Then there are social wasps, and that’s a different story. Social wasps are colony builders (including paper wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and mud daubers). Even bees (except some honeybees) are less likely to swarm and sting us than social wasps are.
There are a few types of wasp considered to be especially aggressive. Unlike bees (whose stingers usually fall out after a single sting, and after which they die), female wasps can sting multiple times, and will remain alive. Note that female wasps sting, and male wasps bite.
Why Are Wasps Aggressive?
So, why are wasps so aggressive? Wasps are very protective of their nests, and as it turns out, people are the main wasps and get so aggressive! Whether people realize it or not, when they get too close to a wasp nest, it instinctively triggers wasps to attack in defense of their nests.
Types of Wasps
So, what about the different types of wasps that can be aggressive? Here is some more information about them.
Paper Wasps (Vespidae)
Paper wasps, which are usually what people think about when the wasps are mentioned, can be found all throughout North America, and they are considered an aggressive wasp species. They build their nests with chewed wood pulp, which is how they get their common name. Their nests are commonly found underneath the eaves of your roof and possibly in sheds or garages.
Paper wasps can grow to be up to 1″ in length, featuring a dark reddish-brown body with yellow markings on the abdomen and long legs. These wasps are most active during the spring, summer and fall months. By late in the fall, the original queen of the colony along with all male Paper wasps will have died, while the newly generated queens can be found burrowing into the ground to spend the winter.
Hornets are known to be among the most aggressive wasps (several are able to sting through clothing and even protective gear!). Like Paper wasps and yellow jackets, hornets are also very protective of their nests, which can most often be found near roof gutters, in the hollows of trees or tree branches, and in other protected areas. Some hornets, like the Bald-faced hornet, protect their nest by sending two “scout guardians” to patrol the area around the nest. If these “guardians” should sense their nest is in danger, they alert the rest of the colony, which then proceed to attack possible intruders.
Yellow Jackets (Vespula)
Yellow jackets are particularly aggressive wasps, especially during the late summer and early fall. They are a distinctive nuisance and potential danger at outdoor concerts, picnics, festivals and cookouts. The smell of food is a known attractant for these stinging insects and will draw them into proximity with humans. Yellow jackets are predatory insects, and usually live in colonies of between 4,000 and 5,000 inhabitants. Yellow jacket nests are also commonly found in safer areas like in the ground, and in tree voids and shrubs. These stinging insects will aggressively attack any intruder if they sense their nest is in danger.
Mud Daubers (Sceliphron caementarium)
Mud daubers are commonly found in tube-like nests constructed of mud and usually built underneath eaves, as well as on ceilings, in attics, sheds, and garages. They measure about 1″ long, feature a stick-like waist and prominent stinger, and usually roam alone, though you may find as many as 20 or so grouped together at a time. Though they are known to sting when threatened, they are typically less aggressive than Paper wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets.
Note that wasps are known to feature a variety of colors, but most of them have dark-colored bodies, and are marked with yellowish and/or orange’ish stripes.
Always keep in mind that wasps can prove fatal. On average, over 60 people die each year in the United States from allergic reactions to wasp stings (80 percent of them male), so remember to exercise caution around wasps and all stinging insects, even if you don’t suspect them to be aggressive. Do NOT disturb wasp nests and be mindful of being outdoors with foods, scents, and to not wear bright colors that might attract them.
Although any of these wasp types can attack if they feel threatened, yellow jackets are the most prone to attack us. They are arguably the most aggressive type of wasp. That’s not just because of their stubborn protective instincts, but also because they form huge colonies that can house up to 5,000 workers at a time, often at ground level. We are most likely to disturb them, albeit without meaning to. Popular nesting sites also include old rodents and snake burrows and rotten tree stumps and limbs (you’re keeping your yard free of lawn clutter, right?). Yellow jackets can be especially vicious and aggressive in the late summer/early fall.
Paper wasp stings are reported to “hurt more” than yellow jacket stings, but then again, paper wasps aren’t as instinctively aggressive as yellow jackets, and their colonies are much smaller (usually housing less than 100 wasps).
Hornets, usually the largest of the social wasps, can inflict markedly painful stings, by injecting acetylcholine, a known pain stimulant. Hornets aren’t as aggressive as yellow jackets either, but their colonies can house hundreds of stinging wasps.
Then there are honey bee stings. These stings are comparable to a yellow jacket’s, but because of their barbed stingers, they can only inflict one good sting and then they’ll die. They aren’t nearly as aggressive as social wasps, unless they are Africanized “killer” bees, whose stings can be fatal at times.
Do Wasps Attack Unprovoked?
As has been pointed out, wasps don’t just attack you for fun. They are instinctively protective of their nests and colonies. If they perceive you as a threat for any reason, whether intentional or not, they are prone to attack you, even knowing that you’re much larger than they are and are not part of their food chain.
Why Do Wasps Chase You?
Wasps will not only sting you if they can when you disturb them, they may also chase after you. In the process of attacking and stinging you, they are known to chemically “mark” their targets with a chemical odor so that other fellow wasps can find you and know they need to attack. When you run away, they will likely only chase you harder and faster. Unless you have destroyed their nest, note that yellow jackets and wasps won’t chase you very far.
Which Wasps Are Most Aggressive?
Yellow jackets are considered to be the most aggressive of all the social wasp species, and they are known to sting their prey several times even if casually disturbed.
Do Wasps Remember You?
There is scientific research that shows that Paper wasps can remember and recognize each other’s faces with intense accuracy, and it’s believed that this recognition ability includes being able to recognize humans and other animals.
Do Wasps Know When You Kill One of Them?
Killing one wasp increases the chances of warning the rest of the colony of an intruder. Dying wasps can release chemical signals to warn others to be on guard and to attack intruders. If you can get away fast enough, they’ll realize there are no intruders and nothing to eat, and they will go back to their business.
What To Do If A Wasp Chases You
At some point you may need to know how to avoid angry wasps. Here are some tips:
- Remain as still as possible if you see a wasp approaching you.
- If you do need to retreat, retreat in a straight, steady line without waving your arms around.
- Do what you can to cover your head and face, as this is where wasps will most likely target you.
- Do NOT swat at any wasps, as it will only agitate and anger them, making it more likely that you’ll get stung. They will release their “alert” hormones to call in backup attacks from other wasps.
- Don’t try to “play dead.” You can’t “fool” wasps by playing dead. They are not bears. They will only continue to sting you, no matter how still you are.
- Don’t try to jump into the water. It won’t help you. They will simply wait for you to come back up out of the water.
Remember, stinging insects will quickly return to their normal activities once you get out of their way. Sometimes it’s too late, and a lot of human encounters with social wasps are unintended. When in doubt, cover your face, and move in a steady straight line (you might want to run) for the safety of indoors.
Avoiding Wasp Stings
You can help keep wasps away from your home and avoid stings by doing a combination of things including: better sanitation, better environment modifications, and implementing smart dress and grooming tips.
- Wear closed-toe shoes outdoors.
- Avoid strong and flowery smelling perfumes and lotions.
- Do not wear bright clothing or floral prints when large numbers of wasps are present.
- When outdoors, keep food and drinks covered.
- Make sure that all garbage cans have tight fitting lids.
- Rinse out garbage cans with bleach frequently (this will help cut down on fly, roach, and ant activity, too).
- Keep your yard clean, mowed, and de-cluttered.
- Dispose of fallen and rotting fruits and vegetables.
- Clean up any spills, food crumbs, and garbage around your home.
- When working in the garden, check for wasps first.
- Use home pest control products to kill wasps and then knock-down nests. Learn how to use Harris Wasp and Hornet Killer.
PF Harris can help with all your home pest control needs. We are America’s oldest EPA-registered pest control company, so you can trust our products and expertise.
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