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When hearing the word, “wasp” most people think of fierce swarming insects that can inflict painful, and in some cases, medically threatening stings to humans. In fact, a few wasp species produce venom that is potent enough to kill a human, but nearly all wasp fatalities involve victims who had an allergy to wasp venom. Therefore, these victims technically died from anaphylactic shock in response to a wasp sting, and not from venom toxicity. Luckily, wasp fatalities are exceptionally rare in the United States, but each year sees a handful of fatal encounters.

According to most pest control professionals and entomologists, yellow jackets are the most medically significant wasp groups found within the US. Yellow jackets consist of several species, all of which resemble common honey bees or bumblebees. It is well known that yellow jackets are social insects, but numerous parasitic and solitary wasp species also inhabit the US.

Solitary wasps, like mud daubers, are not considered medically significant, as these species are not as aggressive and territorial as yellow jackets and hornets, but most solitary wasp species can, and do, sting humans. Although wasps are abundant outdoors, it is comforting to know that the potentially dangerous insects can be avoided within indoor locations. While this is generally true, many wasp species, including yellow jackets, have established nests within houses and buildings. Most indoor wasp nests are found within attics, garages and sheds, but it is not uncommon for people to find wasp nests within their home’s chimney.

Solitary wasps generally nest in ground-burrows, but social wasps establish nests within obscure and dark locations in order to keep the colony safe. When nests are found within chimneys they are usually located above the vent, but it is not hard for wasps to enter homes through the chimney flue and firebox. Eradicating wasp infestations within chimneys almost always requires a pest control professional, as experts are needed to identify and destroy the queen. However, in some cases, simply building a fire within an infested fireplace will cause an entire colony to vacate the structure in a panic, but this method does not prevent the queen,  and possibly other colony members, from reinhabiting the nest later on.

Have you ever found insect pests entering your home through your fireplace?