About Wasps

The most common wasps are the German Wasp and Common Wasp. Their bodies have a characteristic black and yellow band across the abdomen and they are fairly large insects 12mm - 17mm in length, with the queen approximately 20mm in length.

Identifying Wasps, Hornets & Bees

Common Wasp

Vespula vulgaris

Known as the common wasp, is a wasp found in various regions of the world including the United Kingdom, Germany, India, China, New Zealand, and Australia.

Common Wasp

German Wasp or European Wasp

Vespula germanica

A species of wasp found in much of the Northern Hemisphere, native to Europe, Northern Africa, and temperate Asia. They have 3 dots on face of female and tend to nest underground.

European Wasp

Red Wasp

Vespula rufa

Found in northern and central Europe, parts of Asia,[3] and northern parts of North America. Has an “Anchor” shape on face of female workers and have small underground nests away from humans.

Red Wasp

Hornet

Vespa crabro

Larger than wasps (an inch or more) and redder in colouring with brown and yellow stripes.

Hornet Wasp

European Honey Bee

Apis mellifera

Honey bees look very similar to wasps. However, they are a little more hairy and although they are striped they are not as bright as wasps.

European Honey Bee

Bumble Bee

Bombus terrestris

Bumble bees are easy to distinguish from wasps as they are far more furry and rounder than wasps.

Bumble Bee

Tawny Mining Bee

Andrena fulva

Solitary bees that turn up in garden lawns and borders every Spring. They are harmless.

Tawny Mining Bee

Red Mason Bee

Osmia rufa

Another solitary bee that takes up residence in crumbling masonry. They are harmless.

Red Mason Bee

Distribution & Habitat

Both species of wasps are commonly found throughout Britain and Northern Europe, and they are social insects forming colonies inside their nests.

Significance

Wasps feed on other insects i.e. flies and spiders and can be beneficial to the environment. Where wasp nests are situated away from occupied areas and are not causing a nuisance, they may not need to be treated.

Life Cycle

In the spring, the queen leaves her hibernation site and seeks a suitable place to build her nest, which is made from wood pulp and approximately the size as a golf ball. She then lays a small number of eggs and tends them until they hatch to produce the larvae.

When fully grown the larvae pupate and sterile female workers emerge. These take over the job of enlarging the nest and foraging for food and insects.

Wasp nests may be found in roof spaces, wall cavities and air grates of buildings, hanging from trees, as well as underground. A normal nest can contain from 3000 to 5000 individuals, depending on its size, by late summer.

Towards the end of summer fertile males and young queens emerge from the nest to mate. The young queens will then fly away and select a suitable site to hibernate over the winter.

In the late summer before the onset of the colder weather the remaining males and worker wasps will forage for sugary foods such as jam, fruit etc. They will also feed on ripe and fallen fruit. This is when they tend to become aggressive to anyone interfering with them.

As the weather becomes colder the active nest dies out, but the new queens born during the summer will search for a hibernation site. In the spring they will start a new nest of their own; old nests are never re-colonised by new queens.

Control

We recommend that wasp nests are treated by professionals.

Wasp nests that are not causing a problem can be left alone. You can dispose of any old nests at the end of the following year. You may encounter queens that have chosen to hibernate in the nest for the winter period if you move it too soon. Old nests will not cause any damage if left in place.

Nests that are built in lofts or under eaves are more difficult to treat and are best treated from the outside.

Nests

If you find a swarm surrounding the nest then you almost certainly have bees as wasps do not tend to swarm. The only time wasps will swarm around their nest is if the entrance is blocked. Blocking the entrance to a wasps nest is not an effective way of getting rid of them as they do not give up on it any easier than you would if someone came and changed the lock to your doors while you were away, or whilst you were still inside meaning you couldn’t get out. You wouldn’t just give up the house or resign yourself to dying inside, and neither do wasps. Instead, they get angry, and you have a bigger problem than before. Be sure, therefore, to call in professionals to deal with the problem for you. It will be helpful if you can tell us where the nest is though.

Common wasps tend to build their nests indoors, for example in a loft, shed or basement. Sometimes it can be hard to find their nests, and if you do then remember to keep your distance, you don’t want to be perceived as a threat. Remember - you are not looking for a swarm, it will be more like an airport, with wasps coming and going every few seconds.

German wasps, on the other hand, tend to make their nests in trees or bushes, low down. They are also more likely to use rabbit holes as a nesting place, or any other readymade way underground. Be careful, therefore, when looking for a wasps nest outside that you don’t accidentally trip over it. If you do, even though usually the advice is to keep still when a wasp is around so as not to aggravate it, the wasp is already aggravated so you should run away as fast as possible. Although wasps do chase, after about 50 yards they usually give up.

Hornets also usually build their nests outside, although usually higher up in trees. They also use hollowed out trees quite often as a nesting site. If you do have a problem with hornets, there is no need to be any more concerned than if they were wasps, they are not any more powerful or aggressive than wasps, as is commonly believed. Not in this country anyway.