What types of wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets live in Nebraska?
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.
6 COMMON Wasps & Hornets in Nebraska:
#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 Nebraska!
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 Nebraska!
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. European Paper Wasp
- Polistes dominula
- Black with prominent yellow markings.
- They have thin waists and orange-tipped antennae.
- Their legs dangle as they fly.
These wasps’ bright yellow and black coloration means that they’re often confused with native Eastern Yellowjackets. However, European Paper Wasps are an invasive species in Nebraska. Unfortunately, they are now widespread, and researchers have found that they often outcompete native paper wasps and negatively affect caterpillars like the Monarch butterfly.
One of the reasons they have spread across North America is because of their adaptability. European Paper Wasps will inhabit almost any habitat, including urban and suburban areas. They often are closely associated with humans and nest on or in human-made structures. European Paper Wasps often build nests under the eaves or attics of structures or in pipes, light fixtures, boats, grills, and mailboxes.
These wasps are known to be fairly non-aggressive. However, they will defend their nests, and stings usually occur when humans accidentally come in contact with a nest.
European Paper Wasps are omnivores. They will catch insect larvae, caterpillars, aphids, and other soft-bodied insects that they feed the young. Adults may also feed on flower nectar.
#4. 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 Nebraska 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.
#5. 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 Nebraska.
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.
#6. 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.
Learn about other creatures in Nebraska:
Which of these wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets have you seen before in Nebraska?
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