Stinging Wasps and Bees

As each year progresses from spring’s gradual warming to the summer’s heat, our trees, shrubs, grasses and a myriad display of insects also experience growth spikes.  Insects (actually arthropods, since some bugs encountered are not true insects) increase in number at an astounding rate.  It is only with nature’s amazing ability to control this growth that we, as a small part of Mother Nature, can survive without being overrun by the family of insects and bugs.  In the large picture, this is why wasps and bees are so important to us and our continued existence on this planet.  Using this concept as a guide, you quickly understand why our industry does not indiscriminately kill insects simply because they may sting you in defense of their homes.  For the purpose of this submission, we can simplify the categories by using the terms of wasps and bees.  In general, wasps predate on other arthropods (insects & bugs) to help feed their brood, where bees do their work pollinating plants and shrubs.  Both perform their tasks admirably, and in some ways overlap in their efforts.  It is important to distinguish between the two in order to determine whether they pose a concern to us or our families.  Below, I have listed some generalizations that can help determine which type of insect you have encountered.


  • Predates (feeds) on other insects and bugs
  • Usually a longer, leaner bodied insect
  • Flies with determination and actively protects their hive or colony
  • In most cases, builds their nest out of paper or mud on a seasonal basis
  • Nests are normally in protected, well defended areas
  • Can be extremely aggressive if disturbed
  • Can sting multiple times when attacked


  • Feeds on pollen and nectar-a good pollinator
  • Usually a shorter, squat body shape, rather hairy
  • Can have either social or solitary broods, depending on type
  • Are normally docile and will not actively attack unless threatened
  • Will nest in numerous places, either in hives or hollow places in trees –

or if solitary bees, they will nest in cavities in wood or soil

  • Normally will sting only once, then die

While it is human nature to be concerned with flying, stinging insects, it needs to be understood that these insects do not go out of their way to actively sting.  The most likely scenario is when you inadvertently encounter or brush against a nest… Social wasps, like hornets or yellow jackets, will release an aggressive pheromone (hormone) that excites the other members of the colony into a stinging frenzy.  Care should be taken to avoid these situations by being on the lookout for flyways to and from ground nests or in trees and shrubs, especially when using motorized equipment like lawnmowers and trimmers.  The vibration can activate their defense attitudes causing a colony wide response – and multiple stings.

In the event of a discovery of bees or wasps on your property, you should first try to determine the type of insect, which will help you decide the probability of being stung.  You should also determine the usefulness of the insect over the downside of the nest location.  In some cases, just placing avoidance signs will allow them to continue to do their good work and protect others.  However, if they pose a sincere threat to your health or well being, they should be removed.

Care needs to be taken when determining a nest removal.  Social bees and wasps will have defense mechanisms built into their organization.  They sometimes have soldiers on nearby trees and their sole purpose is to defend the nest against destruction.  We always recommend being advised by a qualified person before attempting to destroy/remove nests.  Although it is an expense, considering the possible consequences, it is a cheap price to pay.  No one… even those that do this for a living, act professional when underestimating the nest, while running away swatting at attacking wasps!

Remember, the joys of summer are watching things grow.  Bees and wasps do their part to make this happen, so don’t indiscriminately kill them without understanding their purpose on this planet.  We need their help.

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