Wasp Scientific Name: Vespula germanica
Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast, party-thrower, tree-climber, or party-goer, the phrase “wasp nest” probably makes you jump a little. The Wasp is an infamous insect, with a painful sting and a sometimes elusive nest. As if one type of wasp isn’t bad enough, there are actually around 75,000 species of them. Yellow jackets and Hornets are both common species of wasps in North America.
Wasps include two broad categories – solitary and social wasps. If disturbed, a colony of social wasps can be a very dangerous group. These wasps will emit a pheromone that sends its colony members (as many as 100 at a time) into a defensive stinging spree. Although only female wasps can sting, they have the capability of removing their stinger from a victim and stinging repeatedly. A combination of this and the fact that they tend to attack in larger numbers gives the wasp its well-earned fear factor. The sting of a wasp injects protein venom into its victim, causing it to swell, sting, and itch. Social wasps sting for defense whereas the solitary wasp will only use its stinger to hunt. The scary, stinging types of wasps actually only make up a small percent of wasp species but they certainly make their presence known – especially at your 4th of July picnic!
Although there are many different species of the Wasp, most of them have the same general characteristics. All wasps have two pairs of wings, few or no thickened hairs (unlike bees), and are land-lovers (very few are aquatic insects). Females have an ovipositor, or stinger, which has a dual purpose: for stinging and for laying eggs. Most wasps are black and yellow, but some may be black and white. They are between 0.5 and 0.75 inches in length. Another distinguishing characteristic is the wasp’s style of flying. The wasp flies in a rapid, side to side motion as it lands whereas a bee “buzzes” in a random motion. Wasps can be distinguished from bees by their long, low, pointed abdomens and a narrow “waist” that separates the abdomen from the thorax.
All wasps (solitary and social) build nests. Bees secrete a waxy substance out of which they make their nests, but wasps use a papery pulp made by chewing up wood with their mandibles. The nest of the wasp serves primarily as a place for rearing their young and a protective structure. Wasp’s nests are commonly found attached to twigs, rocks, and tree limbs. It is common for wasps to build a nest in human structures such as eaves of buildings, beams, attics, garages, barns and sheds. If a nest is found on a dwelling or near people, Wasp Control should be administered.
Types of Wasps
The most common types of wasps are categorized as social or solitary wasps. Social wasps, which only make up about 1,000 of the wasp species, include the yellowjacket and hornet. These wasps make a new nest each spring. This is where the queen Wasp rears her brood. As the worker wasps continue to make new cells in the nest, the queen lays eggs. By the end of the summer a single wasp colony may have as many as 5,000 individuals. New fertilized queens will hibernate through the winter but all other individuals in the colony die at the emergence of winter.
The largest subgroup of the wasp is the solitary wasp. They do not form colonies (but usually do build nests), are typically less aggressive, and all adults are fertile. The Tarantula Hawk and Cicada Killer are two common species of solitary wasps.
It’s important to note that Wasps are not bees. Wasp extermination methods may be different depending on the specious of wasps. Please check out our wasp control page. Also check out our article on fake wasp nests.
DIY and Green Solutions for Wasp Control
Keep in mind that a wasp’s nest can be a dangerous place for humans, so “do-it-yourself” removal of a nest is not highly recommended. If you are lucky enough to have a beekeeper in your area, they may even do the job for free. There are some alternative solutions, however, for those wishing to steer away from professional control or pesticides. Insecticides can be dangerous for young children or pets, so a natural means of eradication may be desirable.
- Decoy: Wasps are territorial creatures, and will not set up shop near another wasp nest. As an alternative to dangerous insecticides, consider setting up a fake wasp nest near known nesting sites. “The Original Waspinator,” “Glass Wasp Trap,” or “Oak Stump Farms Trap” are all fake nests for sale online or at hardware stores. Follow product instructions for placement and be sure to wear proper apparel if coming in close proximity to an actual wasp nest.
- Trap ‘em: A trap may or may not be effective in controlling wasp populations. If used, a trap should be placed in the early spring while wasp numbers are small. Additionally, traps are most useful in small areas. Wasp traps are available for sale at garden or hardware stores, or you can make your own.
- Insecticides: NOTE: We recommend you leave this up to a professional. If you still wish to employ wasp control on your own, be sure to wear the proper apparel: wear a bee hood that covers your head, neck, and face as well as long sleeves, pants, and gloves. Make sure you have no exposed skin and always keep your distance. Commercial-grade insecticides containing pyrethoids are best. Use a “freezing” insecticide to stop the wasps from flying or stinging. A wasp nest is established by the end of June, but not so big that numbers are not manageable. For this reason, any insecticide treatment should be done in early summer. Additionally, spraying at night will ensure that most individuals are inactive. Spray the entrance/exit of the nest (usually near the bottom) thoroughly. Wait a day and spray the nest again to make sure you exposed all individuals.
- Removal of the nest: Place a heavy grade garbage bag over the nest (again, wearing the proper apparel) and secure the opening. Throw the bag away in a dumpster.
- Call a green pest control service. Certain pest control companies specialize in green solutions to your pest problems. Green pest companies will assess and eliminate pest problems using natural pesticides and kid/animal-safe products.
Like other insects, wasps’ relationship with man is a bit of a paradox. They are extremely beneficial as a means of pest control, as they prey on pesky insects, but can be a threat to humans. Wasp control should be employed when wasp nests are near a human-inhabited structure and is best done by professionals.
More About Wasps
Wasps are an amazing insect. They are also a formidable pest. A wasp nest or wasp infestation should be taken seriously, especially if children or allergic people are within stinging distance.
The Wasp’s Circle of Life
After mating, the queen will hibernate through the winter and lay her brood in the spring in a new nest. In this walnut-sized nest, the queen will fertilize her eggs with stored sperm. Until enough sterile female workers exist in the colony, the queen wasp will care for her young. By the end of the summer the queen runs out of sperm to fertilize eggs, so male drones fly out of the nest in search of new mates. The newly fertilized queen wasps find a hibernation spot (usually under loose bark, in rotted logs, or in other small crevices), leave the nest, and the rest of the colony, now grown to around 5,000 individuals, dies by the time winter begins.
Wasps and Humans
Wasps are considered beneficial to humans – particularly gardeners – as the prey on nearly every variety of insect pest. Acting as natural pest control, wasps will either eat or use insects as their parasitic host for feeding young. In fact, some farmers will actually use wasp colonies as a means of protection for their crops.
Treating the Sting of Wasps
The sting of a wasp releases histamine, a chemical that dissolves red blood cells and causes the affected area to become red, hard, swollen, itchy, and painful. About 1% of the population is allergic to the venom of bees and wasps. If you are allergic to bee or wasp stings, seek medical attention immediately if stung. If you believe you have an allergy to wasp venom, see a doctor about obtaining an anti-venom first aid kit.
Wasps rarely leave their stinger in a victim, but sometimes do. If stung, check for stingers and remove them with a coin, credit card, or fingernail immediately. Apply ice to the sting to relieve pain and help reduce swelling. Place cloth between the sting and the ice and leave it on the sting for about 20 minutes. Antihistamines like Benadryl or Claritin can help with the itching. An over-the-counter pain medication like Tylenol or Motrin will help with pain relief if the sting causes substantial pain. Wash the sting site with soapy water and apply an antibiotic ointment. Most wasp stings do not require medical attention, but if you find that symptoms are persistent, or worsen over time, see a doctor.
I would also recommend you read our wasps in house article.