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March 3, 2014
While wasps serve a productive purpose as biological pest control for flies, worms and other pests, they can wreak havoc around homes and businesses. Many people mistakenly refer to all stinging insects as bees, although wasps have distinct appearances and patterns of behavior, and require specialized methods for removal. Unlike wasps, honeybees are at risk and should be preserved because of their important role in food production. If you find a honeybee nest, you even call a local beekeeper who will collect the hive and its inhabitants for agricultural use.
The first step to getting rid of wasps is to identify if you are dealing with wasps or bees. Bees have round bodies and dangling legs, both of which are covered in hair. Wasps have slender bodies with narrow waists, and appear smooth-skinned and shiny. Bee nests are geometric and made of wax, while wasp nests are papery. Wasps are predators that feed on insects and other arthropods and share this protein their nesting young. This is in direct contrast to bees, who survive completely on nectar. Wasps are more likely than bees to become aggressive scavengers around human food, and can often be found around outdoor activities where food or drinks are served.
Despite their aggressive behavior, wasps (and bees) sting only to defend themselves or their colony. When a wasp stings, it injects a protein venom that causes pain and other reactions. Local, non-allergic reactions include temporary burning, itching, redness, and tenderness, plus swelling and itching that can last up to a week. Unlike some types of bees, wasps can sting more than once. After stinging, wasps can pull out their stingers without injury to themselves and sting again.
The most common types of wasps encountered in the DC area are yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps. These wasps like to nest in quiet, out of the way places. Bald-faced hornets commonly build nests in the open trees, as well as under eaves and along the sides of buildings. Paper wasps can also be found under eaves and will nest under any horizontal surface. This includes limbs, overhangs, attic supports and beams in garages, barns sheds and other structures. While yellowjackets can build nests in trees, shrubs, under eaves, and inside attics, they typically build their nests underground. They are known for appropriating old rodent burrows or other cavities and building virtually undetectable nests under the ground’s surface. Yellowjacket nests can be especially difficult to spot. Sometimes the only way to find an underground nest is to see the wasps flying in and out of a tiny hole in the ground. Yellowjackets are notoriously aggressive; sometimes just walking nearby a nest is enough to trigger an attack.
Although wasps can be beneficial for the environment, nests that are near homes or businesses can pose a problem. If you have any concerns about humans or pets being stung, you should get rid of the wasp nest. The best time to destroy a wasp nest is early in the year when the colony is smaller and the wasps are less aggressive. Plus, if you manage to kill the queen you will not need to worry about a new nest being formed by the same colony that year.
There are many challenges in getting rid of wasps. The most challenging wasp nests to control are those that are concealed in voids behind walls or in attics or underground. Often, the only evidence of the nest is wasps flying back and forth through a small crack or hole. If you find a wasp nest, do not disturb it or try to swat or crush the wasps. Some wasps when crushed release pheromones that alert the other members in the colony of the threat, leading to a full-scale wasp attack.
Another common do-it-yourself treatment is to set up a wasp trap, such as a homemade trap or a store-bought baited trap. However, these traps often only look effective. A short time after setting up the trap, you will see wasps buzzing around inside. Not only are the wasps not dead, but they represent only a small fraction of the wasp population. The wasps inside the trap typically attract other wasps from the colony, therefore actually drawing more wasps to the area.
Commercially available wasp killer products can be effective, but are highly poisonous. For safety, children and pets must avoid the area for at least 24 hours after using the product. The dead wasps must be cleaned up to prevent pets or wildlife from eating them and ingesting the poison. These products also pose a safety risk to the user; if you try a spray product that is ineffective, you may anger the wasps and trigger an attack.
Pest control professionals have the knowledge and tools to locate and get rid of wasp nests, identify the pests and get rid of them safely. For example, we use high-tech inspection cameras to precisely and quickly locate wasp nests within walls. Professionals also have access to environmentally responsible products that eliminate wasps with minimal disruptions to your home. If you have a wasp or bee problem, contact us for a free no-obligation inspection.