Wasps are insects in the order Hymenoptera, which also includes ants and bees. The majority of stinging insects in Chattanooga and all of Tennessee are wasps of some variety. Hornets and yellow jackets in particular, both of which are wasps, are the most aggressive stinging insects in Tennessee and the most likely to launch unprovoked attacks. (Honey bees, on the other hand, rarely attack unless they are threatened.)
Not all wasps sting people, however. Some possess stingers only to paralyze their prey, not as a defense against attackers. Other wasps have no stingers at all. In some species, both exceptions are true. For example, male cicada killer wasps have no stingers at all, and females use their stingers to paralyze cicadas. Yes, they'll sting you if you're rude enough to do something like stick your finger in their nest holes, but that's not the primary purpose of their stingers.
Unlike bees, wasps do not produce honey. They're also not significant pollinators. Although some wasp species do some incidental pollination while foraging for nectar, it's not enough for them to be considered important agricultural pollinators.
There are many insects commonly referred to as "yellow jackets," but the term properly refers a the particular wasp shown here, the European or German Yellow Jacket, Vespula germanica. In the more common sense, the term is applied to a wide variety of wasps in the genus Vespula that have some yellow in their coloration and build nests in enclosed voids. Because of their similar habits, their treatment also is basically the same.
Yellow jackets build paper nests in protected voids such as attics, crawl spaces, wall voids, and soffits of homes; rock walls; hollow trees and stumps; old cars; abandoned animal burrows; sheds; and many other protected areas. Their nests can range from a few inches to several feet in size, and may contain from a few dozen to tens of thousands of individual insects. In large voids like attics, their nests are round or oblong in shape; but in smaller voids, they conform to the shape and size of the void.
Yellow jackets can be very aggressive. Like hornets, yellow jackets attack in great numbers when threatened, and their stings are very painful. They're somewhat less likely than hornets to attack unless provoked, however. Hornets will attack you if you look at them funny. Yellow jackets tend to wait until you do something more overtly threatening such as swat at them or get very close to their nest.
Because yellow jackets build their nests in protected voids, it's important to locate the nest when treating a yellow jacket problem. Treating the nest directly assures a clean kill with little chance of yellow jackets getting into the living areas of the home. That's why it's important not to just treat or plug the holes where you see yellow jackets going into and out of the house. You'll just annoy them, and that's a very unwise thing to do.
"Paper wasps" is a generic common name applied to a large number of wasp species in the genus Polistes who share the common habit of building unenclosed paper nests. They usually build these nests in areas that are somewhat protected from rain such as on porch ceilings, around door and window frames, inside soffits, and in other outdoor or semi-outdoor areas.
Most paper wasps are capable of delivering intensely painful stings, but they also tend to be non-aggressive. I remember as a child watcing a paper wasp building and tending to a nest on the porch ceiling for most of a summer. If she even noticed that I was there, she gave no sign of it. That's true for most paper wasps. If you leave them alone, they'll pretty much ignore you.
Some paper wasp species are true social wasps with organized colonies, castes, division of labor, and a queen who exerts control over the rest of the group. Other species aren't true social wasps, but often will build nests in the same area simply because it's a suitable place. They don't cooperate with each other in any meaningful way. They're basically just neighbors who don't hate each other.
Because of their non-aggressive nature, it's pretty much up to you whether or not you want to treat paper wasps. Their nests can be unsightly, so if that bothers you, then by all means give us a call. If you're allergic to insect stings, then by all means give us a call. Even a small risk of being stung is unacceptable if a sting can kill you. But if you're not allergic and the nests don't bother you, leaving paper wasps be is a perfectly-acceptable option.
Cicada killers (sometimes called "lawn wasps") are large, solitary wasps who build nests in the soil. They use their stingers to paralyze cicadas, which they then drag down into the nest holes. They lay an egg on the cicada, and when the egg hatches, the larval cicada killer wasp eats the paralyzed cicada. What can I tell you: Nature is always beautiful, but it ain't always pretty.
Male cicada killers can be terrifying unless you know that they're unarmed. They fly around aggressively, defending the nesting area from anyone or anything that gets too close. But the worst they can do is head-butt you. The males have no stingers. The females do have stingers, but rarely sting unless you stick your finger into their nest hole. And really, who can blame them? That would be pretty rude.
Nonetheless, cicada killers' aggressive flight can be disturbing to people, and they can do a whole lot of damage to lawns. They're considered genuine menances at golf courses, athletic fields, and other recreational areas. But other than that, they're basically harmless. Whether or not you want to treat a cicada killer problem in your own lawn is entirely up to you. Just be aware that if you don't treat a cicada killer problem this year, it probably will be a lot worse next year when those larval cicada killers are full-grown adults.
Unlike the rest of the insects on this page, digger bees are true bees, not wasps. Many people call them "digger wasps," but technically speaking, they're bees. They're very unusual in that they're solitary bees who happen to live together, often in great numbers, in the same lawn; but there is little evidence of any meaningful cooperation or communication between the individual bees, and no queen calling the shots on behalf of the group.
Digger bees build their nests in the soil. Left untreated, they can cause tremendous damage to a lawn; and like cicada killers, if you don't treat it, it will only get worse every year. You can check out this video for an example of the kind of damage that digger bees can do to a lawn.
The sheer number of digger bees that can be flying around over a lawn is enough to intimidate people. As bees go, however, they tend to be passive. They'll sting if threatened or handled, but there's no guarding behavior or group attack instinct such as exist in honey bee or social wasp colonies.
Despite their docile nature, digger bees are a problem you'll probably want to treat. Left untreated, your lawn will eventually have more holes than grass. They really do a lot of damage.
Here are some pictures of wasps and wasp-control work our technicians have done in Tennessee and elsewhere.
Paper wasps at a house in Chattanooga
Red paper wasps on the outside of a barn
Paper wasp feeding on a caterpillar
Yellow jackets in a crawl space in Signal Mountain
Yellow jacket building a nest in Harrison
Guinea Wasp Nest on a House in Chattanooga
Paper wasps nest in East Brainerd
FLIR image of yellow jackets nest in Jasper
Yellow jackets nest between two seat cushions
Paper wasps nest in East Ridge
Yellow jacket wasps tending a nest
Four-toothed Mason wasp
Paper wasps nest at a house in Dunlap
Inside of a yellow jackets\' nest
Please contact us to learn more about wasp control in and around Chattanooga, Tennessee.