Many pests, such as insects, spiders, birds and mice

Stinging Insects

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How to deal with stinging insects

The best action is prevention. Scout from mid-spring on for small nests. Early on a chilly morning, before wasps have revved up for the day, knock down the nests with a pole, a strong jet of water from a hose, or even your kid’s super soaker—then step on the nest. If wasps set up shop too close to home (especially in wall voids) and you didn’t catch them early, hire a professional to remove the nest.

Before you start outdoor projects, check for nests in trees with holes in them, decks, railings, eaves, the undersides of outdoor furniture, and branches of trees and shrubs.

Have they joined your picnic? You are not their prey (unless you accidentally sit on one) so try not to swat them. Lures set far from your picnic table a few days before could help divert them. Cleaning up spilled sweets and keeping garbage cans away from tables will make your picnic area less attractive.

Mowing over a weedy area? When disturbed by a mower, ground-nesting wasps go into attack mode fast—so be careful. They’re more likely to nest in sandy soil and nests only get bigger as the season goes on.

Bald-faced hornet.
Bald-faced hornet. Photo by Gary Alpert, Env. Health and Safety, Harvard U.
Paper wasps on nest.
Paper wasps on nest. Photo by Gary Alpert, Env. Health and Safety, Harvard U.

Wasp nest.
Wasp nest. Photo by Gary Alpert, Env. Health and Safety, Harvard U.
Yellowjacket. Photo by Gary Alpert, Env. Health and Safety, Harvard U.

What they look like

Most bees, wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets are either yellow and black or a shiny dark blue. All have four wings, and many have a narrow waist. Bees are furry, but wasps (including hornets and yellowjackets) usually look shiny. Not all stinging pests have wings. Furry caterpillars, for instance, could have stinging hairs that cause rashes or welts.

Where they live

Some species are loners. Others live in colonies in trees and stumps, the ground (especially sandy soil), the framing of your house or garage, or nests of paper or mud in a tree or under your eaves. If lots of them seem offended by your presence, there’s probably a nest nearby.

What they do

They sting … yet even so, they’re good to have around. They prey on garden pests and pollinate flowers. Unless someone nearby is allergic to bee or wasp stings, it’s best to keep your control efforts to a minimum. (Some bee or wasp look-alikes don’t sting.)