There are more than 100,000 species of wasps in the world, and dozens that occasionally become pests in Georgia. But a small number of species account for the great bulk of stinging insect calls, and those are the ones that appear on this page.
We probably should mention at this point that although wasps and bees are related, they're not not the same. Wasps and bees belong to the same taxonomic order (Hymenoptera, which also includes all ants), but different families. In and around Macon, most of the stinging insect calls we respond to are for hornets or other wasps, not bees.
More so than for most insects, wasps and hornets are not good jobs for do-it-yourselfers. Yes, you can purchase hornet spray from your local hardware store. The problem is, you only get one chance to aim it right. If your aim is off... well, a whole colony of angry hornets coming at you at full speed is not part of a happy day.
In addition, many wasp and hornet jobs require special equipment. Most of the time this includes a protective wasp suit (kind of like a bee suit, but heavier-duty). It may also include long ladders, or even lift trucks for some jobs.
Long story short, you're probably better off not attempting wasp control yourself, and you especially shouldn't attempt hornet control yourself. Call us instead. It's what we do.
Bald-faced hornets are stocky wasps that are mainly black in color, with white or yellow markings. They live in colonies that can reach several thousand individuals in number, and live in nests built of paper. The nests have a corrugated-like structure inside where they raise their young, and it's covered by another layer of paper that gives the outside an oblong appearance.
Hornets' nests are usually attached to or suspended from trees, buildings, power lines, utility poles, and other objects. They can vary in height from eye-level (and sometimes lower) to very high in the air.
The entry hole to to a hornets' nest is usually on the very bottom, and two or three "sentries" guard the hole at all times. The number of hornets in the nest varies depending on the time of day, but there are always enough inside to defend the colony. If the sentries decide that something near the nest is a threat, they signal to the rest of the colony; and all the wasps inside the nest, and those close by the nest, will attack whatever the threat is.
Once they attack, hornets are mercilessly aggressive. Perhaps worse yet, they're unpredictable. There's no telling when they may decide that someone is a threat. Perhaps some sentries are more paranoid than others. But for whatever reason, it's not at all unusual for a hornet colony that previously ignored people nearby to suddenly decide to attack those people.
There's another specie of hornet that's pretty common in and around the Macon area and throughout South Georgia. European hornets are a bit larger than bald-faced hornets and have a much brighter, more distinctive orange and black coloration. They also have a very loud, frightening buzz that sounds kind of like a small airplane just flew by your ear; and their droppings have a horrible, foul-smelling stench.
European hornets usually don't build exposed nests like bald-faced hornets do. They like building their nests in protected areas like hollow trees, attics, sheds, and other voids. In fact, when European hornets get into homes, it's usually the smell that alerts the homeowner to the problem, not a visible nest.
The buzzing and the foul smell of their droppings may be part of the European hornet's defense mechanism, because they're quite a bit less aggressive than bald-faced hornets. They'll still attack if you get too close to the nest, making them a poor choice for a DIY job; but usually if you keep your distance, they'll leave you alone. The smell is usually the reason why customers want these hornets removed; and indeed, if the problem isn't solved, the smell will just get worse as the colony grows.
There are quite a few wasps that are called "yellow jackets," either correctly or otherwise. It's really more an informal descriptive term that's applied to a lot of different wasps with predominantly yellow coloration, than a particular specie of wasp.
The wasps that we Georgians refer to as yellow jackets are usually various wasps of the genus Vespula. One of the most common is Vespula germanica, shown on the right, which is also known as the European wasp or the the German yellow jacket.
Like European hornets, yellow jackets don't like building exposed nests. They build paper nests in void areas, and if those areas are tight, will build the nests in the shape of the void. If they have more room, they usually build one side of the nest flat against a vertical surface of the void (for example, flat against an attic wall), and then build the nest out from there in a roughly round shape.
Some of the places where yellow jackets build nests include attics, wall and ceiling voids, sheds, old cars, hollow trees, and roof soffits. The entry holes may be very close to or very far from the nest, and usually they have more than one. This makes finding the nest difficult -- for most companies, anyway. When we're not sure where the nest is, we have newfangled gadgets like infrared cameras to help us. It's usually preferable to find and directly treat the nest in order to prevent wasps from escaping into the living area.
If you thought there were a lot of different wasps called "yellow jackets," that's nothing compared to the number of wasps we call "paper wasps." As with yellow jackets, paper wasps are not a particular insect so much as an informal group of wasps that build their nests out of paper. That narrows it down to a few thousand species, but only a handful are commonly found in Georgia.
Paper wasps tend to build their nests in semi-protected areas that are exposed to the outdoors, but shielded from rain. They're commonly found under soffits, around door and window frames, under patio umbrellas and porch roofs, on playground equipment, inside hollow metal fence posts, and in other similar places.
Depending on the specie, paper wasps may be social, solitary, or something in between (several solitary wasps building nests adjacent to each other in a loosely-social manner). Their sizes and colors also vary: Paper wasps vary in size from about one-half inch to almost two inches, and may be black, yellow, brown, orange, red, or multicolored. Like we said, it's really an informal grouping, not a particular wasp.
As a group, paper wasps tend to be less aggressive than other wasps. Their stings are painful, but they don't usually attack unless you act aggressively toward them (for example, by swatting at them).
Cicada killers are sometimes called "lawn wasps" because that's where people usually see them. They can be terrifying to some people because the males fly very aggressively and make a loud buzz. But it's all just bravado. They have no stingers, so the worst they can do is annoy you. The females have stingers, but they rarely sting.
The other way cicada killers can be an annoyance is by their sheer numbers. Over a period of a few years, the number of cicada killers in a lawn can increase to the hundreds. They also make holes in the lawn that are very unsightly. These holes quickly cover over with grass, however, once the cicada killer problem is solved.
The cicada killer is named for its unique life cycle. Females have a venom that paralyzed cicadas, which they then drag down into their holes. They lay eggs in the cicada; and when the eggs hatch a day or two later, the larvae eat the cicada from the inside out. Yeah, it's pretty gross. Nature's always beautiful, but it's not always pretty.
Another soil-dwelling stinging insect that's common throughout Georgia is the digger bee, which is an actual bee, not a wasp. They can do major damage to lawns, as well as terrify people who live on the property or use the lawns. They're really not very aggressive, however, and usually don't sting unless they're threatened.
Here are some pictures of wasp, hornet, and other stinging insect work we've done.