. It is usually best for a pest management professional to control hidden nests in buildings.

Ultimately, yellowjackets do not survive the winter. If a nest can be ignored until freezing temperatures arrive, all of the workers and the queen will die. The only survivors are the newly mated queens which have already left the nest. They will seek out sheltered sites in which to overwinter. Next spring, they will start their own nests in different sites (old nests are not reused).

1 comment:

  1. I have a hornets nest I was thinking of getting rid of, but lately I see the hornets all over my un mature raspberries. Since my raspberries are infected with SWD, I wonder if the hornets are eating the SWD and I should make due with a hornets nest if they are eating up the SWD before the fruit can be infected?

    ReplyDelete

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