Vespula squamosa, or the “southern yellow jacket,” is one of the most prevalent stinging insect species found in central Texas, and they are well known for establishing both aerial and ground nests on urban and suburban properties. In addition to the southern yellow jacket, the “eastern yellow jacket” (V. maculifrons), and the “bald-faced hornet” (Dolichovespula maculata), are the two other yellow jacket species that live in close association with humans in central Texas. Despite the latter’s common name, D. maculata is actually a type of yellow jacket, not a hornet. It is also important to remember that yellow jackets and hornets are both subtypes of social wasps, and with the possible exception of the recently introduced and extremely dangerous “Asian giant hornet” (Vespa mandarinia) in the northwest, the “European hornet” (Vespa crabro) is the only true hornet species found in the country.
Luckily for residents of central Texas, Asian giant hornets have not been spotted in the state, and it is not yet known if the species will be able to adapt to the climate in the northwest. However, according to Dr. David Ragsdale, Associate Director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research station, it is possible for Asian giant hornets to arrive in Texas via shipping containers. The European hornet, on the other hand, can be found in all eastern states, and they are continuing to expand their non-native habitat farther west and south. While many sources state that European hornets have not spread farther west than Louisiana, some reports claim that they have reached Texas.
Despite the fierce reputation accorded to hornets, the European hornet, though aggressive, is not considered a significant public health threat in the US. This is because, unlike yellow jackets, the European hornet does not typically dwell in urban areas; instead, they prefer to nest in tree hollows in wooded areas. The vast majority of medically significant wasp envenomation incidents are perpetrated by yellow jackets while they forage in populated areas during the cooler months. European hornets do not exhibit this scavenging behavior, which is why they are rarely responsible for serious sting incidents in the US.
On rare occasions, European hornets establish nests in residential areas, most notably in shrubs, beneath porches, the underside of eaves, in basements, and in attics. Although yellow jackets are responsible for the majority of deadly sting incidents that are reported each year in the US, paper wasps (Polistes species) are responsible for most reported sting incidents that occur in Texas. According to the results of a recent nationwide survey of pest control professionals, paper wasps are also the most commonly managed stinging insects on both residential and commercial properties, followed by yellow jackets and honeybees in second and third place, respectively.
Have you ever encountered an active wasp nest on your property?