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University of Minnesota Extension

Wasps and bees

Quick facts

  • Wasps commonly nest in a wide variety of sites, including on and inside buildings, in trees and in the ground.      
  • Wasps will generally not bother people when their nests are not near human activity.
  • When wasp nests occur close to where people are active, the nests should be eliminated to minimize the risk of stings.
  • Honey bee and bumble bee nests are not usually a problem and should be preserved when possible.

Social wasps are a group of related insects belonging primarily to the family Vespidae (sometimes called vespid wasps).  Being social means many individuals share one nest. Solitary wasps and bees nest alone. This article focuses on the habits of social wasps and bees.

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.

Yellowjackets and paper wasps are two types of social wasps in the Upper Midwest.

Honey bees and bumble bees are social bees also found in the Upper Midwest.

Identify wasps and bees and their habits

Learn how to tell the difference between wasps and bees, what they eat and where they live.


Wasp and bee life cycles

All wasps and bees have a complete life cycle with egg, larval, pupal and adult stages. We generally see only the adults as the eggs and larvae are in the nests. The larvae of bees and wasps are white and typically look like grubs.


Wasp and bee stings

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

Most people have only minor reactions to wasp stings, but a few may experience more serious allergic reactions.


Controlling unwanted nests

There are a wide range of options to control nests depending on their location and the time of year. 


Nuisance yellowjackets


Authors: Jeffrey Hahn, former Extension entomologist; Laura Jesse, Iowa State University; and Patrick Liesch, University of Wisconsin

Reviewed in 2020

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