The Different Types of Wasps in Oklahoma

a paper wasp which is a type of wasp in oklahoma

If you’ve ever been stung by a wasp, you know how painful it can be. Regardless of whether they have been stung before, most people go out of their way to avoid wasps. There are several different types of wasps in Oklahoma. Many build nests near human activity, which can make it hard to stay out of their way. This is why it’s good to know which types of wasps are aggressive toward humans, and which are less likely to bother you. It’s also helpful to know how to keep wasps away from your property.

Although some types of wasps look a lot like bees, they have many characteristics that set them apart. One is that, unlike bees, many types of wasps are solitary insects. Also, whereas bees can only sting once, wasps can sting multiple times. And, you can usually tell the difference between a bee hive and a wasp nest.

It is very rare for solitary wasps, like mud daubers and cicada killers, to sting humans. Instead, they use their stingers to capture insect prey and inject them with venom. On the rare occasion that they do happen to sting a person, their venom does not typically harm the person, unless the person has a severe allergic reaction.

Other wasps commonly found in Oklahoma, like yellow jackets and paper wasps, are social wasps. These wasps are somewhat more of a threat to humans, since they are more likely to sting.

Paper wasps typically don’t sting unless they feel they or their nests are in danger. Yellow jackets sting people when they feel threatened, but they can also be aggressive even when they aren’t in self-defense mode. When they want to attack, they send out signals to their fellow wasps to join them. This can be a dangerous situation for anyone, but especially for someone who is allergic to wasp stings.

Most people don’t want any type of wasps around their property. They especially don’t want them in areas where people and pets spend time. The best way to get rid of wasps is to remove their nests, but doing so can be dangerous. This is why it’s typically best to hire professional help for wasp control. A pest control specialist has the products and equipment needed to safely remove wasp nests, so you and your loved ones can enjoy your outdoor space without fear.

There are several types of wasps commonly found in Oklahoma. Let’s take a look at the main ones.

Stinging Wasps: Paper Wasps

Paper wasps are so called because of the papery nests they build for laying eggs. They build these nests in clusters of grayish-brown, downward-facing tubes. These tubes, also called cells, have six sides and are about a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch deep. Some people think the nests look like umbrellas, which is why paper wasps are also sometimes called umbrella wasps.

Adult paper wasps grow to about an inch long. As you can see in the image at the top of the page, paper wasps have slender bodies and long, slender, brown wings. These wasps are orangey-red, brown or dark brown in color. Some paper wasps are nearly black with yellow markings.

Female paper wasps build their nests in the spring. They gather dead wood and plant fibers, and mix these with their saliva to build nests in protected spots. Common spots for the nests include under building eaves, in sheds or in the ridges of gables on houses.

The female paper wasp has an interesting way of providing nutrition for her young. She finds caterpillars, chews on them, and then stuffs one into each cell of her nest. Then she lays an egg on top of each caterpillar and closes off the cell.

It only takes a few days for the eggs to hatch into larvae. As soon as the larvae emerge, they start feeding on the caterpillars left for them by the female wasp. Within a couple of weeks of feeding and molting inside their cells, the larvae spin cocoons and transform into pupae.

After another week, the new paper wasps hatch. The original female wasp will keep feeding her new offspring for a few more weeks. Even after her offspring leave the nest, she will stay and continue reproducing as long as the nest isn’t disturbed. Paper wasp nests can grow as large as six to eight inches in diameter.

These wasps are pollinators, and they also prey on certain caterpillars, flies and other insects that we consider pests. Paper wasps do sting humans, but usually only if they feel threatened.

For this reason, many people choose not to remove these wasp nests unless they are too close to human activity. Though paper wasps are not typically aggressive, their stings can be very harmful for people who are allergic to their venom.

yellowjackets on a nest

Stinging Wasps: Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets are so named for the yellow-and-black markings on their bodies, though one type of yellow jacket, the baldfaced hornet, has white markings instead of yellow. A bit smaller than paper wasps, yellow jackets grow to about a half-inch long. They can be very aggressive toward humans, especially when they feel that they or their nests are being threatened.

Yellow jackets also get more aggressive starting in the fall, when their natural food sources start to dwindle. These wasps feed on plant nectars and fruits as well as insects and even fish or other meat. Most of these foods are plentiful throughout spring and summer, but less so in the fall. This is why you might see yellow jackets hovering around garbage bins in late summer and fall. They are searching for the sugars, carbohydrates and proteins they need to survive.

Like paper wasps, female yellow jackets build nests out of chewed plant fibers. They often build them underground, but sometimes in trees or buildings. Their nests look like rounded structures made of papier-máchê. The female that builds the nest will attack aggressively if she feels her nest is being threatened. If any of her offspring have hatched into worker wasps, they will join her in her attack. Even for people who aren’t allergic to wasp stings, receiving multiple stings from an angry swarm of yellow jackets can be a scary and painful experience.

Solitary Wasps: Mud Daubers, Cicada Killers and Potter Wasps

A big difference between solitary wasps and stinging wasps, like paper wasps and yellow jackets, is their natural defense of their nests. Female solitary wasps build nests, lay eggs and feed their young in many of the same ways as paper wasps and yellow jackets. They just don’t protect their nests as aggressively, or at all.

A female solitary wasp will hunt down insects, paralyze them and bring them back to her nest site. There, she will lay an egg on the paralyzed insect prey and seal them off together in a cell. This is so the developing larva will have a ready-made meal when it emerges. The female wasp will do this process over and over again, several times, in order to produce multiple offspring.

a cicada killer wasp

It can be alarming to see a solitary wasp. They just look threatening—especially the bigger ones. As you can see in the image above, cicada killer wasps are black and yellow, and they grow to an inch and a half long, with thicker bodies than many other types of wasps. The females build nests for laying eggs underground. Then they fly low to the ground, searching for the cicadas they use for feeding themselves and their young.

If you accidentally step on a cicada killer in your yard, it may sting you—but not if it’s male. The males do not have stingers.

potter wasp

Potter wasps, pictured above, are black and yellow or white, and much smaller than cicada killers. They are so named because they build small structures out of clay for their nests. They might build these attached to twigs in trees or bushes, but they also might build them under the eaves of a building, garage or carport.

a mud dauber wasp

Mud daubers are a bit bigger than potter wasps—about the same size as paper wasps. As you can see in the image above, they might be black, black and yellow, or even a very dark, metallic blue color. Their abdomens are connected to the rest of their bodies by a very narrow “thread,” which is one of the features that distinguishes them from other wasps. These wasps like moisture, because they use mud to build their nests.

If you aren’t sure what type of wasp you have on your property or whether it is a harmful or aggressive type, it’s a good idea to reach out to a pest control specialist. A pro can assist with wasp identification and control. They can determine which nests are a threat to people and their pets, and which, if any, might be safely left alone.

a wasp eating plant nectar

What Do Wasps Eat?

What do wasps eat? Though there is some variation from one wasp species to another, most have similar diets. Many types of wasps eat fruit and plant nectars as well as various kinds of insects and spiders. This is one reason that wasps are beneficial. They eat plenty of species of insects that people consider to be undesirable pests. This includes things like certain caterpillars that can harm our trees and gardens.

Other types of wasps eat dead animals. They might consume carrion for their own nutrition, or they might bring scraps back to feed their young.

a backyard with no wasps

When Do Wasps Go Away?

Many people with wasps on their property wonder, when do wasps go away? Most wasps build their nests and lay eggs in spring. Those eggs develop into larvae, then pupae, and finally adult wasps over the course of four to six weeks.

Depending on what type of wasps they are, these new adult wasps might develop into reproductives or workers. Worker wasps typically lives only a few weeks. A female wasp that mates and then builds a nest to lay her eggs is the queen, and queen wasps can live up to a year.

Most wasps are active in Oklahoma throughout summer. They start to die off in fall, when their natural food sources, like fruits, plant nectars and caterpillars, are less available. Most types of wasps die off in winter, when they can’t survive the colder temperatures.

Wasps that build their nests inside buildings or within wall voids can survive throughout the winter, however. A pest control specialist is the best person to safely treat and get rid of the wasps. Wasp nests need to be removed so they aren’t reused in the future by other wasps. A professional has the products and training needed to perform wasp removal safely.

ABC Can Control the Wasps on Your Property

It can be frightening when you notice wasp activity on your property. If you believe you have a wasp nest on your property, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our team can create a pest control plan to remove the nest.

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