Ants, bees, and wasps have a range of habits: some are solitary, some live in large colonies, some are plant feeders, and some are parasites or predators. They have chewing mouthparts, and they use their mandibles to chew wood and build “paper” nests. Some species, such as bees, can lap water and nectar from flowers.
Ants, bees, and wasps build nests that contain their colonies. The colony survives through a system of dividing the labor of building and maintenance among members. Queens originate the colony and lay eggs; workers, which are sterile females, gather food, maintain and repair, and defend the colony.
Ant colonies usually start with a mating flight: males and females ﬂy from the nest and mate in the air or on the ground. After mating, the female forms a nest by making a brood chamber, and begins laying eggs. Workers of the first brood forage and feed the queen, expand the nest, and care for the next brood. The founding queen continues to lay eggs and remains in the nest. When the colony reaches a size of several thousand workers, the queen lays eggs that develop into reproductive females and males, and the process starts over.
Bees and wasps often build nests in the soil at the perimeter of structures or in turfgrass. Sweat bees are commonly seen in spring as they build nests in exposed soil. Cicada killer wasps are active in fall when they are excavating holes in the ground to hold the cicadas they have captured as food for their larvae.
Yellowjackets build nests in the ground as large as the more—familiar nests in trees and shrubs. Below-ground nests start with a single queen excavating an abandoned mouse burrow. Once the first and second brood of workers develops, the nest expands with more and more brood cells. By late summer, the nest may have several thousand workers.
The venom of wasps, yellowjackets, and bees are similar, with all containing enzymes that cause swelling and redness. A bee sting produces a slight swelling and itching for several days. Further stings may produce no reaction in persons that become desensitized to the venom. However, others become more allergic with successive stings and reach a sensitivity level in which another sting results in an acute reaction or death.