There are many, many different kinds of wasps -- more than 100,000 species, all told. The ones mentioned on this page are just a few of the ones that we encounter most commonly in the Atlanta Metropolitan area.
Wasps and bees are related, but they're not the same. All wasps are members of the order Hymenoptera, which also includes ants and true bees. One of the things that differentiates wasps from bees is that wasps don't make honey, but bees do. More importantly on a practical level, in Georgia, most stinging insects are wasps, not bees.
Wasp species vary greatly in their habits, appearance, and aggressiveness. Some wasps, like many paper wasps, are relatively passive and won't bother you unless you bother them, even if you're in close proximity. Others, like yellow jackets, will attack if you get too close, but otherwise won't bother you. And then there are the hornets, who will attack en masse if you dare to even look at them funny.
What this means from a practical standpoint is that unless you're really sure what kind of wasps you're dealing with, DIY wasp control probably isn't something you should try. Some wasp species can put a serious hurting on you if you happen to rub them them the wrong way. So be safe. Call us instead.
That being said, let's look at some of the more common stinging insects found in Atlanta and throughout Georgia.
Baldfaced hornets are stocky, predominantly black wasps with white or pale yellow markings. They build paper nests that usually are suspended from trees, porch ceilings, power lines, and other objects. They also are, by far, the most aggressive of our Georgia wasps, and are very unpredictable. You might walk past the same hornets' nest every day without them bothering you; but then one day they change their mind, decide that you're a threat, and attack you.
When hornets attack, they do so in great numbers, and their stings are intensely painful. They also can cause severe swelling and anaphylaxis. Even people who aren't particularly sensitive to insect stings may need medical care after being attacked by a large number of hornets. That makes hornet control a pretty poor choice for a DIY project.
It's hard to say with any certainty why hornets are so unpredictable. One possibility has to do with the sentries -- two or three wasps who are assigned to fly around right outside the nest and keep a watch for dangers to the colony. It may be that some sentries are more easily alarmed than other.
European hornets are larger than baldfaced hornets and have a loud, frightening buzz. They have large heads and beautiful coloration consisting of dark orange with yellow and black markings.
Unlike baldfaced hornets, European hornets usually build their nests in hollow trees or other protected void areas, so you're more likely to see the insects than their nests. You might smell their nests, though, especially when they're built inside a home. Their droppings have quite a strong and unpleasant odor.
Despite their size, loud buzz, and horrible stench, European hornets are less aggressive (or at least more predictable) than baldfaced hornets. If you keep your distance, they usually keep theirs. But when they do attack, they do so with gusto, and their stings are very painful.
The term "yellow jacket" is a generic one that's applied correctly to a number of different wasp species, and incorrectly to many more. The yellow jackets we get in Georgia are usually various species in the genus Vespula. The one in the picture on the right happens to be Vespula germanica, which is also referred to as the European Wasp or the the German yellow jacket.
Yellow jackets build nests out of paper, and those nests can get quite large -- as big as several feet across in some cases. They usually build their nests in void areas like hollow trees, wall voids, roof soffits, attics, and other such areas where they think they'll be left alone. Very often, the visible entry holes are quite far from the actual nest.
Compared to our other Georgia wasps, yellow jackets rank roughly on the same level as European hornets in their degree of aggressiveness, which is to say that they usually won't bother you if you keep a respectable distance from their nest. But if you get too close for their liking, they will attack in great numbers, and their stings are very painful.
There are many, many species of wasps referred to as "paper wasps," all of which build nests out of paper. They usually build them in semi-exposed areas such as the undersides of window frames, soffits, and so forth, so the nests are covered on top but otherwise exposed. Some species build their nests flat against the surface, while others build nests with narrow "petioles" that hang from the surfaces they're attached to.
Some paper wasp species are loosely social. Their colonies are quite small in numbers compared to most other social wasps, with some "colonies" consisting of only one adult female and her young. Other paper wasp species are solitary, but commonly build nests close other wasps of their specie (yet without any evidence of cooperation).
Most paper wasps are not especially aggressive, but they will attack if they feel threatened. How much is takes to make them feel threatened varies from specie to specie, however, and some species are quite territorial. Their stings can be very painful.
Cicada killers (sometimes called "lawn wasps") are large insects with similar coloration as yellow jackets. They have an interesting life cycle that is also the reason for their name: A female catches and paralyzes a cicada, drags it into her nest in the ground, and lays an egg on it. Within a day or so, the eggs hatch, and the larvae eat the cicada.
Male cicada killers can be very intimidating because they fly aggressively, make a loud buzz, and sometimes even head butt you if you get too close to their mates' nest. But the males have no stingers, so all they can really do is annoy you a bit. They also are very territorial with regard to other males and can often be observed fighting each other.
Female cicada killers have stingers, but they're fairly passive insects who usually don't sting unless you do something dumb like stick your finger into their nest hole. And really, who can blame them for that?
Other than being annoying (especially when present in large numbers), cicada killers are disliked primarily for the damage they do to lawns. Being very large, the holes they make in a lawn are very visible
As there name implies, digger bees are true bees (as opposed to wasps) that make nests in the ground. They can do extensive damage to lawns, as you can see in the following video:
Because they can be present in very large numbers, digger bees can be very intimidating. They are not very aggressive, however, although they will sting if they're threatened.
Stinging Insect Gallery
Here are some pictures of wasp, hornet, and other stinging insect work we've done in and around the Atlanta area.
European hornets' nest
Cicada killer parasitizing cicada in Fayetteville
Hornet extermination job in Atlanta, Georgia
Hornets nest with sentries on duty by entry hole
Paper wasps' nest in an attic in Atlanta
Dead yellow jackets in a Marietta, Georgia home
Hornets nest outside a house in Peachtree City
Paper wasps in the roof of a house in Atlanta
Juan on an Atlanta hornets' nest removal job
Yellow jackets nest under a bathtub in Atlanta
Huge nest at Atlanta yellow jacket control job
Hornets' nest removal job in Conyers, Georgia
Cicada killer parasitizing a cicada in Atlanta
Digger bee holes in a lawn in Peachtree City
Yellow jacket wasps tending a nest
Hornets nest at a house in Atlanta
Hornet control job in Stone Mountain, Georgia
Diggher bee holes in a lawn in Sandy Springs
Hornets nest on an electrical box in Johns Creek
Hornets' nest removal in Sandy Springs, Georgia
European hornets in a tree cavity in Atlanta, GA
Paper wasps in a house in Stone Mountain
Digger bee holes in a lawn in Atlanta
Hornets' nest removal job in Peachtree City