Wasps

Quick facts

Wasp refers to a group of related insects, in the order Hymenoptera, that includes bees and ants.

  • Wasps are beneficial insects.
  • Wasps are pollinators but are not as effective as bees.
  • They feed on a wide range of insects, including many common garden pests.
  • Wasps are able to sting but they will generally not bother people if they are left alone.

People mistakenly call all stinging insects "bees." While both social wasps and bees generally live in colonies with queens and workers, they look and behave differently.

For more information on bees, visit the University of Minnesota Bee Lab.

A honeycomb like European paper wasp nest with brown and yellow wasps entering the nest
Typical European paper wasp nest

It is important to identify wasps correctly because different methods may be necessary to deal with them. Wasps are classified as either solitary or social.

  • Solitary wasps have just one adult female per nest.
  • Social wasps have multiple individuals sharing one nest. Most social wasps belong to the family Vespidae (sometimes referred to as vespid wasps).

There are three types of social wasps in the Upper Midwest.

  1. Yellowjackets, including baldfaced hornets (very common)

  2. Paper wasps (very common)

  3. True hornets (not found in Minnesota)

How to get rid of wasps and wasp nests

Learn more about safe bee and wasp removal.

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Social wasps

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Solitary wasps

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Parasitic wasps

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Wasp stings

Social wasps sting to defend their colony. Some yellowjacket species can also become aggressive during late summer and fall and may sting unprovoked.

  • Wasp stings cause pain and other reactions.
  • Yellowjackets and paper wasps can sting more than once because they can pull out their stinger without injury to themselves.
  • The stinger is not left in your skin after you have been stung by a wasp.
  • Visit the Bee Lab for more information on bee and wasp stings.
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Jeffrey Hahn, Extension entomologist; Laura Jesse, Iowa State University; and Patrick Liesch, University of Wisconsin

Reviewed in 2018

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