Summer is finally here, and for many, it’s the best time to get outside and enjoy the warm weather. However, we aren’t the only ones who enjoy the rise in temperatures.

With the change in seasons comes new life, and it is prime time for quite a few insects; one of which has quite a reputation: wasps.

These stinging, flying insects are known for their aggressive behavior and painful sting. There are multiple different wasp species, and many can be found right in Pennsylvania. However, if you give them space, wasps can be quite beneficial to the ecosystem.

Bald-faced hornets can be extremely aggressive and are known for their powerful sting.
Photo credit: Utah State University

Wasp Vs. Bees Vs. Hornets

While wasps, bees, and hornets are all associated with each other, they are vastly different insects. Bees are typically hairy, while a wasp tends to be smooth and shiny. Wasps can also be identified by their narrow waist. They also have brightly covered bands, typically black and yellow, and four wings.

Bees are mostly colony creatures, and they live in their hives year-round. They can also create honey, which a wasp cannot. Finally, when it comes down to stinging, bees can only sting once, and die after attacking. They are far less aggressive than their wasp counterpart. Wasps are natural predators and are capable of stinging multiple times.

Finally, though hornets and wasps aren’t the same things, hornets are a type of wasp. A hornet is larger and more social than a wasp. Still, even knowing the differences between the three can be helpful when spotting a wasp problem.

Are Wasps Dangerous?

Wasps are an aggressive species; if you enter their space, their predatorial instinct will kick in, and they can attack. Unlike bees, they can sting multiple times, and if you have an allergy, that could prove to be deadly. 

Thankfully, wasps will not go out of their way to harm you. If you keep your distance or don’t appear as a threat, wasps will leave you alone. While most wasps can be tempestuous, not all species are. The trick is knowing what you have before you act. Here’s a look at the top six types of wasps you can find in Pennsylvania.

1. Bald-Faced Hornet

This relative of the yellowjacket is easy to identify from its color. Their faces are mostly white, while their bodies are black. A hornet, these insects are on the larger side, ranging from ½ – ⅝ inches.  Bald-faced hornets are known for building aerial nests, which can easily be the size of a basketball. They can build them as high as 10-12 feet off the ground. 

If you do find a nest on your property, this is one you want to stay away from. Bald-faced hornets can be extremely aggressive and are known for their powerful sting. It’s not all bad with these wasps; they often feed on pests. However, the benefit here may be outweighed by the danger.                                                              

2. Cicada Killer Wasps

With a name this terrifying, it’s easy to get worried about these wasps. Don’t worry; they sound scarier than they are. A larger yellow jacket, Cicada Killer wasps are about 1 ½ long. Like most wasps, they have yellow and black striped segments, only they also have a reddish-brown colored head.

Typically found in early summer, these wasps are pollinators. And unless you are cicada, you have nothing to fear. As the name implies, these insects kill and eat cicadas They also lay their eggs in them. When it comes to stinging, like most wasps, they will sting if they feel threatened, but only the females have the capability. Males do not sting, but they will aggressively fly around to scare you off. 

3. Paper Wasps

Paper Wasps are often mistaken for bees, though they are not fuzzy. They are reddish-brown or black in color and can be between ½ inch to 1 ½ inch long. As the name implies, they create paper from chewing wood and vegetation to make nests. They also tend to keep to themselves and will only sting if they feel threatened.

Paper wasps can be quite beneficial for gardens. They are especially good at taking care of caterpillars, and they can also pollinate your plants. Though helpful, it’s still not thrilling to find a nest while trimming the verge. If they keep to your garden, 

Paper Wasps

4. Eastern Yellowjacket

These ground-nesting wasps can be found pretty much anywhere, even beyond Pennsylvania. Social insects, you can identify these flying stingers by their distinct yellow and black coloration. They also like to build their nests in the most inconvenient places like picnic tables, playground equipment, and other high-traffic areas. 

Though eastern yellowjackets are great at reducing pests, they can be hyper-aggressive, especially if you venture near their hives. They will sting without hesitating to protect their home, and those stings can prove quite painful.

5. Scoliid Wasps

Unique-looking, the blue-winged scoliids have the familiar, segmented wasp shape, but with a few colorful differences. Their heads are black, and their abdomens are red; however, their most stand-out traits are their blue wings. These insects are about ½ inch long, and they are mainly pollinators.

Unlike other wasps, blue-winged scoliids rarely sting. As long as you don’t appear as a threat, they will likely leave you alone. However, if you are a June or Japanese beetle, you better lookout. These feed and lay eggs in those beetles, acting as both a predator and parasitoid. 

6. Mud Daubers

Commonly found in mud nests, mud daubers are thinner than other wasps. Typically between a ½ inch – 1 -inch long, their waists are as thin as thread. However, these wasps look much more frightening than they are. They don’t defend their homes and aren’t social insects. They will rarely sting, if ever. They are more beneficial for taking care of other pests.

While not completely dangerous, they do create nests that may serve as a home for other wasps or pests. These wasps create nest holes that harden over time.

Bee-on the Lookout for Wasps

A wasp can be equal parts beneficial and dangerous if left unchecked. While they can be beneficial as pest control experts themselves, as predators, most types tend to be extremely aggressive. And unlike bees, if you encounter some angry wasps, they will continue to sting you. If you discover a wasp’s nest in your yard, your best course of action would be to call a pest control specialist and stay sting-free. 


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