Most people are under the impression that wasps are aggressive creatures that will readily sting any human or animal that either accidentally or deliberately disturbs their nests. In reality, more than 100,000 wasp species have been documented worldwide, the majority of which are solitary species that use their stingers solely for hunting prey. Colonies of social wasps, on the other hand, construct nests in urban and suburban settings where they pose an envenomation threat to humans and animals. Social wasps in Massachusetts include paper wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets.

The bald-faced hornet inhabits Massachusetts and it’s technically a yellow jacket variety of wasp, as the only true hornet found in the US is the European hornet (Vespa crabro), which can also be found in Massachusetts. The European hornet dwells in forested regions where they are rarely encountered by humans, but several ground and aerial nesting yellow jacket species sting humans in residential areas of Massachusetts regularly during the summer and fall seasons.

Ground nesting yellow jackets are considered by some experts to be more dangerous than aerial nesting species because ground nests are more likely to go unnoticed, and therefore, humans are more likely to inadvertently disturb their nests. Ground nesting yellow jackets will emerge to attack humans in response to disturbances that are common residential activities, such as mowing lawns, enjoying cookouts, trimming vegetation, and gardening. The most common ground nesting yellow jacket species in Massachusetts include the German Yellowjacket (Vespula germanica), the eastern yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons), the common yellowjacket (Vespula vulgaris), and the dubiously named ground hornet (Vespula vidua).

Occasionally the above named yellow jacket species will establish nests on decks and in wall voids, but they usually establish subterranean nests located along fence lines, against foundations and other structures, beneath wood piles, in areas with unkempt vegetation, beneath compost piles, in tree stumps, and in existing cavities where trees have been uprooted or where insects and other animals had excavated nests. Nests located in areas far away from high traffic areas should be left alone, but nests located in high traffic areas should be removed by a trained pest control professional.

Have you ever discovered a subterranean yellow jacket nest on your property?