When Pests Invade

Common Wasps and Hornets in the US and Canada sorted by Aggressivity and Venom


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When it comes to understanding the buzzing world of wasps and hornets in the US and Canada, it’s crucial to differentiate between these winged wonders based on their size, habitat, and behavior. Our guide delves into the most common species, providing essential information on their measurements, aggressivity levels, and venom potency. Not only does this knowledge equip homeowners and outdoor enthusiasts with the insights to safely navigate their surroundings, but it also offers fascinating tidbits for the curious mind.

With wasps and hornets playing pivotal roles in our ecosystem — from pollination to natural pest control — a thorough understanding of these insects is invaluable. Read on to discover which wasp might be setting up shop in your backyard or which hornet buzzed past you during your last hike.

Paper Wasps (Genus: Polistes):

  • Size: 0.7-1.0 inches (1.8-2.5 cm)
  • Description: Slender with long legs that dangle during flight. They are mostly brown with yellow markings.
  • Habitat: Create open-comb nests, often found hanging from eaves, branches, or railings.
  • Aggressivity: 5/10 — Generally not aggressive unless provoked, especially near their nests.
  • Venom: 5/10 — Their sting is painful but usually not severe unless someone is allergic.
paper wasps

Yellow Jackets (Genus: Vespula and Dolichovespula):

  • Size: 0.5-0.75 inches (1.3-1.9 cm)
  • Description: Bright yellow and black patterns. Short and stout appearance.
  • Habitat: Often build underground nests, but some species create aerial nests.
  • Aggressivity: 8/10 — Known for being aggressive, especially in late summer and near their nests.
  • Venom: 7/10 — Their stings are painful, and they can sting multiple times.
Yellow Jackets

Bald-Faced Hornets (Dolichovespula maculata):

  • Size: 0.5-0.75 inches (1.3-1.9 cm)
  • Description: Large, black and white (or pale yellow) wasps.
  • Habitat: Build large paper nests, often hanging from trees, shrubs, or building overhangs.
  • Aggressivity: 7/10 — Protective of their nests and can be aggressive when threatened.
  • Venom: 7/10 — Their sting is known to be quite painful.
Bald faced hornets

Mud Daubers (Various genera, including Sceliphron and Chalybion):

  • Size: 0.5-1.0 inches (1.3-2.5 cm)
  • Description: Black or metallic blue, slender with a thread-like waist.
  • Habitat: Construct tubular mud nests, often found on building sides, under eaves, or in garages and sheds.
  • Aggressivity: 2/10 — They are solitary and typically non-aggressive.
  • Venom: 4/10 — Their sting is mild and rare due to their non-aggressive nature.
Mud daubers

Cicada Killers (Sphecius speciosus):

  • Size: 1.0-1.5 inches (2.5-3.8 cm)
  • Description: Large, with black and pale yellow to reddish markings.
  • Habitat: Burrow into the ground, often in sandy soils.
  • Aggressivity: 3/10 — Generally not aggressive to humans.
  • Venom: 6/10 — Their sting can be painful, but they’re less likely to sting humans unless provoked.
Cedida Killer hornets

European Hornet (Vespa crabro):

  • Size: 0.9-1.4 inches (2.3-3.6 cm)
  • Description: Large, with a reddish-brown head and thorax with a yellow abdomen striped with brown or black.
  • Habitat: Builds paper nests, often in hollow trees, barns, or attics.
  • Aggressivity: 6/10 — Can be aggressive when defending their nest.
  • Venom: 8/10 — Their sting is more painful than many other wasps.
european hornet

Mason Wasps (Genus: Euodynerus and others):

  • Size: 0.5-0.75 inches (1.3-1.9 cm)
  • Description: Varies in color but often black and orange or black and yellow.
  • Habitat: Use mud to construct nests in cavities.
  • Aggressivity: 3/10 — Generally not aggressive.
  • Venom: 5/10 — Their sting can be painful, but incidents are rare.
mason wasp

These sizes are approximate averages, as there can be variation within each species. Always remember that an individual’s experience with stings can vary based on factors like sensitivity, allergic reactions, and more. Exercise caution around these insects and seek medical attention if a sting causes an abnormal or severe reaction.

It’s essential to remember that the experience of pain from a sting can be subjective. While some people might find a particular wasp sting to be very painful, others might find it bearable. Additionally, some people can experience severe allergic reactions from wasp stings, making them potentially life-threatening regardless of the species. Always exercise caution around these insects and seek medical attention if a sting causes an abnormal or severe reaction.

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