The New Englander's Guide To Stinging Insects

Meet our seasonal cast of stinging insects.

The New Englander's Guide To Stinging Insects

During the summer, pests can be a nuisance—and occasionally, they can be a real pain. Literally.

When the sun comes out, so too do all sorts of seasonal stingers that, if provoked, can pack a punch. They're territorial, crafty, and potentially dangerous when handled improperly. To keep you and your family safe, get to know the usual suspects you might be up against this year during the late summer—the good, the bad, and the feisty. They tend to look alike, so here’s our guide to keeping New England’s stingers (and pollinators!) apart.

4 Summer Stingers To Look Out For In New England

Stinger #1: The Yellow Jacket

Threat level: Moderate

Notable features: thick abdomen, black and yellow rings
Yellow Jacket

As temperatures rise toward the end of July and into August, wasps thrive. There are over 200,000 different species of wasps globally, but each of these stingers shares a love for warm climates and the sweltering end-of-summer heat we know all too well in New England—including the pesky yellow jacket.

At a distance, yellow jackets are easy to mistake for other types of stingers. But what really sets them apart are their nesting habits. Yellow jackets are sneaky and known to coop themselves up in areas where they won’t likely be disturbed, including underground. They’re even known to nest inside of homes if they find a quiet, peaceful spot they like—and not even drywall could keep them from their ideal nesting place. Chewing through drywall, yellow jackets can leave behind what looks like a water stain on walls or ceilings. Mistaking it for a different problem entirely, you might be compelled to investigate the mysterious discoloration—when a nest of yellow jackets falls right through the ceiling and into your home!

The yellow jackets, seeking enclosed spaces for shelter, would much prefer to stay hidden and unbothered—because they hate to be bothered.

Yellow Jacket Nest

Yellow jackets have a reputation for being one of the most aggressive species of wasps. When on the offensive, they’re not afraid to sting repeatedly and even bite their victims to protect themselves. Even bees aren’t safe from these antagonistic insects—yellow jackets in search of food will satisfy their hunger by attacking and stealing from beehives.

With their sneaky (and sometimes damaging) nesting habits and hostile attitudes, yellow jackets can be tough to conquer on your own. If you think a colony has found its way onto your property or into your home, save yourself a sting and give us a call for a free inspection.

Stinger #2: The Bald-Faced Hornet

Threat level: High

Notable features: large bodies, black & white markings
Bald-Faced Hornet

Remember when we mentioned that there are over 200,000 different types of wasps worldwide? Despite the misleading title, the bald-faced hornet is another one of those species. Relatives to the yellow jacket, bald-faced hornets are similar in appearance, aside from their coloring. Where a yellow jacket has bold yellow striping along its abdomen, the bald-faced hornet is mostly black and white, with white markings on its face (hence the name).

Unfortunately, bald-faced hornets also share the yellow jacket tendency to attack—and might even be able to give their brightly-colored relatives a run for their money in terms of aggression. If you invade a bald-faced hornet’s space, you’re undoubtedly their next target. Even scarier, they’ll remember you, too. Bald-faced hornets are known to remember faces and specifically target the exact individuals responsible for disturbing their peace.

While yellow jackets aim low for their nesting grounds, bald-faced hornets head in the opposite direction. Think of places that are warm and sunny but high up and out of reach. Windowsills, attic eaves, and chimneys are classic nesting grounds for these wasps. The nests are created using a grey material these stingers make using chewed wood fibers.

Bald-Faced Hornet Nest

If you spot a nest nearby and think you can handle it on your own, think again. Bald-faced hornet nests can house up to 700 hornets. That means having up to 700 stingers remembering your face and hounding you down if you happen to get caught.

Stinger #3: The Paper Wasp

Threat level: Moderate

Notable features: slender body, orange-tipped antennae
Paper Wasp

Compared to the other wasps on this list, the paper wasp has a much milder temperament. They aren’t known to be nearly as testy as a yellow jacket or bald-faced hornet. But what they are known for is being fierce protectors of their homes. Paper wasps are very territorial and will sting and sink their mandibles into (yes, they bite!) any threat to their nests.

Appearance-wise, the paper wasp is extremely similar to the yellow jacket. They share that bold black-and-yellow coloring, although paper wasps can be set apart by their thinner waist and orange-tipped antennae. But the paper wasp title actually comes from their nests, which are built from paper-like material and formed into an open honeycomb or umbrella-like shape (in fact, they are also sometimes referred to as “umbrella wasps”).

Paper Wasp Nest

Paper wasp nests are typically situated above ground on both natural and manmade structures like shrubs and trees or attic rafters and roof overhangs. Remember, paper wasps are docile when left alone. If you spot a paper wasp nest on your property, we recommend leaving it be and calling in the experts!

Stinger #4: The Honeybee

Threat level: Low

Notable features: brown and yellow abdomen, branched hairs

One thing we can say about honeybees that we can’t say for the other stingers on this list: they’re harmless! Honeybees can sting, but these fuzzy little pollinators would rather stay busy by finding pollen and making honey—important jobs that help us maintain healthy ecosystems throughout our communities.

Honeybees are social creatures, so they can often be found in large numbers. Swarms can range anywhere from tens to hundreds of honeybees huddled and flying together as one unit. But if you spot one of these swarms, don’t be afraid. These stingers will not go out of their way to harm you. They can only sting once before their stinger becomes detached and won’t be tempted to do so unless significantly threatened.

Honeybees are recognizable by their round shape, yellow and brown abdomen, and fuzzy hairs. While wasps are shiny and bald, honeybees are hairy—an unmistakable feature that also helps them collect pollen.

Also, unlike the aggressive stingers on this list, honeybees do not make the grey nests you might find in high places on houses or on shrubs or tree branches. They won’t nest in the ground either. Honeybees do prefer enclosed, protected areas, like the hollow of a tree—and if you find yourself facing a hive on your property, feel free to contact us about relocating them safely!

The Stinging Stops Here

Each of these four stinging insects possesses distinct traits that set them apart. But what they all share is this: they’re best dealt with by professionals!

This summer, don’t risk the discomfort of painful stings and bites to remove stinging insects from your property. Get in touch to remove wasps, hornets, and bees safely and sting-free.