Wasps & Honey Bees in Arizona

Western Yellow Jackets

image of a yellow jacket

Western yellow jackets are a social, ground-nesting species that often uses abandoned rodent burrows, wall voids, and attics as nesting sites. These insects are meat and sweets scavengers, who collect food and return to the nest to feed the other colony members. Their preferred meals are food wastes, insects, and spiders. Interestingly, only female workers are able to sting, while males are not equipped with a stinger. Males are alarming, but completely harmless.

These insects are very protective of their nests and are likely to sting people or pets that threaten the colony. This is especially true in late summer when their natural foods begin to decline. People outdoors at this time of year are more likely to be stung, since the workers often are attracted to outdoor activities, such as picnics, in search of food.

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Paper Wasps

image of a paper wasp

These pests are the social wasps that build aerial paper honeycomb nests. The yellow paper wasp, Navajo paper wasp, and Arizona paper wasp are the three most common species in Arizona.

Paper wasps do not sting their prey, but employ the powerful mouthparts to chew prey into pieces given directly to larvae in their nests. In Arizona, their activity begins in the spring with a single queen constructing her nest. In town, nests are often located on roof overhangs and in ceilings. Paper wasps will sting, but usually only when nests are disturbed.

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Tarantula Hawk

Among the largest of wasps, tarantula hawks are solitary in nature and are predators of tarantulas. They are about 2 inches long and metallic blue-black with either blue-black or bright orange wings. They may also feed on nectar or damaged fruit.

The life cycle of tarantula hawks is very different from most insects, since eggs and immature pests depend completely upon their mother to provide food. When a tarantula hawk finds a tarantula, she stings and paralyzes rather than kills the prey. She then takes it back to her previously constructed hole in the ground or sometimes even back into the ground nest of the tarantula she just paralyzed. The tarantula hawk pushes the prey inside the hole, lays one egg on it, and closes up the hole. When the wasp egg hatches into a larval wasp, the larva feeds on the prey until the wasp's life cycle is complete. Since the prey is paralyzed, but not dead, it provides a source of food until a new tarantula hawk adult is ready to exit the nest.

Tarantula hawks typically don't pay much attention to humans. However, they can be induced to sting if sufficiently agitated. The pain from their sting is short-lived, but is described as the most painful sting of any insect in North America.

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Africanized Honey Bee (AHB)

africanized honey bee image

The highly aggressive Africanized bee population has grown remarkably in Arizona. This hybrid bee species will defend their hives aggressively and relentlessly if disturbed.

An AHB colony is a social community with different types of bees providing specific functions that work together for the welfare of the whole colony. The two most important roles are the queen, who is the egg layer, and the workers, who build, maintain, protect and forage for food to feed colony members. AHBs often nest in the voids of walls, trees, and roofs. In places where the nest isn't obvious, bees seen moving in and out of a wall, tree, stump, or roof via a small entrance hole indicate the presence of a hidden hive.

In Arizona, residents should consider any wild honey bee colony an AHB colony. Therefore, don't attempt to control bees without the help of a professional pest management specialist.

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Pests in Arizona

Arizona has large numbers of nuisance insects, plus stinging insects that can cause serious reactions from their stings and bites. In addition to the comparatively docile European honey bee, Africanized honey bees and yellow jackets can impact residents and their health. Arizona also has a few species of venomous ants. Of the more than 300 types of ants in the state, perhaps the most important are the various species of fire ants. Although the invasive, super-aggressive red imported fire ant has been found in Arizona, it is not established in the state.

Two of the more significant wood-destroying or damaging insects found in Arizona are termites and carpenter ants. In addition, there are pest pressures from both nuisance and medically important flies, bed bugs, rodents, stinging wasps, spiders, and cockroaches.

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