Bees, Wasps, and You
Last Updated: May 14, 2021
If you’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest long enough, you’ve likely encountered several types of Bees and Wasps. Here in Western Washington, we have all kinds of diverse ecosystems. This means that we have a wide variety of insects that make their homes here with us.
In this article, we’ll talk about several of the more common species of Bee or Wasp on the Western side of the Olympics. We’ll also discuss how Bees and Wasps benefit our ecosystem, and how we can safely and responsibility prevent them from ruining our picnics.
Table of Contents
Yellowjackets can be an enormous nuisance, and, in many cases, a safety hazard for those who are allergic to stings. Although generally beneficial, it may be a concern to find them nesting under your eaves once the weather warms up. In nature, Yellowjackets are responsible for controlling insect populations by hunting bugs that damage trees and crops. They also kill other nuisance pests, such as House Flies.
Life Cycle and Behavior
We have three types of Yellowjackets in Washington, all of which are fairly similar. You can identify them by their shiny, yellow and black striped bodies. These Wasps are about ½” long and tend to be shorter and blockier than some other species. They can build aerial and/or subterranean nests, but are also capable of establishing themselves in crawl spaces and attics. Commonly their nests have one entrance and exit. However, when they utilize homes or buildings, they can build nests with multiple entry points.
Yellowjackets develop colonies annually. Queens that spend the colder months overwintering emerge around early May. They begin a new colony by first laying eggs and raising their first brood. Once hatched, the larvae are fed and nurtured by the Queen for 18-20 days. The larvae pupate and emerge as small, infertile female Workers. From there, the Workers expand the colony and rapidly build the nest. Colonies may grow to contain anywhere from 4,000 to 12,000 Wasps.
While Yellowjackets tend to be defensive of the nest year round, they are most aggressive in late August or early September when the season is coming to an end. Around this time, reproductive cells are made and new males and Queens are produced. These new Wasps emerge, mate, and the males die shortly after. Inseminated Queens then find a safe place to overwinter, and the cycle begins again!
Meanwhile, the rest of the hive senses that Summer is coming to a close. This causes them to act hedonistically. They may risk their lives for an ice cream cone, or react angrily when previously they may have been fairly nonchalant. The colony will decline and disappear through Fall. Nests are not reused, and usually disintegrate during Winter.
What is Overwintering?
Similar to hibernation, insects “overwinter” or live in a near-dormant state through the cold months. Often, these are inseminated Queens or females that are waiting to start their new colony once Spring rolls around.
Paper Wasps and Yellowjackets are commonly mixed up due to their similar coloration and size. Paper Wasps tend to be a bit bigger, around 3/4“ long. They’re also more slender and have longer legs than Yellowjackets. While there is some variation in color, Paper Wasps are normally red or yellow with small areas of black.
Due to their size, Paper Wasp nests are easily identifiable. These Wasps build small, baseball-sized nests that are not enclosed like a Yellowjacket’s. Often, you will find them in eaves or tucked away in bushes. Like many social Wasps, they are considered to be beneficial for the environment. Paper Wasps prey on common garden pests and other unwanted insect populations.
Unlike Yellowjackets, Paper Wasps are not aggressive by nature, and will only sting if they are provoked.
Despite their scary appearance, Mud Daubers are not usually aggressive, even when disturbed. Like the Wasps previously discussed, Mud Daubers are considered beneficial organisms. They are also solitary Wasps. This means they do not create hierarchies or Workers within their social network. Control is easy. Removing the cells that they build for their young will eliminate unwanted activity.
Mud Daubers also have an interesting and intense life cycle. Female Mud Daubers construct tubular cells of mud on a surface. They then hunt, capture, and paralyze spiders to provide sustenance for their soon-to-hatch eggs. Once hatched, larvae use the stunned spiders as a food source. The female Mud Dauber leaves, and does not reunite with her young. During a warm summer, up to 3 generations of Mud Daubers may be produced.
Bald Faced Hornets
The Bald Faced Hornet is a large wasp. It is very closely related to the Yellowjacket, however it is often more aggressive. They tend to be large, about ¾” long, and can be identified by their signature black and white markings.
Their enclosed aerial nests can grow to be almost 3 feet long. Surprisingly, Bald Faced Hornet colonies don’t get very large, topping out at around 100-400 individuals. This relatively small army doesn’t stop them from being deeply territorial, however, and they will often attack their fellow Wasps.
Similar to Yellowjackets, their stingers do not have barbs. This enables them to sting multiple times. Although they are not deadly to someone who isn’t allergic, these stings can be quite painful.
Fun Fact: “Bald Faced Hornet” is a misnomer, as these so-called Hornets are actually Wasps! The only species of true Hornet we have had in Washington was the Asian Giant Hornet, which has since been eradicated. Asian Giant Hornets are a threat to local Honey Bee colonies. Read more about the Asian Giant Hornet and how it affects the environment.
Honey Bees are an incredibly important part of our world. On top of being an ecological powerhouse, Honey Bees have evolved to create immense, complex social hierarchies within their hives. To create 1 pound of honey, about 10,000 Bees will travel more than 75,000 miles and pollinate over 8 million flowers. That’s a lot of coordination!
Honey Bees go through four phases as they age:
- Cleaning the hive.
- Nursing the larvae.
- Handiwork, such as building or guarding the hive.
- Venturing out into the world as foragers and pollinators.
Before the Queen even lays her eggs, she controls the sex of the ova by utilizing the spermatozoa inside her body to assign each one as male or female. In addition to this, Honey Bees’ jobs are genetically assigned. Females clean the nest, care for larvae, build cells, tend to the Queen, store honey, forage, pollinate, guard the nest, and even feed the Drones (i.e. male Bees) as needed.
At the end of their life cycle, workers leave the nest. Any Bees that die in the hive are removed by special undertaker Bees. If there is anything that Honey Bees have mastered, it is their intricate life cycle, which makes them incredibly interesting to study.
What is Our World Without Honey Bees?
It’s common knowledge by now that Honey Bees are crucial to our existence. While they are not the sole pollinators we rely on, they are responsible for pollinating about 70% of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables we consume. These food groups make up a $200 billion industry.
No Bees Means:
- No farm animals, such as cattle or chickens, or any animals that consume grains.
- No cotton or clothing production.
- No coffee.
- Most of all, no food.
As an environmentally conscious business, we care about our ecosystem. Pest control companies will not (and should not) treat or kill Honey Bees. If beneficial pollinators are building a nest around your home, we encourage you to contact a local Beekeeper or Swarm Collector.
A list of Beekeepers in Washington who are willing to remove a Honey Bee colony or swarm can be found on this Bee Removal Source website. You can also find assistance to remove a Honey Bee swarm on the Washington State Beekeeper’s Association’s website.
Honey Bees and Wasps are not the only pollinators that you are bound to run into when you’re outside. We have several different insects here in Western Washington that help ensure our flowers, fruits, and vegetables thrive year after year.
We have over 40 different species of Bumble Bee in the United States. These large, fuzzy Bees are important pollinators. While they don’t create and store honey like Honey Bees, they should still be considered greatly beneficial.
Bumble Bees can be classified into three groups based on the length of their tongues: Short, Medium, and Long. These variations allow them to pollinate thousands of different types of flowers. They’ve also developed the ability to buzz or sonicate loudly in order to shake the pollen from flowers. Bumble Bees use this method to generate heat for brood incubation, too.
Over the past several years, 2 species of Bumble Bee have gone extinct in the U.S. This was largely caused by a loss of floral resources and habitats. If you’re planning on growing a garden this year, we recommend taking the time to research a few flowers that will help support your local Bee colonies. Find more information about flowers that help Bumble Bees.
Orchard Mason Bee
Mason Bees are often confused for Carpenter Bees here in Washington. This leafcutting Bee does not actually cause structural damage. While the two look similar, Mason Bees can be seen frequenting pre-existing holes in shingles, siding, or wood shake roofs.
It is important to note that we do not have any native species of Carpenter Bee here in Washington.
While we can conduct treatments for Mason Bee colonies, we try to avoid doing so, as they are important pollinators of fruit trees and many flowering plants. If you have a garden, you may want to befriend these Bees by investing in a Mason Bee house or box. This will keep them from collecting behind your siding, and will provide them with a safe, warm place to stay.
Did You Know?
Treatment and Control
There are many ways you can prevent Bee and Wasp activity around your home. We recommend sealing off openings, caulking gaps, and screening doors and windows. Keeping your garbage cans covered will also prevent Wasp activity, since they are on the lookout for sugary substances or meat, and will dumpster dive without hesitation. If a Queen has begun building a nest, usually around Spring, simply knocking it down is sufficient enough to send her on her way.
Need help with Bees or Wasps? Sunrise is able to treat a variety of different nest types. You will be asked where the nest is located when you schedule your service. During the appointment, your Technician will apply our materials directly to the nest site. As long as we can do so safely, our Technicians can address colonies located in walls, attics, crawl spaces, in the ground, or hanging from a structure. No nest is too big!
Find out more about our Wasp Service here.
All Pest Protection is a quarterly maintenance service aimed to prevent infestations of general pests such as Carpenter Ants, Rodents, Bees, and other insects. We come out on a 3-month rotation to provide an exterior perimeter spray where the home and foundation meet, spot treat around doors and windows for activity, sweep reachable webs and Spider egg sacs, and maintain Rodent Bait Stations (secured, locked, black plastic boxes) on the exterior of the home to mitigate outside Rodent populations.
All Pest Protection (APP) also can include various warranties for general pests, which are established after the Initial Inspection and Treatment. Once you get started, each quarterly service is only $99 before tax. Should your house be overrun by Fleas, Bees, or Spiders, or any of the pests eligible under your warranty, all you would have to do is give us a call. We’ll dispatch a Technician to complete a pest-specific treatment at no cost to you under your APP Warranty.
- Antonelli, Arthur L. Pest Management Study Manual for Pest Control Professionals. Washington State University Extension, 2016.
- Anderson, Marcia. EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 16 Sept. 2016, blog.epa.gov/2016/09/28/avoid-painful-often-dangerous-encounters-with-yellow-jackets/.
- AsapSCIENCE. What Happens If All The Bees Die? YouTube, YouTube, 25 Mar. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=JilYBVrFiLA.
- “Bald-Faced Hornet (Dolichovespula Maculata).” Insect Identification, 26 Jan. 2021, www.insectidentification.org/insect-description.php?identification=Bald-Faced-Hornet.
- Field Guide to Common Texas Insects, texasinsects.tamu.edu/hymenoptera/baldfaced-hornet/.
- Inouye, David. “U.S. Forest Service.” Forest Service Shield, www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/bumblebees.shtml.
- Itsokaytobesmart, PBS Joe Hanson, Ph.D et al. How Do Bees Make Honey? YouTube, YouTube, 28 Mar. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZlEjDLJCmg.
- NationalGeographic, Richie Hertzberg et al. How Do Honeybees Get Their Jobs? | National Geographic. YouTube, YouTube, 26 Mar. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ePic3dtykk.
About the Authors
This article was created and edited in collaboration with multiple licensed pest control technicians, experts, researchers, and authors.
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