Bees? Wasps? Hornets? What are these things?

By Andy Broomhead, September 25, 2017

This time of year I see a lot of activity on social media (Nextdoor, various Facebook Groups) from people needing help with a “Bee” problem.  As a home inspector, I run into them quite a bit and have learned a thing or two along the way that could be of use.  I’ve also enlisted the help of Andrew Callaghan, Commercial Operations Manager at Men in Black Pest Control Servicesbased in Woodridge, IL

It’s late September and you want to hang out in the yard with the kids and have fun. But as soon as you break out the juice boxes and popsicles you become very popular with a small, curious, yellow insect.  And they brought friends, lots of them.  What are they? Hornets?  Bees?  They’re small and look like bees, but bees like flowers, right?  Why do these things want my pulled pork sandwich so bad?  We’ve all been there.  Andrew Callaghan of Men in Black says: “While there are technically a few different insects that could fit the bill, such as Honeybees, 99% of the time we get a call for a bee problem, it ends up being Yellowjackets, which are not bees, but a type of social wasp”.

Wasp vs. Bee

Know your enemy:

Yellowjackets nest in the ground, tree cavities, and unfortunately sometimes in an attic or another wall void. Colonies can number in the thousands.  Yellowjackets are very aggressive.  Paper Wasps, Hornets, Bumblebees, and Honeybees generally don’t care about you unless you disturb their nests. Yellowjackets want your food and will sting you in the face just for looking at them funny.  Running over a colony with the lawnmower can result in a very, very bad day.


If they are very active in your yard, meaning you can’t eat a sandwich outside without being harassed, you may have a colony on your property. Callahan says that misidentification leads people to inaction, for fear of killing Honeybees. “Honeybees are in trouble, that’s absolutely true. At least have us come out to identify the species, If it’s Honeybees, we won’t touch them, we will contact a beekeeping professional to safely relocate the colony, but 99% of the time it’s Yellowjackets”.  During home inspections, I have seen active colonies in attics, driveways, front yards, firewood stacks, and many other locations that homeowners used all the time, but never saw the colony entrance. Take a walk around your yard and home. Look for insects flying in and out.  Near the gutters or under eaves are popular locations. No one is immune, I have had colonies removed from inside my home two of the past three years.

Ground Nesting Yellowjacket Colony

Part of a colony destroyed by a skunk

Treat Accordingly:

Locating and destroying the colony is the best method. I would recommend calling in a pro, like Men in Black for this as it can be very dangerous. If you want to try and tackle it yourself, there are many methods available online, but I won’t be recommending them here, again: very dangerous. There are commercially available traps, such as the RESCUE!® Disposable Yellowjacket Trap. These traps can be somewhat helpful to reduce populations a small degree but will certainly not eliminate the problem. One of the biggest problems with controlling Yellowjackets is that they may not have a colony on your property. This year I did not have a single colony on my property, but I treated 7 of them within a 50-yard radius of my front porch.  As they forage for food, they can range hundreds of yards, so if you do have a colony on your property it isn’t just affecting you, but your neighbors as well.

Attic Yellowjacket Nest

Two-foot wide Yellowjacket colony in a Winfield attic.

Can you really get rid of them?  Not completely, but with some effort, you can take your patio back. No one is looking to eradicate the species, Yellowjackets are beneficial, they prey on lots of other problematic insects. They are great pollinators. But large populations in residential areas can be dangerous.  Especially to those with allergies. Every colony left untreated will likely turn into more colonies, as multiple queens leave each fall to start their own next year.  Utilizing the methods above can help to keep your family safe and your backyard useable again.  As always, please reach out with any questions – Andy