Wasp Identification

Wasp identification guide - species and habitat.

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Wasps are generally seen as a benefit to the environment, they are typically predatory flying insects.  Wasps are a great source of organic pest control on gardens, farms, and crops.  There are commonly two types of wasps species: Solitary wasps and Social wasps.  Social wasps live in large numbers.  Wasp nests are abandoned by late autumn, the queens individually over-winter until spring.

Wasps eat meaty things, including spiders, and sweets.  Wasps can be more hot-tempered than bees, and are to be treated with caution.  If you’re trying to eliminate nuisance wasps attached to your home or near an entryway, it is best done at sunset or very early in the morning.  Wasps found inside the house may indicate a nest is living in the attic.  Below you can find pictures, identification information, and habitat of common wasps in the U.S. and Canada.

Yellow Jackets

Yellow Jacket1.jpg
Yellow Jacket3
Yellow Jacket4

1/2 inch in size.
Social Wasp
Up to 5,000 members per nest. Nests have multiple layers.
Most of the US, and in Canada.

Yellowjackets Identification
Yellow jackets are sometimes called meat bees, sweet bees, or ground bees. Often mistaken for honeybees, yellow jackets are a little quicker, more slender, and are brighter in color compared to the more orange color of honeybees. Yellow jackets do not forage on flowers, and do not carry yellow pollen on the back of the legs. Yellow jackets can be identified by a rapid side to side flight pattern prior to landing. They are scavengers, eating meats and sweets; often found in parks or disrupting picnics or other events.

Nesting & aggression
Yellow jacket nests are generally identified as golf ball to a softball in size holes in the ground, yellow jackets defended their home very aggressively. Nests start out very small then growing larger until winter. Contrary to the honeybee, yellow jackets can sting repeatedly, they do not lose their stinger and do not die after stinging. The stings often cause a swelling reaction followed by itching for a few days. Like wasps & bees, yellowjackts ting only when defending thier home, or by accident, eg. if they are pressed on and feel attacked. Seasonally yellow jacket colonies can reach a large size size of 4,000 and 5,000 workers with a nest of 10,000 and 15,000 cells by August or early September. At springtime, yellowjackes like to return to areas near were they nested the year before.

Occasionally yellow jackets nest in wall voids and attics, they can end up by accident in the house in large numbers. This is usually preceded by a noticeable slow growing wet spot on the ceiling caused by the nest. Every so often, a curious homeowner will poke or push their finger right through the deteriorating wall and end up with the unfortunate surprise of getting stung. Buzzing from the nest can often be heard in the walls. It’s generally considered unwise to try to remove an active yellow jackets nest and or a hornet nest yourself.

Like all wasps, yellow jackets abandoned their nest by late autumn, the queens will often hibernate structural voids and in attics until early spring. If you have un-wanted yellow jackets in your attic, to discourage them returning, in the winter you can put up some chemical cards labeled for yellowjackets. If you need help call the bee removal hotline.



  Up to 2 inches in size
  Social Wasp
  Have up to 700 members per nest.
  Hornets are most common in the US north east region, and in Canada.

Hornets, or bald faced hornets are commonly identified with with two different color types: black with white stripes, and black with yellow stripes. They can look similar to slender yellow jackets, though hornets are near twice as long and thicker. Hornets can be slightly less aggressive than yellow jackets. Like most wasps, hornets can sting multiple times with a very strong painful sting.

Hornets build randomly shaped nests from football to basket-ball or larger in size. Hornets can be found on tree branches, hallows, bushes, as well as houses, buildings, attics, and walls. When attached to a structure, or located in a problematic area Bee removal is commonly desired. Like most wasps and bees, hornets are defensive to anything within a close distance to the hive, or nest.

It’s generally considered unwise to try to remove a hornets nest without experience. Like wasps, hornets abandon the nest in late autumn; the queens overwinter and may return to the same or a nearby location the following spring to build a new nest. Also like most wasps, hornets eat meaty things & sweets. Hornets are considered a natural organic form of pest control to gardens and crops.

Paper Wasps

Paper Wasp Nest2

3/4 to 1-1/2 inch long.
Social wasps
Nest sizes generally consist of 5 to 30 wasps.
Most common in West and South east regions of the US and in Mexico.

Paper wasps are long with yellow and rusty brown or black stripes. Paper wasp nests can be identified out in the open and under the eave structure of the roof, the nests a grayish paper-like material honeycomb shaped, with the larger nest sizes approaching the size of a tennis racket containing up to 50 wasps per nest. Paper wasps can be confused with hornets which are similar in shape, though hornets typically have larger hives and can built in enclosed structures.

Paper wasps are often found hanging under the eaves, but can also be found in attics, trees, as well as other structures. Paper wasps attack when aggravated and have a painful sting; they can sting multiple times and do not lose their stinger, same as most wasps.

Occasionally these wasps are found inside the house. This happens when a nest is living in the attic and perhaps a ceiling fixture is allowing light into the attic. In this case the wasp goes to the light thinking it leads back outside but ends up in the house; the wasp will typically hover around looking for an exit. Wasps are much more comfortable navigating inside of a house than honeybees; honeybees simply go straight to the window and buzz until exhausted.

Mud Wasps

Mud Wasps construct their homes from mud and clay. Common mud wasps types as shown below are mud daubers, potter wasps, and pollen wasps. These wasps are typically found in the same surrounding areas of each other. Mud wasps may commonly nest on walls, attics, under bridges, or in the ground.

Mud wasps are solitary wasps and vary in size from 1/2 inch to 1 inch with relatively small nests. Prior to winter they abandon the mud nest, overwintering until spring time. At springtime mud wasps like other wasps commonly return to places nearby to build nests.

Mud Daubers

Mud Dauber1
Mud Dauber2

Up to 1 inch long
Wasp Type 
Solitary wasps
Small nests, perhaps 3 to 20 wasps with tube-like cells.
US Region 
South eastern and the West

Mud daubers have a very compressed alien like look with a skinny needle like waist they are sometimes called thread wasps, or dirt daubers. Mud daubers are commonly identified by their hardened mud nests which are oval and tube shaped. Mud daubers nests rang from the size of a peanut to a lemon but rarely get that thick.

The mud dauber species seldom sting and are not protective of their nests. Mud daubers typically attach under eaves, porches, walls and attics. Mud daubers prey on all types of spiders including black widows.

Potter Wasp

Potter Wasp1
Potter Wasp2

1/2 inch long
Wasp Type 
Generally solitary wasps
Very tiny nest sizes
US Region 
Potter wasps are located in the South East and West.

Sometimes called mason wasps, potter wasps build pot like or jug shaped nests smaller than a lemon. Out of all wasp species, potter wasps have the largest diversity of species classified into about two hundred groups as shown in wikipedia. potter wasp species.

Pollen Wasp

Pollen Wasp1
No Image Available

3/4 inches long
Wasp Type 
Solitary wasps
Smaller than average nest size.
US Region 
South East and West.

Pollen wasps are sometimes mistaken for yellow jackets because of their size similarity and because they burrow their nests in ground, however pollen wasps can be identified by their large clubbed antennas.

Pollen wasps are similar to many solitary bees, they feed their young entirely on nectar and pollen from flowers, hence the name "pollen wasp". Pollen wasp nests are constructed out of mud and water. Rocks or crevices low to the earth make attractive nesting sites for pollen wasps.

Bees Box

Bee Id Chart

Sometimes wasps are mistaken for bees. Visit this bee identification chart to learn about the most common types of bees. There are many kinds of bee species.

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