Solitary and Social Wasps

Sand Digger wasp near nest

Sand-digger wasp near her burrow.

Wasps are categorized as either being social or solitary. Social wasps live in colonies much like bees, whereas solitary wasps do not.  There are more than 2,800 species of wasps in the United States but only about 40 are important from a pest management perspective.   Most people are only concerned about social wasps of the family Vespidae, which includes paper wasps, yellowjackets, and hornets.  These wasps quickly become pests during spring and summer because of their propensity to construct paper nests from the roof of one´s home.

Illustration of a paper wasp nest by Donna Walker

Drawing of a Paper Wasp Nest

Social Wasps

Social wasps live in colonies similar to bees; they build their paper nests in areas where we like to socialize ourselves: patios, front porches, lawns, nearby trees, etc. Paper wasps and hornets build their nest high above the ground while yellowjackets build their nests underground, which can be dangerous if you happen to step on a nest while you´re playing in your yard or mowing the grass. Social wasps can easily be identified by the patterns on their gasters (bulbous posteriors). See gaster chart below:

Drawing of wasp gaster patterns by Donna Walker

Identification chart showing gaster patterns on various social wasps.

Springtime is nest making time for the queen paper wasp. She gathers wood fibers, turning them into a papery pulp, and then builds her open umbrella-shaped paper nest in the eaves of a home or patio. Or, in the case of a hornet, the nest is enclosed, about the size of a football, usually hanging from a tree branch.

NOTE: For safety reasons, Hearts will only remove a paper wasp nest from the eaves of a patio or single story home or building.

The yellowjacket also makes an enclosed nest but because they build it underground it´s often hard to find. If a nest is large enough, the topsoil may raise up which can be an indication of a nest just below the surface; especially if you see yellowjackets flying in and out of a small hole that looks like it could be made by a gopher. Yellowjackets often construct their paper nests inside of abandoned animal burrows. For information on each of these social wasps please visit the following pages:

Bald-faced Hornet Hornets

Common Red Wasp, close up thumb size print Paper Wasps

Western Yellowjacket close up Yellowjackets

Solitary Wasps

Solitary wasps are, well, solitary. These wasps keep to themselves but some of them such as the mud dauber or potter wasp often make unsightly mud nests in the eaves of a home. In the old days, it was quite common to see their mud nests attached to an outdoor privy. Solitary wasps are actually beneficial in that they hunt and kill spiders to feed to their young. Blue mud daubers are good at hunting down black widows to feed to their spiderlings.  You can visit our following pages and blog for more information on solitary wasps: mud daubers, sand-diggers, and the amazing tarantula hawk wasp:

Mud dauber revised   Mud daubers

Sand wasp with nest thumb size   Sand-digger wasps

tarantula hawk  Tarantula hawk

Please contact us if you have a paper wasp nest on or near your home:

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