Wasps and hornets are beneficial insects to have in the garden, and knowing which ones you have can help you cultivate them and encourage these insect predators to help you keep pests at bay. While the thought of being stung by them may be unnerving, stings are not likely from most species if you do not bother their nests and move slowly around them.
Yellowjackets are easy to spot with their bright yellow and black stripes. Like most boldly coloured insects, it has a formidable defence system in its smooth stinger that can sting and sting again, unlike the honeybee who sacrifices her life with one sting. The yellowjackets like sweet things and can become a nuisance at outdoor picnics, but spend most of their time hunting insects in the garden, eating caterpillars, aphids and other soft-bodied garden pests.
These big hornets attract attention by sheer size and the size of their paper nests, which can easily be the size of a basketball. They are voracious predators of garden pests, though, so if they are not bothering the family let them hunt in peace. Discourage children from throwing things or squirting water at their nest to prevent stings from happening.
Paper wasps also build nests by chewing wood into tiny pieces and then cementing the resulting fibres together with their saliva. They tend to build smaller nests and are commonly found nesting in eaves and corners of barns or sheds. They are predators like their larger cousins and should be encouraged as long as their nests are not in heavily trafficked areas. To prevent nests in those areas, watch for building in early spring and knock them down while small with a stick.
Rarely seen in houses, and often spotted flying low and slow over the garden, these fierce killers look the part with their metallic steel blue bodies and lean sleek bodies. They will not sting humans, and are worth watching as they track, sting to paralyse and fly off with a caterpillar or spider. They take their helpless prey to a burrow they have dug and laid an egg in. The living but immobile insect will be the larva's larder as mother keeps hunting.