Wasp stings are more painful than the sting of any yellow jacket, hornet or bee. Paper wasps nest in sheltered attics, under deck rails or under the childrens' slide, because their uncovered paper nest is otherwise unprotected from the weather. Colonizing wasps nest underground, emerging at night to avoid detection by predatory birds. They aerate the soil with neatly drilled holes, placing a paralyzed insect in each chamber to feed their emerging larva.
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Common Pennsylvania Paper Wasps
Paper wasps, the most common wasp in Pennsylvania, may be mistaken for a yellow jacket. The paper wasp, which is smaller than a yellow jacket, is thin in the middle with rear legs that extend behind it when it flies. A paper wasp may have yellow bands on its abdomen. Larvae open from cells in the wasp's nest and do not develop legs until mature.
Male paper wasps sense motion 10 to 12 feet away, but tend to sting only within inches of their nest. They nest behind shutters, under the eaves of human dwellings and other structures, in childrens' swing sets or near outside lights.
Eastern Cicada-Killer Wasps
Buzzing around your Pennsylvania picnic table on the Fourth of July, the huge yellow jacket is actually a cicada killer wasp. Cicada killers are 1.5 to 2 inches long, predominantly brown or black with amber wings and yellow on their face and abdomen. Cicada killers colonize in well-drained, sandy soil that is exposed to direct sunlight.
Female cicada killers capture and sting cicadas, which paralyzes them. The female wasp lays eggs on the paralyzed cicada, which she buries alive. With multiple chambers underground, the queen wasp places one egg in each chamber. Each egg produces a larva, which feeds on the buried cicada.
Great Black Wasp
Great black wasps feed on nectar and sap, but they will drink the fluids of prey. Like the cicada killer, great black wasps bury paralyzed insects under the ground to feed their larvae. Sixty-five species of great black wasps prey on katydids and grasshoppers in Pennsylvania. They are .8 to 1.4 inches long with a black segmented body. It may have smoky rings around its abdomen.
The queen great black wasp digs a chamber to house each egg or larva. The queen wasp glues a single egg, .about one-quarter inch long and nearly half an inch wide, to the underside of two to six paralyzed katydids or grasshoppers.
Warning: Wasps Are Dangerous
Wasps and bees inflict almost all fatal bug bites in the United States, according to Penn State University College of Agricultural Science. About 3 percent of adults in the United States do not know they are severely allergic to wasp venom, and 40 to 100 people will die annually from insect stings. To kill wasps, exterminators will spray a solution specifically made to kill wasps on the wasps' nests from 10 to 20 feet away from the nest.
It's important to note that wasps don't fly around looking for trouble. They are not likely to sting unless they feel threatened or if they're defending their nests.