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Wasps and bees belong to the order of (Hymenoptera).  Both wasps, particularly bees play a critical role in our ecosystem, however, they can be a problem at certain times of the year and can be particularly harmful to those that are allergic to their sting.  The bees and wasps mentioned below are social insects that live in colonies with a single queen.


The most common wasps that we deal with in the city of Toronto are yellowjackets, hornets, and paper wasps.  All three types of wasps build paper nests mixing saliva and wood fibres; however, they differ in size, shape and location of nests.  Wasps are beneficial to our environment not only because they pollinate but because they feed on insects such as flies, earwigs, and caterpillars.  Unlike bees, that die once they have stung, wasps can sting repeatedly, and are therefore more aggressive.  Most wasp colonies rarely survive the winter, mainly due to lack of food.  Fertilized queens abandon their nest in late fall and will overwinter in sheltered spaces such as under logs and other crevices.  Sexually mated queens establish a new colony the following spring.  


Paper Wasp:

Paper wasps have long slender bodies with dangling legs, a broad thorax and abdomen, and a tiny constricted waist.  They range between 17-22mm or just under an inch in size.  The head and thorax are dark brown or black in colour, and the abdomen is dark with yellow stripes.   Paper wasps can be distinguished from other wasps due to their orange-tipped antennae.  Paper wasps build umbrella-shaped nests consisting of 100-400 cells, each cell housing one larvae.   These nests are not enclosed by an envelope, they are open-faced, exposing the cells. Paper wasp nests are constructed in protected locations, and may be found around window sills, attics, wall voids, outdoor grills, roof eaves, shrubbery, and other secure areas.



Yellowjackets have yellow and black-striped short stout bodies with black spots down both sides of their bodies.  They are about 12mm or about ½ an inch in size.  Although a new colony begins to grow each spring, one colony can grow as large as 25,000 wasps.  Nests have a grey colouring, are spherical and are enclosed in a papery envelope with a small entrance hole.  Yellowjackets can build subterranean or ground as well as free hanging aerial nests. These nests are found in trees, attics, wall voids, and in the ground in abandoned animal burrows.   NEVER attempt to destroy a yellowjacket nest in your wall voids by plugging the opening. Yellowjackets may chew through interior drywall or use crevices to enter your home.  They aggressively defend their nest if disturbed. They will chase humans and other animals for long distances to protect their nest.  



Bald-faced hornet:

Bald-faced hornets are primarily black in colour and have ivory-white marking on the face, thorax, legs and abdomen.  They are about 13-20mm, ½ inch to under an inch in size.  They are not a true hornet, rather a type of yellowjacket, wasp.  They have a larger head than yellowjackets.  Nests have a grey colouring, are spherical and are enclosed in a papery envelope with a small entrance hole. Bald-faced hornets build their nests on tree branches or buildings, usually at least 3 feet of the ground.  



Prevention and Control:


The best way to prevent a wasp/bee infestation and potentially getting stung, is to make your home a less attractive nesting location.  




  • Never wear yellow or white when working in your garden or sitting outside.  These colours attract insects.  

  • Before trimming shrubs or hedges, check for nests to avoid a sting.

  • Never use colognes, perfumes, hair sprays and other fragrances when working or sitting outdoors. 

  • Never walk barefoot. You might step on a ground nest.

  • Avoid squashing wasps, as this will release chemical that will signal other wasps to attack.  

  • Keep food covered when eating outdoors to keep these insects at bay.  

  • Plug the ends of pipes on playground equipment to prevent wasps from nesting in them.  

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There are over 16,000 known species of bees in the world.  The most common bees that we deal with in the city of Toronto are bumble bees, carpenter bees, and honey bees.  Bees are best known for their role as pollinators.  All bees feed exclusively on nectar and pollen. They use their long hairy tongues to suck out the liquid.  




Bumble bees:


Bumble bees are 16-22mm, over ½ inch or just under an inch in size. They have plump round bodies covered in hair or fur.  The colouring differs depending on the species, however, the most common species we see in city of Toronto are black and yellow.  Bumble bees tend to have less stripes than honey bees and are generally more black.  Bumble bees have longer tongues and can therefore suck nectar from plants that are enclosed in a tube.  Unlike honey bees, bumble bees do not have a barbed sting, so they can sting several times if they feel threatened.  Social bumble bees live in hives of about 150-200 bees.  Nests are usually found underground in abandoned animal burrows and are lined with bees’ wax.  Like other bees and wasps, bumble bee colonies are seasonal.  They die in the winter, and only the queen survives till the following spring.  Bumble bees are usually the first bee seen in early spring and the last in the fall. Although they produce some honey, they only make enough to allow the colony to survive through times of food shortage.  




Carpenter bees:


Carpenter bees are a large species of bees.  They range in size from 13-38mm, ½ inch to 1 ½ inches in length. Carpenter bees are often mistaken for bumble bees due to their large size, however their abdomen is shiny and black rather than furry and hairy.  Carpenter bees do not bite as most are males that do not have a stinger.  Although females can sting, they are not aggressive, and will only do so if they are directly handled.  Carpenter bees most often nest in unpainted, unstained softwoods; however, they are capable of nesting in sound wood as well.  They create round holes that are about ½ inch in diameter with expanding tunnels and galleries.  An indication one has carpenter bees is to find saw dust underneath the holes.  Females will each lay about 6-8 eggs in these tunnels where they nest in over the winter months.  These bees can produce up to three generations during a summer.  In spring they will continue to build out the tunnels as the population grows.  Although initial Carpenter bee damage is slight, a nest that is left untreated for a long period, can damage and weaken a structure due a large number of internal tunnels.  



Honey bees:


Honey bees are about 15mm or ½ inch in size.  They have a golden yellow colour with brown bands.  Some species can have a predominantly black body. Honey bees have a mandible in their jaw which they use to eat pollen, to cut and shape wax, clean their hive, and feed the queen and larvae.  They have hairs on their legs and body called scopae.  As they move from plant to plant this pollen attaches to their bodies and is passed on resulting in pollination. Queens can lay between 1,500-2,000 eggs per day during spring and summer.  Well established nests can reach populations of 50,000-60,000 in one season.   Worker honey bees will give up their lives in order to defend their hive and queen.  They will swarm predators if they sense that their colony is being attacked.  Although a honey bees’ greatest value is in their service as pollinators, they provide many other benefits.  As pollinators they are of huge economic importance to farmers and the worlds food supply.  Their venom and particularly honey have been used for medicinal purposes since prehistoric times.  Beeswax is also a very important resource as it is used to make candles, as a moisturizer on skin and leather fabrics and in general a moisture sealant used for various products.  



Honey bees are vital to our ecosystem.  We therefore always recommend that a nest be left undisturbed, unless its location poses a threat to humans and/or their structures.  We advise a professional bee keeper be called to move the nest to a new and safer location.

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