Identifying and Controlling Wasps in and Around Your Home

Learn how to differentiate between hornets, paper wasps, and yellowjackets.

Yellowjackets, hornets, and wasps can deliver a painful sting. Reactions to a wasp sting can range from local pain, itching, and swelling to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. That's why guarding against these potentially dangerous pests is so important. The more you know about wasps, their habits, and how to identify them, the better you can protect yourself and your home from them.

Wasps belong to the insect order Hymenoptera which also includes ants and bees. These insects can vary considerably in terms of appearance and behavior. Wasps can appear in multiple shades of red, blue, black, yellow, and brown. While all wasps build nests, the size, shape, and location of those nests vary depending on the species. Some wasp species are non-threatening unless provoked, but more aggressive wasps that swarm and sting can be of great concern to people.

How Are Wasps Different from Bees?

Wasps, especially yellowjackets, are frequently confused with bees. You can tell the difference by looking at the abdomen. Wasps have a thin, cylindrical abdomen while the abdomen of a bee is round. Whereas bees appear fuzzy, wasps bodies appear smooth, shiny, and hairless. This is because the setae (body hairs) on bees are branched while the setae on wasps are not. In addition, bees stick to a diet of nectar and pollen, while wasps primarily eat a diet rich in sugar and carbohydrates (like the sugary-sweet liquid inside a beverage can). However, wasps will also hunt insects and spiders that they chew up to feed to developing larvae. Lastly, bees build waxy nests, while wasps build nests from mud or a paperlike material made from their saliva and wood pulp.

Types of Stinging Wasps

Stinging wasps are often social and may swarm and sting if their nest is disturbed. Disturbances to the nest will cause a wasp to emit an alarm pheromone that alerts other members of the colony to take action and begin stinging the intruder. While bees only deliver a single sting, wasps have the ability to sting multiple times, which is what makes their swarming attack potentially dangerous.

The following are species of wasps that should be avoided, and their nests treated with care.


In many areas of the U.S., yellowjackets are a nuisance due to their tendency to nest in man-made structures. With their black and yellow bodies, these wasps are commonly confused with bees. Yellowjackets are typically ½ of an inch in size and have lance-like stingers adorned with tiny barbs. They fly rapidly, with a characteristic side-to-side flight pattern before landing. In the U.S., they are especially numerous in the Southeast. While cold weather means the end of this menace for the season, winter actually marks the beginning of the new yellow jacket life cycle. The fertilized queen is the only member of the yellowjacket colony that will survive the cold. She retires into a safe space (like a tree stump or hollow log) for the winter and hibernates there until the spring. Then, she emerges to build a new nest and usually lays 10-20 eggs. Even after the first brood of workers matures, the queen will continue to remain inside the nest, laying eggs throughout the summer. In a given season, she can produce a colony with up to 5,000 members.

The yellowjacket queen may build her nest underground. In fact, the only sign of it may be a very small hole in the soil. If you see a yellowjacket emerge from or enter this sort of opening, there's a strong likelihood you've found the location of the colony's nest. To deal with in-ground nests, you should plan to treat the opening with Ortho® Home Defense® Termite & Destructive Bug Killer in the evening, when the wasps are less active. Remember, they can still swarm, so keep children and pets away.


Hornets are a type of wasp that can be found throughout the U.S. Some species can be larger than 2 inches long, but most are typically between 5/8 and 3/4 inches long.

All species deliver a painful sting. The bald faced hornet (which is actually a type of yellowjacket) is one of the most common species. Hornets commonly nest in trees, bushes, or the eaves of homes. The hornet queen behaves similarly to the yellow jacket queen, but lays fewer eggs—a typical hornet colony has 400 members or fewer.

Hornets vary in color; some are yellow, so they're frequently mistaken for yellow jackets or even bees. Most hornet species are not as aggressive as other social wasps, but when they feel their nest is in danger, they will protect it by attacking the intruder. To destroy a hornet nest, you should wear long, protective clothing and use Ortho® Home Defense® Hornet & Wasp Killer7 which has a jet spray that reaches up to 20 feet. Treat the nest in the early morning or evening, when the insects are less active.

Paper Wasps

There are 22 species of paper wasps found throughout the U.S., ranging in size from ¾ to 1¼ inches long. They usually have brown bodies with yellow, red, or brown markings and black wings.

Like other social wasps, paper wasps can sting multiple times. Although not as aggressive as some other social wasps, these insects will sting if their nest is disturbed. Paper wasps get their name from the paper-like material they use to build their nests. A finished nest will look like it's made out of gray paper and can be found hanging from many locations, including the branches of trees and shrubs, porch ceilings, door frames, eaves, and deck floor joints. To kill a paper wasp nest, treat the nest in early morning or evening with Ortho® Home Defense® Hornet & Wasp Killer7. To prevent paper wasps from quickly rebuilding, it's important to kill all paper wasp adults in the nest, which may require multiple treatments. Additionally, the nest should be removed promptly once all of the wasps are dead to prevent other paper wasps from entering them to overwinter.

The red wasp is a species of paper wasp that can be found through the South-central and Eastern U.S. Red wasps are about an inch long and completely red with black wings. Red wasps are social and will build nests that can contain more than 800 wasps. If their nest is threatened, they will come out en masse and sting. Red wasps build paper-like nests made from wood and other plant material that is chewed and mixed with their saliva. Nests are often found in exposed locations like the eaves of a house or storage sheds. If you find one, kill the nest with Ortho® Home Defense® Hornet & Wasp Killer.

Unfortunately, you can't prevent wasps from flying through your landscape, but you can carefully inspect your yard in spring when wasp colonies are still developing. If you spot a wasp nest, it's important to deal with it right away, and always follow the instructions for use when applying any product.

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