8 Common Wasps & Hornets in South Dakota (ID Guide)

What types of wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets live in South Dakota?

Types of wasps in South Dakota

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. πŸ™‚

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 South Dakota:


#1. Dark Paper Wasp

  • Polistes fuscatus

Also called the Northern Paper Wasp.

Types of wasps in South Dakota

  • 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 South Dakota!

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.

Types of wasps in South Dakota

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 South Dakota

  • 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 South Dakota.

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.

Types of hornets in South Dakota

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

eastern yellow jacket

  • 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 South Dakota!

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. πŸ™‚

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. European Paper Wasp

  • Polistes dominula

european paper wasp

  • 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 South Dakota. 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.

european paper wasp nest

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.


#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 South Dakota.

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. Western Yellowjacket

  • Vespula pensylvanica
Vespula pensylvanica. (2023, June 1). In Wikipedia.
  • Females (workers and queens) have a yellow loop around each eye.
  • They are yellow with black markings and no hairs.

Western Yellowjackets are habitat generalists, building their nests in gardens, prairies, open forests, urban areas, parks, and meadows. Typically, they construct their nests in the ground, often using old rodent burrows or other existing holes to get started. Occasionally, they’ll nest in voids in the walls of houses and other structures.

These impressive nests are started in the spring by a queen who mated the previous fall and overwintered in a sheltered spot. The queen begins a small nest and lays eggs, caring for the larvae and foraging for materials until the first four to seven workers have emerged. After this point, the queen remains in the nest, laying eggs.

You may spot these creatures feeding on carrion or buzzing around picnic tables, trash cans, and fallen fruit. Western Yellowjackets are incredibly common to find living around people.

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!

Another problem with Western Yellowjackets is their nests are typically underground, so it’s hard to spot one. These nests are often found in residential lawns and are inconveniently discovered while mowing the lawn. πŸ™‚


#7. Golden Paper Wasp

  • Polistes aurifer

golden paper wasp

  • 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. Western Paper Wasp

  • Mischocyttarus flavitarsis
Mischocyttarus flavitarsis. (2023, May 18). In Wikipedia.
  • Slender bodies with long trailing legs.
  • They’re generally reddish-brown with some black and yellow markings, but their coloration varies with population.
  • Yellow-brown wings.

Western Paper Wasps live in South Dakota in forests, suburban neighborhoods, and urban areas near a river or stream. They move along these river and stream openings when they’re out foraging for insects and nectar and collecting fibers to build their nest. They also gather water and take droplets back to the nest to cool it during hot weather.

These wasps may look frightening, but they’re not very aggressive. If Western Paper Wasps feel threatened, they’ll stand on their back and middle legs and point their antennae forward to warn predators. They may also make a loud buzzing noise with their wings as a further warning. While they can and may sting to defend their nests, Western Paper Wasps have the interesting habit of ramming predators with their heads rather than stinging.

Unfortunately for the queens, having their colony taken over is fairly common in this species. The queen will fight the wasp attempting to take her place, and they will bite and try to sting each other. Sometimes, if a foreign wasp takes over, the queen may flee with her daughters following her to build a new nest.


Learn about other creatures in South Dakota:


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

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