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Bee/Insect Identification

Disturbed by stinging insects at your picnic, in your garden, or in the attic? Know what insects are invading your space!

Bees, Wasps, and Hornets

Most encounters with insects occur near the home or out and about and involve interactions with insects at their nests or when they are seeking forage.  


The design of this page is to help you identify what you are encountering and what to expect as far as the defensiveness of insects which tends to be the biggest concern.  In addition, we will do all that we can to help you distinguish honey bees from other insects.


Honey Bees are distant relatives of wasps and hornets and each type of insect has its own markings and distinct behavior. Some insects are more defensive than others, and being able to identify which type of bee or wasp is sharing your space makes it easier to adjust to their presence.

Common insects that you'll encounter


Honey Bee

Hairy, w/ black body and brown & gold bands - 1/2"

Nest: Honeybees are social insects and live in nature as colonies in trees, walls, and sometimes the ground.  The cavities of the nest are range from the size of a basketball to a large trunk.  Bees are also managed of course in man-made hives that can range from 20,000 - 80,000 individuals.
Threat: Honeybees are not aggressive when encountered in the wild and do not search for something to attack. Instead, they are defensive and will attack only whatever seems to threaten the colony or when contacted roughly, stepped upon with bare feet, or caught in clothing and hair.


European Hornet

Brown and Yellow w/ red markings - 1 to 1 1/4"

Nest: European hornets build paper carton nests that are usually covered in a brown paper envelope as protection. Typically, the nests can be found in hollow trees, barns, outbuildings, hollow walls of houses, and attics.

Threat: European hornets are considered beneficial insects because they control many pest species. However, if their nest is located near a structure, control is warranted.


Yellow Jacket Wasp

Hairy, w/ black body and brown & gold bands - 1/2"

Nest: Yellowjackets live in nests constructed of paper carton, which can grow to be basketball-sized. One nest will contain a number of rounded paper combs, attached one below another and covered with a many-layered envelope. Depending on the species, the nest may be near the ground, such as on plant roots, logs, or timber, or aerial and attached to shrubs, bushes, houses, garages, or sheds.

Threat: Yellowjackets are slow to sting unless their nests are threatened. Yellowjackets are considered beneficial insects because they control many pest insect species. However, if their nest is located near a structure, control is warranted.  They often pose a problem for homeowners when located in the ground and are impacted upon mowing the property.


Mud Dauber Wasp

Black will pale markings and metallic luster - 1"

Nest: Mud daubers are solitary wasps and do not live in colonies. Females construct nests of mud. Many short mud tubes, usually about 1 inch long, are constructed side by side. They frequently build nests under eaves, porch ceilings, in garages and sheds, barns, protected building walls, and attics.

Threat: Mud daubers are considered beneficial insects because they control spiders. However, if their nest is located near human activity, control is warranted. 



Black and Yellow markings, hairy - 1"

Nest: Bumble bees build their nests out of pollen clumps, usually in the ground or a dense grass clump, and often in an abandoned mouse nest.

Threat: Bumblebees are considered beneficial insects because they pollinate flowers. However, they can sting. If a nest is located in or near a structure, then control is necessary.  With proper protection, a nest can be relocated to an alternate location.  If away from people, they should be left to survive.


Carpenter Bee

Black and Yellow w/ bare and shiny abdomen -3/4 to 1"

Nest: Carpenter bees do not live in nests or colonies. They bore into wood, where they make galleries for rearing their young. Carpenter bees tend to prefer decaying or weathered wood to new or painted wood. 

Threat: Carpenter bees are a serious property threat, and can cause structural damage over time if they are not eliminated. Male carpenter bees can be territorial and may hover in front of one's face aggressively, but they have no stinger and these actions are merely for show. Female carpenter bees do have a potent sting, which is rarely used.


Bald Faced Hornet

Black w/ Ivory or white markings - 3/4"

Nest: Bald-faced hornets build aerial nests out of paper carton. The nests are usually in exposed locations, often on trees, utility poles, overhangs, or other structures. The nests can be quite large, growing to 14 inches in diameter and 24 inches in length.

Threat: Bald-faced hornets are considered beneficial insects because they control many pest insect species. However, if their nest is located near a structure, control is warranted. If away from people they should be left to survive and often are high up and do not pose a threat if left alone.


Eastern Cicada Killer Wasp

Black Yellow stripes and brownish wings - 1 to 2"

Nest: This ground-burrowing wasp may be found in well-drained, sandy soils, loose clay, in bare or grass-covered banks, berms, and hills as well as next to raised sidewalks, driveways, and patio slabs.

Threat: Cicada-killer wasps are not aggressive and females rarely sting unless they are grasped roughly, stepped upon with bare feet, or caught in clothing.  The males have no stinger.   They are generally non-aggressive towards humans and usually fly away when swatted at, instead of attacking.


Red Paper Wasps

Brown w/ yellow & reddish markings - .7 to 1"

Nest: Paper wasps get their name from the paper-like material of which they construct their nest. Paper wasp nests are often umbrella-like in shape and are never enclosed in an envelope. Nests are often found hanging from twigs and branches of trees and shrubs, as well as porch ceilings, door frames, eaves, deck floor joints, railings, etc.

Threat: If a nest is touched, there is a high probability you will get stung when coming into contact with a paper wasp nest.  They are typically not an aggressive type of wasp away from the nest. Paper wasps are considered beneficial insects because they control many pest insect species. However, if their nest is located near a structure, control is warranted.


Great Golden Digger Wasp

Black head with golden body and a dark back half of the abdomen - 3/4 to 1"

Nest: Diggers wasps burrow one-inch small cylinder shape holes about 4 to 6 inches deep in open locations with limited vegetation surrounding.

Threat: Digger wasps are not aggressive and do not defend their nests.  They are not aggressive and exhibit a wary nature that results in them looking to less trafficked areas for nesting.

Common Insects and what they look like

Typical bees, wasps, and hornets you will encounter in NJ.

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Honey Bee Insights

A quick insight about honey bees - They are vegetarians.

Unlike wasps, bees are purely vegetarian in both the adult and larval stages. Bees gather nectar from flowers as a source of carbohydrates, as do many wasps. They fulfill their protein needs by collecting pollen. Most species of bees are valuable pollinators, and honey bees in particular are an essential partner in the production of food crops for people.

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Honey Bee Benefits

Honey Bees pollinate every two out of three bites of food you eat

Honey bees are essential to our system of agriculture. The California almond crop alone requires over 1.5 million colonies of bees for pollination. New Jersey crops like blueberries and cranberries, of vital importance to the state’s agriculture, also rely on honey bee pollination. Most fruit and nut crops, as well as many legumes (such as soybeans) either require or are enhanced by honey bee pollination. 

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Honey Bee Insights

Honey bees reproduce in nature by casting off swarms.

When the hive or nest becomes too crowded, half of the bees will fly off in search of a new home. This is called swarming. The bees look for a protected above-ground cavity of the right size. Occasionally they will make a nest in a man-made structure. If you believe a swarm has made a home on your property and you wish to have it removed, you can visit our swarm collection page to relocate them.

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