A wasp is a small winged flying insect with a sting in its tail. It makes a distinct buzzing noise. There are several species, with some up to 30mm in length. Its eyes are kidney-shaped, it has two pairs of wings which are folded when it rests. Its mouth is adapted for chewing and licking. It is distinguished by its pointed body and waist.
Wasps are social insects. The queen, which is much larger than her workers, starts a new nest each year from wasp paper - chewed wood, other plant debris and saliva.
Typically, wasp nests are in earth banks, buildings (roof spaces or wall cavities), trees and bushes. Nests are built each year. The colder months kill workers and males. Only the young queens survive the winter to make a new nest the following spring.
The fertilised queen wasp emerges from hibernation around mid-April and searches for a suitable site for a nest. She rears the first brood of worker wasps herself and when they hatch they carry on nest building. The queen, the only wasp able to lay eggs, will remain in the nest laying more eggs for further broods. The more workers there are the quicker the nest will grow. By late summer, normal wasp nests will contain from 3,000 to 5,000 individuals and be up to 30cm across. With cooler weather, workers and mates may become tired and aggressive towards anyone interfering with them.
Wasps have a useful role scavenging for larvae of other insects, controlling garden pests and clearing carcasses early in the season. They even dispose of rotten timber if available. However, they may carry disease picked up during their visits to dustbins, bottle banks and carcasses and can contaminate food if they settle on it. A wasp sting is caused by injection of poison into a victim, causing redness and swelling. In some cases, there are more serious effects and you or your pet should seek medical or vet advice if this happens. Repeated stings can cause anaphylactic shock, with symptoms of respiratory distress, facial swelling and vomiting with abdominal pain. You should seek medical help immediately if you suspect anaphylactic shock.
Wasps cause a nuisance for various reasons. In the late summer when workers don't have to feed the larvae with high protein food, they can indulge in sweet substances - fruit, jams, syrups. They enter kitchens to find sweet food, and while not particularly hostile, they will sting if aggravated. As cooler weather comes, wasps become more irritable, and this is not helped by feeding on over-ripe fruit, giving an appearance of being 'tipsy'. Again they are better left alone when in this condition. Earlier in the year the only nuisance they cause is minor damage done to wooden fences and wooden fabric of buildings when they need wood to build nests. Wasps upset a lot of people because of the risk of stings and their apparently aggressive behaviour. Health risks vary from person to person but most people who are stung suffer only localised swelling and brief pain that can be alleviated with remedies from chemists. If you have a serious allergic reaction from a wasp sting, seek immediate hospital treatment and take advice from your doctor about preparing for any future stings. Wasps are most likely to sting when their life cycle is ending later in the year and so it is best to deal with nests as soon as you see them. Old nests are not reused so do not need to be removed.
Although wasps can be troublesome, it is unwise to destroy nests without good reason. Wasps are controllers of far more injurious pests of forestry, agriculture and gardens. If a nest causes you no direct problems, it is best left well alone. Nests are abandoned at the end of Autumn. You can dispose of individual wasps using domestic insecticides, although this will not control or eliminate the colony itself. Ideally the whole nest and colony should be destroyed and we recommend you get professional help.
We provide a treatment service for wasps. As we are not legally obliged to do this, we make a charge to cover costs. If you receive benefits, you may not need to pay. If you would like to employ a private pest control company to remove wasps for you, we recommend that you get at least three quotes and check if there is a guarantee for the work. Whilst we cannot recommend a particular company, two trade organisations - the National Pest Technicians Association (NPTA) and British Pest Control Association (BPCA) – have a code of conduct for their members and may be able to help you find a contractors or help should any disputes arise.
Destruction of a wasp's nest should not be undertaken by untrained people. If wasps are causing a problem, we suggest you contact us. Stings should be treated with antihistamine creams. Wasp stings around the throat can lead to respiratory obstruction which may cause faintness or vomiting.