The vast majority of bees and wasps in our world pose no threat to people. Most prefer to go about their business, parasitizing or preying on other insects. The social wasps of the family Vespidae, however, can be a downright nuisance. Vespid wasps include paper wasps, yellowjackets, and hornets, all of which will defend their homes vigorously should we disturb them. Worse yet, they have a tendency to build their homes in the places we like to spend our time, so there’s a good chance you’ll encounter
In general, wasps can be distinguished from bees by their lack of body hair and thinner, elongated bodies. Differentiating between paper wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets is a bit trickier. All three are types of Vespid wasps, and share certain physical and behavioral traits: narrow wings that fold longitudinally when at rest; larvae reared on dead or living insect prey; nests constructed of recycled wood fibers; and the ability to sting repeatedly. Paper wasps live in colonies of less than 100 individuals, while both yellowjacket and hornet colonies can number well over 100 Vespids.
Paper wasps, yellowjackets, and hornets are all masters of papermaking. In spring, the queen constructs a new nest by gathering wood fibers and turning them into a papery pulp, from which she builds a home. Paper wasps build open, umbrella-shaped nests, often found suspended from eaves or window casings on the outside of your home. Hornets are famous for their massive, enclosed nests which can be seen hanging from tree branches or other sturdy perches
Hornets and paper wasps prey on live insects. Their nests are often provisioned with caterpillars to feed their young. Anyone who has enjoyed a meal outdoors in the summer can tell you that yellowjackets like sweets and proteins. Yellowjackets will feed on dead insects, but are just as likely to sip your soda. Of these three types of Vespid wasps, yellowjackets are for certain the greatest nuisance to people.
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