Hornets & Wasps in Virginia
Virginia Wasps and Hornets
Insects that are a stinging hazard in Virginia are numerous; however, it is the paper wasps, bald-faced hornets, yellow jackets, and European hornets that are the more commonly encountered.
Bald-faced hornets are widely distributed in Virginia. They are very aggressive and up to about an inch long. The common name of this insect comes from its mainly black coloration, except for its predominantly white face. Bald-faced hornets nest above ground and build their large, aerial, grey paper-like nest in trees and sometimes-large shrubs. Another sign of the bald-face’s nest is a single opening to the nest, which is always guarded by a few hornets at the nest entrance.
Since the worker hornets are killed by the cold weather in the late fall, females from the nest that are fertilized by males seek shelter to overwinter in protected places. These fertile females will be the future queens of the next year’s nest. Nests are abandoned each year, although they will remain intact if not destroyed by animals or the effects of rain, cold weather, and winds.
One of the most common stinging insects encountered in the State is the yellow jacket. These pests build their nests underground or in protected locations above ground and if threatened or disturbed, they “boil” out of their nest and begin stinging ferociously to defend their nest.
Yellow Jackets are widely distributed throughout Virginia and are often seen during early fall picnics, outside parties, and other places where they are attracted to food odors, especially the sugars found in soft drinks and proteins found in meats.
These insects construct their nests from plant material mixed with their saliva, thus forming a thin material that looks like paper. Their nests include numerous easily seen compartments where fertile females lay their eggs and rear their young. Unlike yellow jackets, paper wasps build nests in fairly exposed yet sheltered areas. Examples of such locations include door frames, windowsills, under the eaves of houses, and in corners of garages and outdoor sheds. Paper wasps feed on nectar and pollen, although they also prey on insects and spiders.
European hornets, sometimes called giant hornets or brown hornets, are not as aggressive as bald-faced hornets, but will sting if their colony is disturbed. European hornets prefer to construct nests in secluded, aboveground locations, such as hollow trees, attics, porches and inside wall voids. The European hornet is the only species of true hornet located in the U.S.