What's all the BUZZ about?

During the fall, you may notice some species of stinging insects become more aggressive. We all know that this experience can be scary, but before you start swatting it's important to understand three very important things;

  • What is happening to cause this? 
  • What are the differences between these insects?
  • Why are some of these stingers vitally important to protect?  


We often associate bees, wasps, etc. with the warm summer months. While most of these insects will die off with the cold of winter, the fall is when we see an increase in aggravated behavior. 


Stinging insects flourish all summer long, growing and expanding their hive. Come fall, these insect populations are at their largest size and all have one mission; preparing their queen for the winter. As we encounter full, mature nests stinging insects become far more protective near the hive. Larger nests will also send out more foragers, increasing your chances of coming into contact with them. This aggravated behavior is made worse as natural food sources, such as flowers and insects, are depleted with colder weather, and they grow hungry.


Not all stinging insects are alike. You can identify the insect by the appearance of the hive, whether the insect is near the ground or higher in the air, and even by the way that the insect flies.

1. Apids (honeybees and bumblebees)


  • Slender body with pointed tip at the bottom of abdomen 
  • Fewer hairs & translucent wings 
  • Not typically aggressive unless their hive is threatened 
  • Barbed stingers, leaves stinger (and internal organs) in the skin
  • Nest in a hollow tree, a hive box or other man-made structure. They never nest in the ground


  • Robust, large in girth 
  • Yellow, orange, and black hairs on their body
  • Can sting, but they aren't aggressive
  • Do not have a barbed stinger, can sting multiple times
  • Nest underground, in places such as abandoned rodent holes, under sheds and in compost heaps. Of those that nest above ground, some make nests in thick grass

2. Vespids (wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets)


  • Varied shades of brown, yellow, and red
  • Back legs dangle in flight 
  • Rarely aggressive, will sting if disturbed 
  • Do not have a barbed stinger, can sting multiple times
  • Nest under the eaves of houses in honeycomb-shaped nests. 

Yellow Jackets:

  • Typically yellow and black, some have white or red markings
  • MOST aggressive of the stinging insects
  • Can sting multiple times, stings can cause severe infection
  • Scavengers, commonly found around dumpsters & trash cans
  • Nests built into the ground or in structures on the ground.


  • Yellow-faced or white-faced w/ black and white coloring
  • Will attack when provoked
  • Can sting multiple times 
  • Large colonies, significantly larger nests 
  • Nets in an oval-shaped structure built into trees and shrubs. The material they make their nests from resembles papier-mâché. 

3. Ants (fire ants)

  • Dull, red body 
  • Typically sting if a person steps on their nest
  • Can sting multiple times, very quickly.
  • Nest in the dirt. These nests can be flat in sandy areas or as tall as 18 inches in moist areas. 


With estimations like “one-third of the food that we consume each day relies on pollination mainly by bees” and “bees contributed to $US40billion per annum in 2010” it hardly seems necessary to detail the economic and environmental impact of the bee population. It is important, however, to understand how we are impacting the health of the honeybee population and why this is vital now more than ever. 

This article is not to say that other stinging insects and pollinators lack importance, nor it is to say they aren’t suffering from similar threats to their population. Globally, however, there are more honey bees than other types of bee and pollinating insects, so it is the world's most important pollinator of food crops. Though the most important, Bee’s are also the most heavily abused either by or for commercial value. 


Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. Hives cannot sustain themselves without worker bees and would eventually die. 


Researchers believe that parasites, pesticides, pathogens, poor nutrition, habitat fragmentation, agricultural practices, and poor bee management are all linked to the disorder. 


While stinging insects may be a bit of a nuisance during these fall months, proper pest management is truly a life or death matter. 

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