Hornets, Wasps and Bees

Wasps and bees can be social or solitary, meaning that some exist within a colony, or nest, while others do not. Social wasps devel colonies similar to ants; the queen produces eggs and the workers protect the brood (larvae and pupae). Solitary wasps do not have a colony group. The adult female builds a cell for each egg and supplies each cell with insects or spiders for the larvae to eat. Examples of solitary wasps are mud daubers and digger wasps.

Wasps differ from bees in a few ways. Wasps generally feed young with insects, spiders and meat particles, while bees feed their young with pollen. Bees are visibly hairy while wasps are smooth. 

nature, wasp, insect

Stinging behavior is typically defenseive. The process includes an injection of potent venom. Additionally, venom contains protienacious materials which causes severe allergic reactions. Some people can go into anaphylactic shock and die of suffocation due to their lungs filling with fluid. Fortunately, the percentage of people allergic to bee and wasp stings is low, with 1% of children and 3% of adults. Bees and wasps are beneficial inmost instances, controlling or eliminating nests is warranted when said nest is near people. 

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Wasps, Hornets and Yellow Jackets

These insects build nests of paper-like material referred to as “carton”, which is a mixture of wood fibers and salivary secretions of the female wasps. In New Hampshire, new colonies must be founded every year. Only mated queens from previous years colonies over-winter (hibernate). Queens are inactive during the winter, they hibernate in sheltered areas such as under tree bark, in stone walls and in attics.

Queens are often referred to as “foundresses” since they establish the new nest and colony. The queens build the nest by chewing away fibers from wood surfaces, these fibers are combined with saliva to form carton for the nest construction. The queen then lays eggs in the nest cells, the egg hatches into larvae and depend on the queen for food. Food is protein based: caterpillars, insects, etc. Adult wasps feed on nectar and juices. 

Only one egg producing queen is present in a colony. Workers protect and maintain the nest by foraging for food and caring for the brood. Adult males and new queens leave the colony in the late summer or early fall. The colony then dies off and only newly mated queens attempt to over-winter.

Paper Wasps

Paper wasps build simple, downward facing nests that consist of a single layer of cells. Their nests have no covering and are typically small – no greater than 8″ in diameter. There is rarely ever more than 200 workers on the nest at any one time. 

Bald-Faced Hornets

Bald-faced hornets are black with white markings on their thorax and abdomen. They are not a “true” hornet, but are a species of wasp. 

European Hornet

Prior to the arrival of the Aian Killer Hornet, the European Hornet was the only true hornet throughout the US. While the Asian Hornet is somewhat of a hot topic, European Hornets are a bit more likely to be seen in New Hampshire or Massachusetts. European Hornets have a brownish body with orange markings and do not build exposed nests. Instead, they nest in natural cavities such as hollow logs, stumps and in buildings. 

Yellow Jackets

Yellow Jackets are typically 1/2″ long and nest under ground in rodent or animal burrows. Also, they often use available openings at or near ground level such as railroad ties and voids in block foundations. The nest is expanded to fill the cavity, then the cavity is enlarged as the colony develops.

German Yellow Jackets will build nests in wall voids, attics and crawl spaces. Yellow jacket nests are made of “carton”, as mentioned above. 

Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees resemble bumble bees. They bore long tunnels into wood which are divided into cells where the larvae develop. They complete 1 generation per year. In the spring, the galleries are prepared and the eggs are laid. During the early summer, larvae and pupae develop in closed cells. Adults emerge during the late summer and return to the same tunnels to hibernate for the winter. In the spring time, adults mate and females lay eggs. 


Several females can be nesting in the same wood, however these females act in a solitary manner. The gallery entrance is chewed by the female in an inward fashion but quickly turns sharply upward and goes in the same direction as the grain of the wood. Female carpenter bees can and will re-use old galleries. Prior to laying eggs, the female provides the galleries with food by inserting a ball of pollen in each cell on which the egg is laid. The female then closes the cell by placing a mass of wood pulp. 

Some common sites that may contain carpenter bee activity are siding, eaves, wooden shakes, porch ceilings, window sills and doors. Softer woods are preferred but carpenter bees can nest in many types of wood. Unpainted wood is preferred to painted or hardwood. You may also see yellowish/brownish excrement stains under their holes.