Technical Papers

Homeowner's Guide to Bees and Wasps

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 by Bill Cowley

According the National Pest Management Association, stinging insects, Cowleys technician in protective bee suit.like bees and wasps, send over 500,000 people to the emergency room each year. It is important to understand important information about bees and wasps in order to keep your home and yard safe for you and your loved ones.

What are the differences between Bees and Wasps?

Bees and wasps  in New Jersey are both members of the order Hymenoptera, and have some similar characteristics: they both have six legs, antennae, the ability to sting, and the ability to fly. Bees, however, have a rounder, thicker body with more hair than wasps but typically have shorter and thicker legs. Bees drink nectar and collect balls of pollen on their legs. Wasps may be found near flowers but they do not collect pollen. Wasps are predators of other insects or are scavengers. Because some wasps are scavengers, you are more likely to find them near open trash cans or at places where people have food, like picnics.

What Species of Bees Are Found in New Jersey?

There are three main species of bees in New Jersey: the honey bee, the bumble bee, and the carpenter bee. Most species of bees are valuable pollinators and play an essential role in the production of food crops. 

  • Honey bees are predominantly golden yellow in color with brown bands. They have a thin oval shaped body about a half of an inch long covered with small hairs. Honey bees live in hives and are the only social insect whose colony can survive many years.
  • Bumble bees are black with yellow stripes. Like honey bees, they are oval in shape and have small hairs covering their bodies. Bumble bees are about one inch long and frequently make their nests in the ground; however they will sometimes nest above ground around patios or decks. They have been known to occasionally build their nests in soffits of attics.
  • Carpenter bees look similar to typical bumble bees but often lack yellow stripes. They are usually more robust in shape than the other bees and range in length from a quarter of an inch to an inch long. This type of bee gets its name from its practice of making a hole in wood in order to nest.

What Species of Wasps Are Found in New Jersey?

There are four common species of wasps in New Jersey: the yellow Homeowners Guide to Bees and Wasps - Image 2jacket, the paper wasp, the cicada killer, and the bald-faced wasp. Just this fall, we had numerous calls in West Windsor, NJ, Hazlet, NJ, Whiting, NJ and Tinton Falls, NJ for giant wasp nests. The most common stinging insects to invade people’s homes in New Jersey are the very aggressive yellow jackets. Watch this video of wasps entering this home in Edison, NJ through the soffits behind the gutter.

  • Yellow jackets are usually black and yellow with a band pattern on their abdomens. They range from three-eighths to five-eighths of an inch long. Yellow jackets live in nests or colonies with up to 4,000 workers and are usually found in the ground or in hollow areas such as eaves and attics.
  • Paper Wasps usually have brown bodies with yellow or reddish markings. They range in size from five-eighths to three quarters of an inch long and are known for the long legs that extend out from their oval bodies. Paper wasps live in small colonies. In the fall, females will seek a place to spend the winter, and this is the most likely time for them to enter your home.
  • Cicada killers are black, yellow and red wasps. They are one of the largest wasps found in New Jersey and are often up to one and three quarters of an inch in length. Cicadas are solitary wasps that usually make tunnel nests in bare soil. These wasps rarely sting people.
  • Bald-faced wasps are black in color with white markings on their face and abdomen that usually grow to approximately three quarters of an inch long. They can be particularly troublesome because they are strong insects and are even capable of stinging through a layer of thick clothing.

How Do Bees and Wasps Enter Your Home?

Bees and wasps may enter homes through open windows and doors, cracks in siding or masonry work and torn window screens. If you see them flying in and out of a crack or crevice of your home do not make the mistake of sealing their entry point with caulking or foam. If you seal their entry point before eliminating them, you could trap them in your home.

What Should I do if I see Bees or Wasps in my Home?

Bee and wasp nest removal should be done by trained professionals because:

  1. If you make a wrong identification of the pest in your home and destroy a honey bee nest, you could be subject to fines from the state. Because of their beneficial qualities, honey bees are protected by law in the state of New Jersey. Wasps, however, do not have the same protections.
  2. The bee and wasp killing sprays sold at hardware and big box stores can be harmful to humans and pets if not used correctly. The pesticide must be administered directly into the nest which often times are hard to reach without the right equipment.  Improperly done, the whole colony won’t be killed, which can put you at risk for stings from missed bees or wasps.
  3. Bee and wasp stings can be painful and for people with severe allergies, a serious threat to life. Even bees that are normally docile will sting if they are provoked by a disruption of their nest.