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Paper  Wasps, Yellowjackets and  Solitary   Wasps L-1828 7-03 Glen C. Moore and Mike E. Merchant* S everal kinds of stinging wasps can pose seri- ous health and safety threats to humans. Most problems occur when people are stung after getting too close to wasp nests constructed near homes, buildings and recreational areas. In such situations, it may be necessary to control the wasps, even though most wasps are benefi- cial pollinators and predators of other insects. Although thousands of North American wasp species can “sting,” few are potentially dangerous to humans. Of the fewer than 40 species of stinging (vespid) wasps that occur in the United States, only a handful are important stinging pests in Texas. This publication reviews the most important and common species likely to be found around the home. Kinds of Wasps All wasps, bees and ants belong to the scientific order called Hymenoptera. The Hymenoptera com- prise some of the most interesting and important insects, including many species that are beneficial predators and parasites of pest insects, and many use- ful pollinator species. Besides ants and bees, the most important stinging Hymenoptera belong to the wasp family Vespidae. Most vespid wasps are social insects, living in nests that they build and defend cooperatively. The stinger of social wasps is primarily a defensive tool, designed to protect both nest and colony. However, when defending a colony, multiple wasp stings can occur quickly, with each wasp stinging one or more times. Vespid wasp nests are constructed of a paper-like material and may be found either above or below ground. Another important group of wasps with stingers are the solitary wasps. The stinger of solitary wasps is used primarily for subduing prey. Although solitary wasps may be common and are often thought dangerous by peo- ple who fear wasps, solitary wasps rarely sting humans. Most are entire- ly beneficial, feeding on spiders, crickets, cicadas and caterpillars. Knowing how to distinguish between solitary and social wasps can be use- ful in determining whether control is justified. Wasp Stings Wasps sting their victims and inject venom from the rear of the abdomen (tail). The stinger in all
*Extension Agent, IPM and Associate Professor and Extension Entomologist; Texas Cooperative Extension
Paper Wasp (Polistes exclamans) on nest. (Photo – Garland McIlveen)