Don't Let Stinging Insects Ruin Your Fourth Of July!

yellow jacket

It’s Independence Day and Americans everywhere are ready for the fireworks, parades, and backyard barbecues to start very soon. While many Fourth of July traditions go off without a hitch, picnics tend to attract some potentially dangerous visitors. Stinging insects have a big sweet tooth, and their affinity for watermelon, sugary drinks, and your dad’s famous barbecue sauce could really put a damper on your patriotic celebration. Stinging insects can be aggressive, and therefore difficult or even dangerous to get rid of. The good news is that with proper treatment and prevention, you can stop these party crashers from ruining your barbecue. 

Common stinging insects that reside in New Haven and surrounding areas are yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps. While all three share similar characteristics, they differ mainly in behavior and level of aggression. Recognizing the differences among these insects will help homeowners in protecting their families, guests, and property from these pests.

Yellow Jackets

Yellow Jackets are a type of social wasp, which means that they build nests and live with other yellow jackets as part of a colony. The two species of yellow jackets most often seen in Connecticut are the Common Yellow Jackets and Eastern Yellow Jackets. These yellow jackets typically are seen with yellow coloring and black bands across their body. The queen will hibernate in the winter, and build a nest in the spring before she starts breeding more and more worker yellow jackets in the summer months. The queen will build the nest made from cellulose, which the queen produces by chewing up bits of wood. Once she has produced a few workers, they will take over to enlarge the nest for more individuals.

Yellow jackets are slow to sting, but they are territorial creatures that will respond aggressively if an intruder comes in too close range of their nest. Yellow jackets will not lose their stingers and are likely to sting more than a few times if threatened. These stings are very painful and could pose an even greater threat to young children, seniors, and those who are allergic. If you or someone is stung by a yellow jacket, the stinger must be removed from the skin immediately- the corner of a credit card or a pair of tweezers has shown to be effective tools in removing stingers. Common allergic reactions to yellow jacket include swelling, hives, and trouble breathing. If the individual is experiencing any of these symptoms, medical assistance or a poison control center must be sought out immediately.

The reason why barbeques, picnics, and parties tend to be susceptible to yellow jackets is that they tend to nest in recreational areas, like parks, playgrounds, and backyards. Fences, water fountains, and even the ground are common spots for yellow jacket nests. They prefer food that is high in protein and sugar, especially if it is easy to find. This makes food from humans left outside unattended especially appealing to yellow jackets.    


Hornets are another frequent problem experienced at large get-togethers. Hornets can be frightening to some because of their size- over two inches- but these insects are slow-moving and, like the yellow jacket, do not attack unless there is something near their nest. Hornets are also orange-red. Even though they may not sting right away, hornets have a lot of potent venom due to their size. The sting is extremely painful, and can even be fatal if not treated right away. Like yellow jacket stings, allergic reactions are possible and the signs must be recognized for the individual to be treated by a medical professional.

Hornets prefer to operate socially, so they will attack in a group and sting multiple times. The most commonly seen hornet in Connecticut is the bald-faced hornet. This hornet is recognized by its white face contrasting against its black body. These “hornets” are considered a type of wasp, purely due to their anatomy and appearance. These stinging insects may go into garbage cans looking for food, so an unsealed trash can at a picnic would be a big attraction for hornets. They also prefer high-protein substances, like meat or pet food that has been left out. They are also attracted to sweets and may rest upon soda cans or drink glasses containing sweet liquids. Hornets have such a strong sweet tooth that they may even hang out in abandoned beehives to get to the leftover honey. Because of this, it may be helpful for homeowners who have seen bees on their property in the past to also look out for hornets.

These insects are nocturnal and are particularly attracted to white lights. If you have outdoor lights with white bulbs, you may see the hornets swarming. To prevent swarms from surrounding your outside lights, changing the white bulbs to insect-repelling yellow bulbs is highly recommended. Unlike yellow jackets, hornets rarely, if ever, build nests in the ground. Hornets prefer to build nests in the air, at three feet or higher above the ground. Their nests may be free-hanging, where the nest is attached by a “handle”, called the petiole, created by the Hornets with the same material from their nest. The petiole is then attached to trees, sheds, decks, or other tall structures. Hornets may also choose to build their nests in enclosed spaces, such as attics, under roofs, or in crawl spaces.                                                                                                                                                                                                         


Wasps can be either solitary or social. Social wasps will build nests made from chewed pulp, while solitary wasps will forage for food on their own. Solitary wasps tend to use their stingers to hunt; social wasps will sting to defend their nest. Social wasp queens will begin to build a nest in the spring. She will then produce a beginning line of worker females, who will expand the nest for more worker wasps. By summertime, the wasps will have multiplied into a colony.

Paper wasps are most typically seen in Connecticut, along with the bald-faced hornet. Paper wasps tend to be smaller, although their coloring is similar to that of yellow jackets. These wasps tend to hang out in playsets, decks, and the eaves of houses. Wasps are very protective of their nests and will not hesitate if they feel threatened. Wasps can also sting multiple times. Even if you kill a wasp, they will release pheromones to signal to other wasps in the colony that danger is present. The pheromones will draw in the other wasps and encourage them to defend the nest against the danger present.

Wasps often build their nests in the ground, so some homeowners may unknowingly disturb nests just by mowing their lawn or enjoying their yard space, especially in preparation for a fourth of July celebration. Their nests can often be concealed in places that are not easily detectable, making it even more dangerous when large groups are gathered near where a nest might be. Once again, an individual who has been stung by a wasp must have the stinger removed from the skin immediately and brought to a medical or poison control professional as soon as possible. A cold compress and a painkiller or antihistamine to stop itchiness are also useful in treating wasp stings.

What Do I Do?

Stinging insects can be intimidating, but don’t let them take a toll on your property or time with loved ones. If you do see more stinging insects than usual around your home, it may be helpful to check decks, stairs, attics, crawl spaces, play areas, and water sources like fountains, birdbaths, and hose spigots. Removing the nest or relying on home remedies like smoke can be risky and dangerous, not to mention extremely painful. Because of their aggressive nature and overall difficulty to get rid of, it is highly advised that a trained professional is contacted to remove these pests. Contact us for proper removal so you can breathe a sigh of relief and focus on celebrating your Fourth of July. Have a happy and safe Independence Day!