Bees / Wasps

Carpenter Bee

Carpenter bees are large bees, resembling bumble bees. They are heavy-bodied and metallic blue-black with green or purplish highlights. The bodies are covered with bright yellow or orange hairs.

These insects build their nests in wood siding, the ends of logs used in modern log houses, or other areas where bare or painted wood is exposed.

The males and females cut a one-half inch circular hole into the wood and then create a tunnel parallel to the surface of the wood. Within the tunnel the female stores food and lays eggs. The developing carpenter bee larvae are in individual cells in the tunnel. There is usually only one generation per year.  Look for cut holes in wood; yellow sawdust containing waste materials leaves unsightly stains. Females are quite docile, although they can sting. Males are aggressive, but cannot sting.

The Honey Bee exhibits a combination of individual traits and social co-operation which is unparalleled in the animal kingdom.  Although a hive only needs 20-30 lb. of honey to survive an average winter, the bees are capable, if given the space of collecting much more. This is what the beekeeper wants them to do. Honey Bees are the highest form of insect life; they live in a well organized colony that does not need to hibernate. They produce honey and store it in wax comb and use the same hive from one year to the next. A glimpse into the nest makes it apparent why honey bees have fascinated us from the earliest days of scientific observations. The infrastructure of the nest, the perfectly uniform and functional comb, is composed of beeswax and is constructed into a repeating series of almost perfect hexagonal cells. The comb is the stage for the activity of the colony and is used for almost everything imaginable, from larval nursery to pantry to message centre.

The Bumble Bee is a big, hairy, black and yellow bee whose size can range from 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inch.  This insect is often mistaken for a carpenter bee, which closely resembles the bumble bee in appearance.  Carpenter bees have a shiny and smooth abdomen as opposed to the fuzzy abdomen seen on a bumble bee.

Because they are found world-wild, often in residential settings, Polistes are the most recognizable genus of Paper Wasps. They are social wasps that live and breed in colonies made of paper nests. Polistes species are also beneficial wasps. Their appetite for caterpillars and other garden pests make them welcome guests in many back yards. Their nests are umbrella looking structures with visible cells.

Eastern Cicada Killers are the large wasps which dig burrows each summer in well-drained lawns, playing fields, plant nurseries and sloping terrain with varying amounts of grass east of the Rocky Mountains in the US and south into Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. They begin their excavations a few weeks after our annual cicadas start singing. The female cicada killer on the right is carrying a paralyzed annual cicada back to her burrow, where she will put it in a nest cell, lay an egg on it and seal the cell. A grub will hatch from the egg in a few days; eat the cicada and over winter underground in a hard cocoon which it weaves. It will pupate in the spring, hatch in July or August, dig its way to the surface and live above ground for 2-6 weeks; all adults die annually.

Adult European Hornets are quite large and they are often confused with baldfaced hornets. Baldfaced hornets are black with white markings. European hornets have a yellow face with black eyes and yellow stripes with black spots on the end of their body. Adult female workers and males are up to 1 inch in length. European hornet queens are very robust and over an inch in length. European hornet nests are often constructed in hollow hardwood trees, but can also be constructed in wall voids and attics in buildings. Free-hanging nests are extremely rare but may be built in undisturbed or abandoned buildings. Nests are constructed of multiple layers of hexagonal combs, similar in shape to those of honeybee combs. Since the typical European hornet nest is constructed in voids, a paper envelope completely covering the nest (similar to that of the baldfaced hornet nest) is not used. A paper envelope is used to seal exposed areas of the nest. European hornets produce a mottled brown-tan paper in contrast with the gray-colored paper envelope used by the baldfaced hornet. The raw materials for the “paper” are obtained from soft wood. The fibers are chewed and mixed with saliva to make a pulp which is then formed into place.

Baldfaced Hornet nests often hang in trees and shrubs where they go unnoticed until the leaves have dropped in the fall. Nests can also be built on eves of buildings, on windows, in attics or on other artificial structures. They are often pear or egg-shaped and can be as large as 14 inches in diameter and over 23 inches in length. Nests are constructed of multiple layers of hexagonal combs, similar in shape to those of honeybee nests and covered in a mottled gray paper envelope.


Treating hornets can be dangerous. If a nest is in an area that does not threaten people, it should be left alone, to die naturally during the winter. This will allow for developing larvae to mature and leave the nest, avoiding the smell of decaying brood. Dry, empty nests do not smell, so removing them is often not necessary. If a nest is in a structure or near human activity, homeowners should seriously consider hiring a pest control professional with expertise in killing and removing hornet nests.


A Yellow Jacket is often called a bee by novices, she doesn’t really resemble one, if you look closely. A honeybee is fuzzy, with muted tans and browns. A yellow jacket (a wasp) is shiny yellow and black striped. These are the pests that get into your can of soda at your Labor Day picnic. Yellow jackets don’t visit flowers much; they mostly catch other insects. When they do visit flowers, they only accomplish a little pollination, because they aren’t fuzzy.