Wasps, a Summer Time Caution By: Steve Roark TN Dept. Agriculture, Forestry Division

Everyone knows and fears wasps or waspers as my family calls them.   What you may not know is that the wasp family includes other stinging insects in our area, including yellow jackets, hornets, and dirt daubers.  They are all in the insect family vespidae, and are referred to as vespid wasps.


Some vespids like dirt daubers are solitary, while others live in colonies and show some degree of social behavior.  This ranges from groups of cooperating fertile females, to a caste system in which there is a single fertile queen and a large population of smaller female workers.  Here is a short discussion of the two most common Vespid members


Paper Wasps:  There are several species in our neck of the woods, but all of them have long legs, a very narrow waist, and are mostly reddish brown to black, with one having yellow stripes. Adults feed on nectar and juice from crushed or rotting fruit, while the larva feed on insects provided pre-chewed by adults.  The paper wasp lifestyle goes like this: In the spring several females work together to construct a paper nest made of wood that is chewed and regurgitated. It consists of a single circular tier of cells attached by a narrow stalk to the undersurface of a ceiling.  One female becomes the dominant queen.  The first few generations of eggs are all females, cared for as larvae by unmated female workers.  Unfertilized eggs produce fertile males, which mate with females in late summer. Only mated young queens overwinter under leaf letter or stone piles.  Old queens, workers, and larvae all die. Paper wasps are more tolerant of people and minor disturbances than are hornets and yellow jackets, but sting they will and it is pretty painful. It seems to me they get meaner the hotter it gets.


Yellow Jackets: Our variety is the Eastern yellow jacket.  These mean little guys are ½ – ¾ inches long with black and yellow bodies.  They usually nest in the ground or at ground level, constructing a multi-tiered, covered nest of paper. Adults feed on nectar, while the young larvae feed on insects pre-chewed by the adults.  In the spring a mated female constructs a small nest and daily brings food to the larvae until the first all female brood matures and serve as workers, extending the nest and tending the young.  In late summer, males develop from unfertilized eggs and mate. With winter, everybody dies except mated females, who overwinter under leaf litter and in the soil.  Yellow jackets can be pests at picnics, being attracted to food and sweet beverages.  Females sting repeatedly at the least provocation, and will chase you great distances.


Wasp stings normally just involve pain and some swelling, and can be treated with an ice pack, and perhaps taking an antihistamine for the swelling. If you develop abnormal swelling, difficulty breathing, or other unusual symptoms, you may be having an allergic reaction and seek medical treatment immediately.


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