By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

If you are being stung, it’s probably not a bee that is unless you have disturbed a hive. Most bees are just too busy making honey and getting ready for winter to bother you.  The culprit was more than likely a wasp.

Jeff Hahn, Extension Entomologist was the go-to guy in the Extension office when we meet a bug we don’t know. The only problem with Jeff is that you not only get the bug identified, but you also get the Latin name, who it hangs out with and it’s life history. Here’s what he told me about wasps.

Wasp is a general term for social insects in the family Vespidae, usually referred to as vespid wasps. There are also a few solitary wasps in this group, the hermits of wasps. Social wasps are divided into two groups, yellowjackets and hornets, and Polistinae or paper wasps. Minnesota is home to eleven species of yellowjackets. Jeff says we have no true hornets in the state even though one of the yellowjackets is called the bald faced hornet. And if that isn’t confusing enough, she isn’t bald, she just has a white face. She is also a very laid-back insect. Often found on raspberries, she will just sit and look at your hand picking the berry she is sitting on. Most wasps are not so friendly however. A paper wasp nest can hold thousands of workers all equipped with a nasty weapon.

Many species of yellowjackets will take over a gopher hole. Some nest in trees, under your eves, or even inside open buildings. If the nest is in an area away from human activity, ignore it. If however, they are too close to where people are or you are allergic to bee or wasp stings you need to get rid of it.

If it is in a place you can easily get to, spray it with wasp spray. Wait until night to do it when all the little stingers are in bed resting before taking another dive-bombing raid on you. Spray directly into the hole at the bottom of the nest. If it is a paper wasp nest, spray the whole underside of the nest where you see cells. You may have to do this several times if there are a few wasps out late carousing around. (Teenagers you know.) Ground dwellers may be a bit more difficult to eliminate. Try a gallon or so of boiling soapy water first. If that doesn’t do the job, try an insecticide dust. When you are sure they are all belly up, fill in the hole to prevent their cousins from moving in.

If you find wasps checking out your glazed donut some morning, you have a real problem; wasps in the walls. Spray the wasps you see and you just tick them off and more apt to go back inside the wall. Seal up the entrance and the ones left inside have nowhere to go but to keep you company. You can drill holes in your wall and attempt to kill them. This usually doesn’t end well as it only gets a few of the wasps. You now have two choices; call the Orkin man or wait until a hard frost to kill the swarm. Of course, if you go for the last choice, since one swarm found such plush accommodations, their relatives may just move in next spring. 

One last thing. If a wasp or bee is in your vicinity, don’t make like a windmill and flail your arms around. This just confuses the critter and may end up with you getting stung. Take a deep breath and just stand still until he finds something more interesting to do.