It is widely assumed that yellow jackets are the most common stinging insect pests in residential areas, and in Massachusetts, many residents are under the impression that the abundant bald-faced hornet is the most commonly controlled stinging insect pests around homes. However, according to a recent nationwide survey of pest management professionals, paper wasps were the most commonly controlled stinging insect pests within and around homes during 2016. Yellow jackets followed paper wasps as the second most commonly controlled insect pests in residential areas, but bald-faced hornets did not even make the top ten list. This is probably because the bald-faced hornet is actually a type of yellow jacket, and not a hornet. Therefore, the bald-faced hornet, despite its common name, is categorized as a yellow jacket in scientific studies. In reality, only one true hornet species known as Vespa crabro has become established in the US, but the recently introduced Vespa mandarinia species (AKA the murder hornet) may soon become the second.

Wasp species belonging to the Polisties genus are commonly known as “paper wasps,” and while they are not as aggressive as yellow jackets, they will readily attack humans if their nests become disturbed. Paper wasps get their common name from the paper nests they construct by chewing on bits of wood they collect from the environment. Paper wasp nests are commonly found attached to tree limbs, porches, patios, the underside of eaves, door frames, and window frames. Because their nests are commonly found in high-traffic areas, it is not uncommon for paper wasps to attack humans in response to accidental nest disturbances. Pest control professionals and public health officials recommend running as fast as possible in a zigzag direction in order to lose stinging insect swarms, unless the stinging insects happen to be paper wasps. Paper wasps will pursue moving objects in response to nest disturbances, but for reasons that are not well understood, paper wasps rarely attack motionless objects. This is why humans should lie flat on the ground and remain still when being pursued by a paper wasp swarm.

Have you ever inadvertently disturbed a well-hidden nest of stinging insects?