Picture this: it’s summer time in Minnesota, 80 degrees with a light breeze, the sun is beaming down on you as you bask in all its glory, cold drink in hand. You deserve this, you’ve waited all winter for this, and life is grand. As you soak in this moment, you soon realize you’re not alone. A pesky wasp has taken an interest in your tasty drink. “Why ME?!” You exclaim in despair, only to find that 4 more have joined the party, all too quickly putting yours to an end.
Today we are going to cover wasps and bees, where and why they invade your home, and what you can do to manage and prevent them.
There are many different species of bees & wasps throughout the US, over 4000, in fact. While many of these bees and wasps are crucial to the environment and its various ecosystems, our focus today will be on how these insects become a nuisance, building their nests within or around your home.
For starters, it is good to know that most species of wasps and bees tend to mind their own business, and generally do not attack or sting humans unless they feel threatened or otherwise provoked in some way. When it comes to their behavior, these insects are broken down into two categories, Social (Nesting) and Solitary. Since most issues involving the interior/exterior of a home or structure come from those in the Social category, we will focus more on these in particular.
As we learn more about their biology and what makes them tick, a sounder conclusion may be drawn regarding the threat level that exists, and how to safely take control to prevent extensive damage.
Honey Bees: These bees are highly beneficial to man and to the environment. Not only do they pollinate many of the world’s food crop, they also as the name suggests, produce honey (yum!). These bees are typically ½” in length, with yellow and dark brown bands on their rounded abdomens. Dense hair throughout the legs and upper body is characteristic of these creatures, and is used for their pollinating ventures. Honeybee swarms are observed early in spring, usually nesting in trees, occasionally establishing their hives within a residential home or structure. Nests are comprised of up to thousands of individuals, with wax honeycombs containing reserves of honey, often times weighing hundreds of pounds.
Damage: Honey bee hives in a hollow tree or a bee keeper’s box are just fine and dandy, however, if these bees make their way into your home via small openings in eaves and soffits, etc, the potential for interior damage becomes greatly magnified. Massive honeycombs constructed within wall cavities and attics pose a threat due to their sheet weight. Over time, melting wax, honey, and other waste may seep through wall materials, creating a very unsightly and potentially dangerous situation. The presence of honeybees and their combs may also draw unwanted attention from other pests as well, such as wax moths, etc.
Treatment/Removal: Due to their pivotal role in crop production, removal of honeybees is taken very seriously, and more caution is used in an effort to relocate them as opposed to extermination. Contact a professional beekeeper or wildlife management service for assistance.
Bumble Bees: Are much larger than their honeybee cousins, often ¾-1” in length, with yellow, occasionally orange patterns of hair on their abdomen, and pollen “baskets” on their hind legs. These particular bees live in smaller numbers, with most colonies containing around 200 individuals or less. Female bumblebees become fertilized, and in turn begin their search for overwintering sites while the remaining workers, males, and even the old queen die. Come spring, these insects typically use tall grass, old burrows, undersides of sidewalks and patios as nesting sites.
Damage: Bumblebees actually pose zero threat for structural damage. It is likely if they make their way into a dwelling it is merely accidental, and will be actively be searching for a way out. All but the queens die at the end of each season, so there is no threat of a persisting nest.
Treatment/Removal: Bumblebees are valuable member of our ecosystem, just because they are present, does not mean they pose a threat. If you find a nest to be within close proximity of a high traffic area where they are a potential danger to people, then take every precaution if you are attempting a DIY removal. Otherwise, we recommend always using a professional service.
Carpenter Bees: These are actually Solitary Bees, and are more often than not mistaken as bumblebees. However, their abdomens are hairless, and more of a shiny black color. Female carpenter bees do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to nest building, excavating a round entrance within a structure. Typically carpenter bees prefer soft, unpainted wood, such as that often found on fascia boards, window trim, and wood siding. Males and females overwinter in their old nests, and leave in early spring to mate and repeat the cycle. These are one of few bee species that use old sites for continued year over year nesting.
Damage: Although carpenter bees are not colonizing bees per se, their numbers can grow rapidly if a very suitable location for nesting presents itself. As mentioned above, these bees are known to use existing nests repeatedly, preferring to refurbish and extend one location many times. This in itself is what may possibly lead to extensive damage over time, even though the initial excavation is not usually cause for structural concern.
Treatment/Removal: You may use insecticide sprays, dusts, or residual liquids on the affected areas to kill existing bees, and discourage future nesting. Plug or fill all damaged areas during fall months. Be sure to wear protective clothing and eyewear if you know there are active bees where you are applying treatment.
Paper (Umbrella) Wasps:
With over 20 species in North America, the paper wasp is one of the most commonly encountered nesting wasps in the country. They are ¾-1” long with slim “threaded” waists, long dangly legs, and abdomens that taper at both ends like a football. Coloration is typically yellow, with red-brown wings and legs. Colonies are small, typically less than 20 individuals, with exposed nests resembling an upside down honeycombed umbrella. Paper wasps are found usually nesting in the eaves, soffits, on fascia and gutter lines, as well as under deck railings. Any small area will do, due to the small size of their nests.
Damage: As mentioned above, paper wasps tend to favor nesting areas around fascia, and gutter lines. This is due to the close proximity of their favorite wintering area, the attic. As summer rolls on and comes to a close, these insects typically attempt to move inward into the home for shelter. Wasps are known to construct their nests from chewing wood and small fibrous materials, mixed with salivary secretions to create a pulpy, papery material. This poses a threat to interior areas of your home if the wasps recruit drywall and other materials once in the home for building material. If left unchecked, the paper wasp may take up permanent residence in your home year over year. Also, you may find these insects buzzing around inside of your home come spring, if a certain area has been chewed through in search of an exit to the outside.
Treatment/Removal: Paper wasps typically are less aggressive than Yellow Jackets and the Bald-Faced Hornet (which is actually a wasp), and can usually be easily managed with insecticide sprays. Again, always make sure to utilize protective clothing and or eyewear when treating active nests. Wasps, unlike bees, are able to sting many times due to the lack of a barb on their stinger, so this is especially important. Approach nests at night when the wasps are less active, using a flashlight with red tape over it, as the wasps cannot see red light. Although DIY is always an option, we do recommend professional help if possible.
Yellow Jacket Wasps:
This would be the little guy from earlier that wants to share your kool-aid. At ½-3/4” in length, yellow jackets are typically more short and stocky in appearance than the paper wasp, and are characterized by black and yellow banding on their abdomen. Differing patterns of these bands help distinguish different sub-species. Subject to location, these insects may also be classified as aerial or ground nesters. When nesting high in trees, shrubs, or under eaves of houses, their nests are very easily identifiable, with a football/teardrop shape, and made from a grayish papery material.
Damage: If yellow jackets make their way inside of your home, per usual, the nest typically is not visible. You may hear buzzing and rustling noises coming from within walls or in the attics. This is the sound of hundreds of yellow jackets building their nest as they chew through your drywall and joists to do so.
Treatment/Removal: Yellow jackets are known to be extremely aggressive, and are much more easily agitated than most of their bee and wasp relatives. Do not plug entrances to nests. There is a medley of tactics that may be employed to exterminate existing ones and discourage future nesting, however, we always recommend using professional services when dealing with large, potentially dangerous hives.
Although we mentioned a few ways to exterminate bees and wasps that seem keen to share your home with you, we recommend instead to be diligent in following a few practices to discourage their presence in the first place. Here are a few ways to do so:
- Clean up after yourself. Remove food scraps, fallen fruits, keep garbage cans sealed.
- Be mindful of open/spilled drinks, and other garbage.
- Avoid brightly colored materials and sweetly scented candles, etc.
- Keep your attic, garage, and other enclosed areas tidy and clean.
- Hang faux nests to discourage other colonies from approaching.
- MAINTAIN YOUR EXTERIOR
- Replace loose shingles, especially shakes!
- Seal holes in exterior siding, especially wood siding!
- Remove and dispose of any dead trees on your property before spring.
If you feel that you have a wasp or bee infestation that is above the scope of do-it-yourself options, please contact a local pest control company. And as always, if you feel that your home has sustained damage due to a bee or wasp colony, contact a general contractor for an assessment of the scope of repair needed.