Fire up the barbecue and throw on those rib-eyes! Spring is in full bloom and so is the anticipation that comes with backyard barbecues, picnics, and any other activity where the smoke-filled air is like the aroma of life. If you want to throw a party for a colony of yellow jackets, fine, cook all the meat you need. But if that isn’t what you had in mind, read on.

People often confuse paper wasps with hornets, yellow jackets with bees, and a hornet could be associated with any flying stinging insect. In fact, all three insects have been mistaken for each other at one time or another. Anytime we see that flash of yellow and black flying about the assumption is often that a colony of Africanized “killer” bees has taken over the city. More than likely, it’s a colony of yellow jackets. And they don’t mind stinging you repeatedly if provoked. Sometimes they will sting you even when not provoked. All insect stings are painful. Even if you’re not allergic to the venom, the yellow jacket sting is unbearably painful. A myriad of various types of stinging insects fly within the boundaries of Nebraska, however, this discussion will stay within the confines of paper wasps, hornets and yellow jackets. It is surprising to find that all three insects are part of the wasp family.

The main difference between these three stinging insects is found in the type of nest they build, type of behavior they exhibit, and the food they eat.

Did you know: Approximately two million people in America are allergic to insect stings.

Paper Wasps

The paper wasp is so named because the type of nest it builds is consists of plant material and saliva. The nests comprise many compartments where the paper wasp rears its young. Nests are often found in hidden protective areas such as the eaves of a house or business, hollow of old logs, hollow of metal porch rails, pipes, HVAC systems, rooftops, or the shady shelter of a gazebo. The paper wasp is not as aggressive as the yellow jacket but will sting if the nest is threatened. The paper wasp dines on flower nectar and other insects such as caterpillars and flies.

Prevention Tips

  • Ensure there are no paper wasp nests hidden before trimming shrubs and hedges.
  • Treat wood surfaces such as fences or deck railings with an oil based repellent that will prevent the nest-building material from sticking. The wasps will move on.
  • Above all, if you find a nest call your humble, knowledgeable pest control company to find out what they can do for you.


Nests are constructed from wood pulp and saliva. Hornets like to build their nests in trees, on the sides of buildings, near or on the HVAC system, roof tops, log hollows, and just about any out of reach area. Don’t disturb a hornet nest unless you want to get stung. Hornets are extremely aggressive and protective when their nest is distressed. A hornet nest can comprise thousands of hornets. Disturbing a hornet’s nest is very much like North Korea disturbing the United States and its coalition. And like the hornet, the USA is more than capable of multiple stings should that ever be necessary. Hornets are pest control affiliates because their diet consists of insects.

Yellow Jackets

We save the best for last. This nasty wasp looks more like a bee than the paper wasp or the hornet. The most significant visual difference is the lack of fuzz on its body and a slightly narrower waist. The color of a bee is bit closer to orange and black than yellow and black and has a rounded tummy and an ample amount of fuzz for pollinating purposes. Yellow jackets build their nests underground, sometimes in rat burrows, although sometimes nests are constructed in trees. Adults live through one season and feed on a variety of foods including fruits, flower nectar, and meats. Yellow jackets loiter around dumpsters or anywhere the invigorating bouquet of a barbecue or picnic is lying in wait. In order to achieve a successful program to eliminate this pest, identification is imperative.

Did you know: Even though wasps lack the same amount of fuzz that a bee proudly displays, they have the ability to pollinate also. You may not want them at your picnic, or anywhere near your home but it is worth noting that the wasp does serve several environmental tasks such as pollinating and insect elimination.

If you begin to see wasps, resist driving down to your local big box store to buy the so-called latest and greatest control method. Do not try to become a do-it-yourself hero with a pair of goggles and a can of pesticide purporting to project a 20-foot spray. That is an expensive ticket to quickly become a victim of multiple stings and bites not to mention suffering from possible side-effects from the pesticide. Insect identification enables the pest control professional to formulate a treatment plan. Miller Pest and Termite in Omaha will quickly identify the type of stinging insect on your property and provide a viable action plan that will keep those grubby meat-eating wasps out of your rib eyes.