Along with ants, and colony-dwelling bees and wasps, termites are eusocial insects. Several arthropod groups like cockroaches and wolf spiders exhibit varying degrees of sociality, but the term “eusocial” refers only to species that demonstrate the most advanced forms of social organization. In order for an insect species to be considered eusocial, the species must provide offspring care and live in a colony that functions in accordance with a strict division of labor among the inhabitants. Unlike solitary and quasi-social insects, the individual inhabitants of eusocial insect colonies are fully altruistic, as they live only to defend their colony, as opposed to themselves. Most eusocial insect species inhabit undisturbed landscapes where they are rarely encountered by humans, but a small minority of ant, bee, wasp, and termite species are common pests of homes and buildings.

Several wasp, bee, and ant species are considered pests because they pose a public health threat, and this is especially the case with invasive European fire ants and yellow jackets, both of which can be found in Massachusetts.  Some eusocial insect pests are known to establish indoor nests that result in property damage. Examples in Massachusetts include several carpenter ant species that see workers compromise the structural integrity of homes and buildings by excavating nests within structural wood. Honey bees, bumblebees, aerial-nesting yellow jackets, and paper wasps occasionally establish nests within wall voids and attics where they often expand, resulting in cracked and damaged wall-plaster, insulation, and other materials.

Not long ago on the New England coast, a homeowner discovered honey dripping from her walls before a pest control professional revealed that she had thousands of honey bees nesting within her wall voids. This infestation ended up costing the homeowner more than 10,000 dollars in repair bills, and several similar honey bee infestations are documented in the region each year. Just last month, a pest control professional found around 30,000 honey bees nesting within the honey-drenched walls of a Pennsylvania couple’s home. While such infestations can result in costly damage, no insect group, eusocial or otherwise, inflicts as much property destruction in the US as termites. Termites cause between five and seven billion dollars in property destruction annually in the US, and subterranean termite species are responsible for most of this damage. The easern subterranean termite is the most economically costly pest in the US, and unfortunately, this is the only termite pest species found in Massachusetts.

Have you ever found an active wasp nest in your home?