12 Common Wasps & Hornets in Alabama (ID Guide)

What types of wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets live in Alabama?

Types of wasps in Alabama

It’s no secret that these insects are the leading cause of screaming at outdoor events! Most of the species below can’t resist investigating a soda or sugary treat. 🙂

Despite their negative reputation, wasps and hornets have fascinating lives. In addition, many are beneficial because of the amount of pests they eat in your yard. They are also important pollinators!

But you do need to be careful around most types of wasps and hornets, especially if you approach their nest. They can become VERY aggressive when defending their home.

12 COMMON Wasps & Hornets in Alabama:

#1. Dark Paper Wasp

  • Polistes fuscatus

Also called the Northern Paper Wasp.

Types of wasps in Alabama

  • Adults have slender bodies, pointed heads, waists connecting their abdomens and thoraxes, and antennae, which are more curved in males.
  • They are dark reddish-brown with yellow bands on their bodies, and males have more yellow markings on the front of their heads.

These wasps are common to see in Alabama!

Dark Paper Wasps often build nests around human homes and outbuildings as long as they can find good sources of wood fibers for construction.

Unfortunately, their proximity to humans sometimes leads to unwanted interactions. Females sometimes sting humans or domestic animals when defending their nest. They are especially aggressive during the early part of the year when the nest is full of brood, waiting to become wasps. Towards the end of the summer, when most of the wasps are adults, they are less aggressive in defending the nest.

dark paper wasp nest

These wasps have some interesting eating habits! The adults get most of their nutrition from flower nectar, just like bees! I spot them often on the flowers in my backyard, especially on goldenrod flowers in the fall.

However, Dark Paper Wasps also spend a lot of time catching caterpillars and other small insects. The workers chew up this prey and absorb most of the liquid. They feed the solid portion to older larvae and then regurgitate the liquid for young larvae.

While Dark Paper Wasps can be a bit intimidating, their’ insectivorous behavior actually makes them great creatures for homeowners and gardeners to have around, as they eat a lot of pests.

#2. Bald-faced Hornet

  • Dolichovespula maculata

Also called the Bald-faced Aerial Yellowjacket, Bald-faced Wasp, Bald Hornet, White-faced Hornet, Blackjacket, White-tailed Hornet, Spruce Wasp, and Bull Wasp.

Types of hornets in Alabama

  • They have black bodies with ivory markings on their faces, legs, thoraxes, and abdomens.
  • Look for three white stripes at the ends of their bodies.

Bald-faced Hornets are named for the ivory markings on their face. Despite the name, these insects aren’t true hornets. They’re actually a type of yellowjacket.

Bald-face Hornets don’t have a pleasant reputation in Alabama.

They aggressively defend their nests and can sting repeatedly. But while their appearance and nests can be scary, they’re pretty handy to have around (as long as the nest isn’t close to human habitation).

First, the adults feed on nectar and help to pollinate flowers. In addition, they also kill and eat other types of yellowjackets! Sometimes, in early summer, a nest will be so full of yellowjacket remains that it will have a yellowish cast! Unless their nest is somewhere you’ll come into contact with it, it’s best to leave them be.

I’m sure you have spotted one of their nests before. They are large, papery, and football-shaped. The queen builds these nests by chewing wood material and mixing it with her saliva to make a paste.

bald faced hornet nest

Bald-faced Hornet queens usually hang their nests from shrubs or trees. Sometimes, they’ll use other spots, including rocks, buildings, and other artificial materials. The queen typically continues creating workers into the summer until the nest has 100 to 400 individuals!

#3. Eastern Yellowjacket

  • Vespula maculifrons

Types of yellowjackets in Alabama

  • They are black with yellow markings.
  • Their first abdominal segment has a wide, black, anchor-shaped marking.
  • Cheeks have continuous yellow bands that don’t completely encircle their eyes.

Eastern Yellowjackets seem to be found in every habitat in Alabama!

In urban and suburban areas, you may spot them in woodlands, parks, pastures, and lawns. They’re not picky!

And unfortunately, these wasps can deliver an incredibly painful sting. Make sure you don’t wander too close to their nests, which they aggressively defend! These nests can be huge, as queens produce up to 25,000 individuals over a season.

Another problem with Eastern Yellowjackets is their nests are typically underground, so it’s hard to spot one. The nests are often found in residential lawns and are inconveniently discovered while mowing. 🙂

eastern yellowjacket nest

Eastern Yellowjackets feed on flower nectar and fruit juices (or soda and sugar) but spend much of their time gathering food, such as insects and occasionally carrion, for the colony’s larvae. The larvae wiggle to inform nearby workers that they’re hungry, and the workers go out and capture other insects using their powerful mandibles. The workers cut up, chew the insects, then feed the paste to the larvae.

#4. Metric Paper Wasp

  • Polistes metricus

metric paper wasp

  • They are rusty with black markings on their thoraxes and mostly black abdomens.
  • They have an ocelli (simple eye) on their head, black upper legs, and yellow lower legs.

Metric Paper Wasps in Alabama tend to choose large, well-lit areas for their nests and often use sheds, barns, and under the eaves of dwellings. They prefer to build nests near ponds and other water sources as they make frequent trips to drink during the summer.

These wasps are distinct in their nesting habits. Unlike many more territorial wasps, Metric Paper Wasps will share nests with other Polistes species. They also reuse nests for multiple seasons.

metric paper wasp nest

Adults get some of their nutrition from flower nectar. They also collect caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects. They feed the solid portion to the larvae and consume the liquid and semi-solid for their own nutrition.

#5. Fraternal Potter Wasp

  • Eumenes fraternus

fraternal potter wasp

  • Black, shiny abdomens with ivory markings on their faces, thoraxes, and bellies.
  • They have metallic bluish-brown wings.

Fraternal Potter Wasps are solitary, docile wasps found in Alabama.

The name “wasp” may bring to mind large nests of defensive, often scary insects, but these little wasps don’t come close to that reputation! The females don’t even defend the nests; they only sting when purposely touched.

After mating, females begin building the characteristic little nests that give them their name. She sculpts little pot-like structures of clay and earth, usually securing them to vegetation. Occasionally, she will attach them to houses.

fraternal potter wasp nest

Once these little pots are finished, she begins collecting prey, usually caterpillars and small soft-bodied insects. Rather than eating them herself, she paralyzes the prey and places it into the pots.

Once enough is stored, she lays an egg in the pot, suspended over the prey. Then, she seals up the pot, allowing the egg to hatch, feed, and grow. The females don’t tend to the nests after this point.

#6. Four-toothed Mason Wasp

  • Monobia quadridens

four toothed mason wasp

  • Shiny black with white angled shoulder marks, thin white bands before their waists, and thicker white bands after their waists.
  • They have black wings with a metallic luster.
  • White markings on their abdomens resemble teeth (hence the name).

Their contrasting black-and-white coloring can make these medium-sized wasps seem a little scary. At first glance, they are often confused with the more territorial Bald-faced Hornet. However, Four-toothed Mason Wasps are solitary, docile wasps in Alabama.

They don’t even defend their nests! However, the females can sting if you handle them, and they’re said to have a sting comparable to a Bald-faced Hornet. Males of the species lack stingers but will jab you with the pointy end of their abdomen, which is said to feel more like a pin-prick.

YouTube video

Females typically build their nests in existing holes. She begins filling her nest by crawling into the tunnel’s far end and laying an egg. Then she hunts caterpillars, paralyzing them with her sting and placing them in front of the egg for the larva to eat when it hatches. When she’s satisfied with the number of caterpillars, she seals this tunnel section with two mud walls with an air pocket between them. She repeats the entire process until the tunnel is full.

These unusual mothers can choose to lay either a male or female. This is because males take less time to hatch. She places all the female eggs toward the back of the tunnel and all the males toward the front so they can hatch and leave without disturbing the female eggs.

#7. European Hornet

  • Vespa crabro

Types of hornets in Alabama

  • Adults are LARGE and range from .75 in (19 mm) to 1.4 in (35 mm) long.
  • They are brown with wide yellow markings.
  • They have light-colored faces.

This species is the only true hornet (genus Vespa) found in Alabama!

European Hornets were first reported in the United States in 1840 in New York and have since spread throughout much of the rest of the USA. These hornets are unusual for stinging insects; they fly and hunt during the day AND night.

Not surprisingly, their size allows them to go after larger prey than many other wasps. European Hornets will feed on bees, wasps, yellowjackets, flies, beetles, mantises, large moths, butterflies, and dragonflies. While they eat honeybees, they usually eat one or two and are not a major threat to honeybee hives.

They’re not strictly carnivores, though. European Hornets will also feed on fallen fruit, tree sap, and other sugary foods.

european hornet nest

European Hornets make intricate paper-like nests.

The lifecycle of a European Hornet begins in the spring with an overwintered, fertilized queen. She will start building a nest. Typically, these hornets select concealed, sheltered places for nests, such as barns, hollow trees, abandoned beehives, attics, and hollow walls. They cover exposed nests with a brown, papery covering. While they’re typically non-aggressive, these hornets will sting if their nest is threatened.

#8. Southern Yellowjacket

  • Vespula squamosa
Vespula squamosa. (2023, July 1). In Wikipedia.
  • Clear wings and hairless bodies.
  • They have black and yellow stripes over their entire bodies, but queens tend to be more orange.

Southern Yellowjackets are often found in close association with humans in Alabama, building their nests in yards, parks, and roadsides. Usually, they prefer to build their nests underground, but occasionally, they will construct them inside walls.

southern yellowjacket nest

Southern Yellowjacket workers use pheromones to coordinate their attack when defending their nest. These pheromones alert the other workers of danger and tell them where to go. Each individual can sting multiple times, so encounters with these nests often result in multiple painful stings.

Throughout the summer, the colony grows and can reach up to 4,000 individuals. While most yellowjacket species have annual nests, Southern Yellowjackets often have large multi-season nests, particularly in the warm coastal areas and the southern extent of their range. In this case, the workers and original queen will survive for multiple seasons and continue expanding. The original colony typically dies out in more northern areas in the fall.

The adults typically feed on nectar from flowers and other sugary foods. They’re often the unwanted guests circling picnics and garbage cans!

#9. Guinea Paper Wasp

  • Polistes exclamans

guinea paper wasp

  • They’re typically brown with yellow markings on their heads, thoraxes, and abdomens.
  • Narrow bodies, slender waists, smoky black wings, and antennae with red, black, and yellow bands.

Guinea Paper Wasps create small, umbrella-shaped nests with open combs that face downward. To protect their open nests, they typically seek out places that are protected from the rain. Often, this results in them using human-made structures and objects. It’s not unusual to see them building nests in storage sheds, mailboxes, pipes, infrequently used grills, and under the eaves of buildings.

guinea paper wasp nest

This wasp species is unique in Alabama because ALL of the female workers can reproduce. In the event a queen dies, a worker will take her place.

This raises an important question: What makes a queen different?

Scientists have found that queens have higher glucose, fructose, and trehalose levels. These compounds act as cryoprotectants, preventing ice build-up and allowing queens to survive cold temperatures.

In part due to their small, open nests, both worker and queen mortality rates are fairly high. To cope with this, Guinea Paper Wasps have developed the interesting habit of building satellite nests near their primary nest. The colony will move to a satellite nest if predators like birds or parasites destroy the primary nest.

#10. Hunter’s Little Paper Wasp

  • Polistes dorsalis

Hunter's Little Paper Wasp

  • V-shaped yellow markings on their heads.
  • They are usually dark brown or black.
  • Alternating dull orange, yellow, brown, and black sections on their abdomens.

As their name suggests, Hunter’s Little Paper Wasps are one of the smaller paper wasp species in Alabama. You’ll often find them in open areas like meadows, yards, or flatwoods.

The nests are open, umbrella-shaped nests the queen builds from chewed-up woody material and saliva. As these nests are so vulnerable, the queen usually selects a sheltered and inconspicuous spot, like in rock piles or hollow logs. In suburban and urban areas, the queens may build under the lower border of roofs or in dense shrubs.

Polistes dorsalis. (2023, July 31). In Wikipedia.

Adults feed on nectar and other sweet substances, including the honeydew from a fungus that affects grasses and cereals, including rye called ergot. Unfortunately, their feeding behavior also makes them vectors for this fungus, which can be detrimental to crops.

#11. Fine-backed Red Paper Wasp

  • Polistes Carolina

fine backed red paper wasp polistes carolina

  • They have black wings.
  • Reddish-brown with fine ridging on their first abdominal segment.

Fine-backed Red Paper Wasps live in woodlands or urban and suburban areas but seek protected locations for their nests. They often build nests in hollow trees in forests, but they usually use human-made structures for shelter near human development.

polistes carolina nest

The umbrella-shaped nest is made of compressed, chewed wood and saliva and features an open comb.

After constructing a nest, the queen will lay eggs and tend them until they become the colony’s first workers. These workers are non-reproductive females that take over expanding and defending the nest, tending the larvae, and foraging. If the primary queen dies, a worker may step up and take her place.

These wasps sometimes seem like a nuisance to homeowners in Alabama, but they can be very helpful to have around. To feed the larvae, workers prey on various garden pests, including beetles, cicadas, and caterpillars. They also feed on flower nectar and pollinate some of the plants they visit.

#12. Ringed Paper Wasp

  • Polistes annularis

Also called the Jack Spaniard Wasp.

Polistes annularis. (2023, June 24). In Wikipedia.
  • Black abdomens with a single yellow ring at the end of their first body segment.
  • They have rust-red faces and bodies, yellowish legs, and yellow antennae tips.

Ringed Paper Wasps have an extensive range, but they’re almost always found under overhangs along bodies of water, especially river banks. They find sheltered places like under the branches of trees and shrubs, cliff overhangs, or occasionally building eaves to build their nests.

If you find one of these wasps in Alabama, it’s likely you’ll find more.

That’s because Winged Paper Wasps tend to group their nests in large colonies called aggregations. The nests are also notable for their size. Ringed Paper Wasps’ nests are much larger than those of other paper wasps and often have about 500 cells.

YouTube video

These nests have open combs and look a bit umbrella-shaped. The queens or foundresses build the nests in the spring, usually near the nest they were born in, though they never reuse nests. Sometimes, a single foundress will build a nest, while other times, as many as 22 foundresses will work together on a nest. Usually, these associations of wasps all came from the same nest the previous season.

Learn about other creatures in Alabama:

Which of these wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets have you seen before in Alabama?

Please leave a COMMENT below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *