Everything you need to know about wasps
Types of wasp
Common & German wasp
If you’ve ever been stung by a wasp, the culprit was probably a member of one of these species – they are the most commonly found across the entirety of the UK. They build their nests in spaces indoors with easy access to the outside, with lofts and wall cavities particular favourites. They can usually be identified by looking at their thoracic regions, and have a fairly regimented lifecycle with practically the entire nest dying in the winter months – only a few young queens will survive to restart the colony in the spring.
Hornets are easily identified due to their large size (they’re the biggest wasps in the UK) and their distinctive brown thoracic markings. Although they look scary, they are not attracted to human food and will only attack if the nest is threatened – however, the whole nest will be mobilised, and with up to 700 workers housed within it this could be dangerous. Their nests can be found in buildings and outdoors, and their lifecycles follow a similar pattern to common wasps, with the majority of the nest dying in the winter.
It’s unlikely that a tree wasp nest would be built in your home – as their name suggests, they prefer to live in trees and generally outdoor locations. Identified by a single black dot on their face, they are often quite aggressive, but unless they build their nest in your garden, you shouldn’t have much trouble with them. Additionally, they’re only active from around May to August, as opposed to other wasps which are active for a longer period of time.
The median wasp, like the tree wasp, lives and nests outside, and may not become a nuisance unless it takes up residence in your garden. They tend to forage for food around bushes and trees in areas that will support their nest. Due to their size, they are often mistaken for hornets, and can be aggressive when threatened. They’re identified by four black spots on the yellow part of the abdomen.
Differences between wasps and honeybees
Where possible, we try to avoid killing pests – this applies especially to honeybees, which perform a valuable job and whose numbers are already dwindling. With that in mind, it’s important to be able to distinguish between wasps and honeybees. Visually, the two insects look quite different:
Wasps are slender and have a narrow waist, while bees are rounder and don’t have much of a distinguishable waist.
Wasps tend to be brighter in colour than bees. Though they share the same colours, bees are a little duller.
Wasps have a smooth, shiny appearance, while bees are covered in tiny hairs that can grow thick enough to look like fur.
Detection of nest
Wasp nests, unlike bee nests, often go unnoticed until they have reached a decent size. Because wasps do not swarm around the nest in the way that bees do, it may only be an increased wasp presence in your home or garden that alerts you to the existence of the nest.
If you suspect you have a nest, try and work out where the wasps are coming from. The edges of roof boards can rot away and provide entrances for them, leading to nests being created in lofts, while the holes created to allow phone and cable lines into the house can lead to the creation of nests in wall cavities. Monitor the flight paths of returning wasps and you should be able to work out roughly where a nest is likely to be.
Wasp lifecycle and behaviour
The behaviour of a wasp usually depends on where it is in its lifecycle, which can be roughly divided into four sections.
This takes place from around the end of September to the end of the following April, and is the period in which large numbers of wasps die from starvation (not the low temperatures). Only a few queens will survive this period to establish new colonies. If the queen has been sheltering inside a house, her reappearance can prompt homeowners to call in exterminators, thinking there’s a nest in their home. This is unlikely to be the case, though.
This takes place from the end of April to around the end of May. This is when the queen feeds herself and begins building her nest in which she lays her first eggs.
This takes place from the end of May to the end of November, and sees the nest increase in size as the first drones are hatched to begin work.
This takes place throughout the summer and early autumn, and involves the sexual progeny of the queen (normal males and the females she has turned into queens) mating to ensure the colony survives the winter. At this point, the grubs within the nest that worker wasps have been surviving on start dying, forcing them to find alternative sustenance, which is when they become a more visible nuisance to humans trying to eat outside. This is the point at which exterminators will normally be contacted.
Likely wasp nest locations
The location of a wasp nest is likely to be in a space where the nest can be built in peace, and which offers easy access to workers and hunters leaving and returning to the queen. Some common nest locations include:
Are wasps protected?
Wasps are not an endangered species, and as such are not protected by the World Wildlife Fund. Wasps are widely considered a pest and should be exterminated. The vast majority of wasps will die during the winter and pest controllers should be called in as soon as an infestation is detected within a home or garden to deal with them effectively.