What the Heck Is That?!?!

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This time of year you can find these insects beginning to form nests on houses, barns, and sheds. These bee relatives will aggressively guard their paper nests, stinging anything that threatens them. These wasps are often thought of as pests; however, they are avid predators of caterpillars and can be beneficial in garden settings. Do you think you know what insect is being described and is depicted below? Test your expertise with this installment of “What the Heck is That?!?!”

This insect is easily identified by the type of nest it makes. If the clues above lead you to guess paper wasps you are correct! Paper wasps are a group of wasp that chew wood and plant material to form paper nests. In the spring, a female wasp will begin forming a nest. This female will then defend her nest and compete with other females in the area to become the dominant wasp. The dominant wasp will then become the queen for the nest, while the other females will serve as her workers. The queen will then lay eggs in the nest, and the wasps will care for the young wasps. In the fall, newly emerged adult wasps will fly off to mate, with the males dying off and the females overwintering to start the cycle over again.

Identifying different types of wasps is easiest by finding their nests. Paper wasps make umbrella-shaped nests often under man-made eves (image below). Yellow jackets, on the other hand, are ground-dwelling wasps. Entrances to these nests appear as holes in the ground often in bare soil and flower beds (image below). Hornets nests are large, paper mache-like structures found in trees (image below). Each of these types of wasps abandon their nests in the fall and create new nests in the spring.


For wasp management indoors during winter and spring, mechanical control works the best as wasps are slower and less aggressive than in summer months. Aerosol pesticides work as well, but they cost money and unnecessarily expose people to insecticides in the home or dwelling. Preventive measures of caulking or screening around window sills, exhaust vents, and gable or attic vents will reduce the number of entrance points for wasps to access the structure and eventually come indoors. For outdoor control in the spring when the nest is just beginning with a single queen, a broom may be all that is needed to knock it down. If there is a larger colony present, an aerosol insecticide may be used on warm days. Follow the product label instructions concerning how many cans are needed for the size area you are treating. Never exceed this number of units, and always be careful using these products near open flames.

Information on paper wasps and their control was taken from an NC State University publication titled: Controlling Paper Wasps in and around Structures. If you have content (images, ideas, etc.) you would like to have featured in the upcoming installments of “What the Heck is That?!?!” email or call Adam Formella at adam_formella@ncsu.edu or 252-232-2262.