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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

The Buzz on Bees and Wasps

The Buzz on Bees and Wasps

It’s a common sight during late summer. A picnic table is spread with sweet, gooey desserts and cups of sugary drinks. You reach for your can of soda and are just about to drink, when something bright yellow catches your eye. You pull the can away from your mouth just in time to see the pointy, gleaming body of a yellow jacket emerge from inside. You lucked out this time, but decide to pour out your drink before your luck runs out.

During the late summer and early fall, bees and wasps can become even more of a nuisance than in the dead of summer. The air is getting colder, which means these stinging insects are looking for their last meals before the cold of winter sets in. Honeybees are foraging for nectar from the last flowers of the season before confining themselves to their hive for the long winter ahead, while wasps — including yellow jackets and hornets — are out scavenging for anything they can get.

While it is common to refer to all stinging insects as “bees,” it’s important to note the distinction. Honeybees are gold to orange in color and have stout fuzzy bodies. Though they will sting if threatened, they are rarely aggressive. Wasps are smoother and narrower than bees, and much more prone to sting without warning. While wasps come in a range of colors, many of the most common species are black and yellow, which leads to much of the confusion between wasps and bees.

Among the most likely pests to disrupt late summer picnics is the yellow jacket, an aggressive wasp that is attracted to a wide range of foods, including sweets and rich sources of protein, such as hamburgers and hot dogs.

The best way to manage wasps is to avoid attracting them in the first place. Instead of leaving food and drinks out for long periods of time during a picnic, only bring it out when people are ready to eat. When you’ve finished eating, put away any leftover food and place trash into a receptacle with a tight-fitting lid. Cover unfinished drinks with a lid or a piece of plastic wrap or aluminum foil. If this isn’t possible, always carefully check cups and cans for bees or wasps before drinking from them. If a wasp flies onto your food, wait for it to fly away or carefully brush it away. Remember, wasps may sting with little or no provocation and, unlike honeybees, which leave behind their stingers and die when they sting someone, a single wasp can sting repeatedly.

What if you find a nest of bees or wasps on your property? If you discover an unwanted hive of honeybees in your home or yard, call a local beekeeper to remove them. The North American honeybee is an endangered species, and is beneficial to people, not only because it produces honey and beeswax, but also because it pollinates food crops. Without honeybees, we couldn’t grow fruit or vegetables. A knowledgeable beekeeper can safely remove the bees and create a new home for them where they won’t cause problems.

If you find a wasp nest on or near enough to your home to pose a danger, you can purchase a commercial wasp and hornet spray from your local grocery or hardware store to eradicate them. Wait until nighttime, when wasps are less active, to apply the spray, and follow the directions on the can. If you continue to see live wasps in the area, reapply every three days until they are gone.

If you are opposed to using chemical pesticides, you can try a more organic method of pest control. If you discover the nest in late summer or fall, remember that worker wasps do not live through the winter and never reuse an old nest. A few good frosts will kill the colony. Depending on where the nest is located, and how close it is to winter, it may make sense just to wait the wasps out. Then, next spring, you can safely remove the old nest without fear of being stung.

If waiting is out of the question, you can try sealing off the nest with a large plastic bag. Wait until nighttime and, leaving as little space as possible between the top of the nest and the bag, cut the nest down with a sharp knife. Tie off the bag and either freeze it or let it sit out in the hot sun. The wasps inside will die within a day or two. Be careful, though! This method is more risky than spraying the nest.

Regardless of how you decide to remove the wasps, check with your doctor first to make sure that you aren’t allergic. Otherwise, a single sting can be life threatening!

11 comments

1 Linda fridy { 09.14.14 at 12:49 pm }

We have what looks like open holes about 4inch around. Small bees are buzzing inside and out. They are easily excited and go after my husband when he mows and we are afraid our small puppy will be stung, my husband was sung multiple times trying to now.please help we’ve tried wasp spray does not work

2 dvaillan { 05.07.14 at 12:31 pm }

I have yellow jackets and wasps already swarming around my home. They are actually flying into the window and knocking themselves away. My porch, shed, etc. There everywhere. any big solutions or suggestions?

3 Izak Gregory { 09.11.13 at 6:26 pm }

Just take a stick and knock the nest down and they will usually leave. A wasp as well as bees are VERY beneficial and should not be destroyed. It should be a criminal offense to spray them or anything else with the Hazardous chemical spray. Gee whiz use your heads folks. Also a wasp will land on you take one smell and leave because you stink to them. Of course if you start swatting at them then they think you are a threat and bingo they will nail you.

4 Jaime McLeod { 05.10.12 at 9:38 am }

Sorry Sue,
I don’t know of any deterrents, other than vigilance. I had some wasps trying to build a nest on my porch last year, and I kept obliterating it with the garden hose when it was still very small. They gave up and moved on.

5 Sue { 05.09.12 at 2:20 pm }

Is there any way to “prevent” the wasps from making a nest on your home? I live on the upper level in a condo and I can not reach the eaves where they make their nests and I get wasps swarming around my balcony all summer! I also get some sort of flying pest that builds their “nest” out of some sort of mud or clay that turns hard as rock in my furnace air intake fan. I have had to replace the part once already since continues cleaning bends the blades and it rattles the whole building. I was told I couldn’t put a screen over the tube opening…..

6 Dave { 05.09.12 at 10:06 am }

For wasps all you need is a sprayer with dawn dish washing soap and water mixed and just spray away, they die almost instantly when hit with that simple solution.

7 Farrah { 09.10.11 at 8:40 pm }

Dragonflies are absolutely not included in this group. You didn’t mention any ways to get rid of yellow jacket nests- the only ones that really worry me. We don’t use any chemicals on our property, but have successfully killed off two yellow jacket nests over the years by simply following them back to the nest and then putting a clear glass dome over it at night once they’re all inside. In the morning when they come out, they’ll just buzz around and around. It has to be clear glass though, or they will simply dig a new exit. As long as they can see out, they don’t. It takes about a week for them to all die off, maybe longer if in deep shade.

8 Joy Alvey { 09.10.11 at 6:07 pm }

feed the wasps a little meat they are hungry watch them saw small bites and fly away

9 Wasp Control { 07.01.11 at 5:25 am }

I found a wasp nest in my shed last summer and I was worried that they can cause danger to my children and me so I called a local pest control company and lucky they came out the same day and removed all of the wasps. It’s very dangerous to try to remove a wasp nest yourself and this can anger the wasps and they can then harm people.

10 dennis kloepping { 09.14.10 at 2:06 pm }

The dragonflyies are eating small insects. The small insects are having their last swarm and the dragonflies are there to feast. They are a beneficial insect and eats alot of mosquitoes.

11 Maybelle { 09.14.10 at 9:34 am }

Would dragonflies be included in these “crazy bees” group? There were hundreds of them in my backyard yesterday and I’ve never seen them like that before.

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