What types of wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets live in Kansas?
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.
8 COMMON Wasps & Hornets in Kansas:
#1. Dark Paper Wasp
- Polistes fuscatus
Also called the Northern Paper Wasp.
- 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 Kansas!
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.
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. Eastern Yellowjacket
- Vespula maculifrons
- 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 Kansas!
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 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.
#3. Metric Paper Wasp
- Polistes metricus
- 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 Kansas 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.
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.
#4. Fraternal Potter Wasp
- Eumenes fraternus
- 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 Kansas.
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.
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.
#5. Four-toothed Mason Wasp
- Monobia quadridens
- 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 Kansas.
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.
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.
#6. Southern Yellowjacket
- Vespula squamosa
- 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 Kansas, 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 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!
#7. Golden Paper Wasp
- Polistes aurifer
- Their coloration varies widely with location.
- Northern individuals are often predominantly black with some golden coloring.
- Southern individuals often have an almost entirely golden abdomen.
These wasps get their name from their unusual coloration, a softer golden yellow rather than the bright yellow of many other wasp species. Their scientific name, “aurifer,” also alludes to this coloration and is Latin for “gold-bearer.”
Queens start new nests in the late winter or spring. These wasps generally seek out high, sheltered locations to build.
As the name “paper wasp” suggests, the queens construct a nest from a paper-like material they make with saliva and wood fiber. The umbrella-shaped nests they create have open combs on the bottom.
The queens use the nest to hatch workers, which will help guard the nest and hatch more colony members. You may spot these workers visiting flowers, feeding on the nectar, or grabbing insects off plants, which they use to feed the colony’s larvae.
#8. Apache Paper Wasp
- Polistes apachus
Also called the Texas Paper Wasp or Southwestern Texas Paper Wasp.
- They have dull orange-brown antennae.
- Primarily golden brown with alternating stripes of golden brown and yellow on their abdomens.
Apache Paper Wasps are most commonly found in Kansas in vineyards and orchards. They will also inhabit urban areas. If you observe them carefully, you’ll find they make frequent trips to drink water. It’s not uncommon to see Apache Paper Wasps using surface tension to stand on a puddle’s surface to drink.
Like many paper wasps, Apache Paper Wasps nests look a bit like an umbrella and have an open, downward-facing comb. By the end of the season, one nest may have up to 320 cells.
Their nests are started by overwintered, fertilized queens. Sometimes, these queens will work independently, while other times, other queens will help out, but these helpful females don’t always stay permanently. They often leave after construction to work on a nest of their own.
Since they hunt caterpillars, Apache Paper Wasps can be helpful to farmers as they provide some pest control. However, they have a painful sting, and their preference for vineyards and orchards has led to them sometimes becoming a nuisance.
Learn about other creatures in Kansas:
Which of these wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets have you seen before in Kansas?
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