- Frequently asked questions about wasps

Below are a number of FAQs about wasps.  Please note the answers mostly will relate to our most common species.

Are bees related to wasps?  What’s the connection between wasps and bees?

Both bees and wasps belong to the insect order, hymenoptera.   Bees are believed to be descended from wasps.

What is the point of wasps?

This has to be one of the most frequently asked questions about wasps. 

Quite simply, wasps are helpful pollinators, they control ‘crop pests’ and (with some species) their nests may provide homes for other beneficial insects!  See  Are Wasps Beneficial?

Some wasps, such as the beautiful jewel wasp, are useful for keeping down populations of pest cockroach species.  The jewel wasp lays an egg in the body of the cockroach.  The wasp larvae eats the cockroach from the inside out, thus killing the cockroach (and preventing it breeding!).

Wasp grooming.Wasp grooming.

What's the difference between bees and wasps?

The main difference is that wasps feed 'meat', in the form of other insects - especially larvae, to their offspring.  

What will happen if I kill a wasp?

You will probably attract more of them!  If you are genuinely afraid of wasps, it is better to repel wasps.

Where do wasps build nests?

It depends on the type of wasp, but most commonly they may be found hanging from structures such as a branch or fascia of a building, or they may be in the ground.  Wasps may also nest in compost heaps.  Learn more about wasp nests

A wasp nest is genuinely a fantastic structure - a large colony can produce a nest as complex and amazing as the combs produced by honey bees! 

Inside a wasp nest, grey papery cells are hexagonal in shape and similar in appearance to honey combsInside a wasp nest, cells are hexagonal in shape - as with honey bees, and are amazing, cleverly built, complex structures.

Wasps are disliked by many people, but they are genuinely amazing creatures!

Wasps have great value, and their nests are architectural works of art.  Education is key!

Read about the structure of a paper wasp nest.

How long does a wasp nest last?

Wasp nest in shed.Wasp nest in shed.

A wasp nest will typically last a season and only the queens survive to hibernate and establish colonies the following year.  In other words, by late autumn/winter the colony will be no more, and the nest will be inactive.  Wasps are fair-weather insects.

This means that in reality, if a nest is causing no real disturbance, you may as well leave it where it is rather than pay to have it removed. 

How can I remove wasps without killing them?

You'll find some advice on  removing wasps without killing theme

How long do wasps live?

Given that newly emerged queens hibernate over winter to emerge and establish new colonies the following year, you could estimate that a queen might live for as long as 12 months.

Worker wasps live 12 -22 days, and the males have slightly shorter lives.

The lifespan of a wasp will of course depend on other factors, sch as presence of predators etc.

Do wasps pollinate flowers and crops?

Wasp pollinating raspberry flowers.Wasp pollinating raspberry flowers.

Yes, and some plants are known to be reliant on certain species of wasp for pollination - such as the fig wasp.  Wasps have a hairy thorax and abdomen, meaning that they can inadvertently transfer pollen from one flower to another.

You can read some of the research about wasp pollination.

Do wasps attack or kill bees?

Much of the time, you will see wasps and bees foraging happily and close together - I see this every year on my raspberries. 

However, it is a fact that wasps may sometimes venture into bee nests and take larvae for their young.  A wasp may succeed in this task, but its success will depend on a number of factors.

For example, a single wasp will have no chance against a honey bee colony, or indeed, an established bumble bee colony.  A large number of wasps could, however, inflict damage on a colony.  

They will also rob the honey stores (well beekeepers do that too of course, but without killing the bees and larvae). 

This is a distressing thought, but it must be remembered that wasps too, have their survival problems.  Humans kill animals for meat (and fish too!) - but humans will also kill for the sake of it, and will waste a shocking amount of food, even after killing for it.  

Humans indirectly kill bees and birds by destroying their habitat and using insecticides. 

The point that I am making here is that in nature, species commonly come into conflict for survival and food - but not for entertainment or selfish greed - the same cannot be said of humans.  If humans take actions to help bees and reverse human inflicted decline on bee populations, this is where the significant positive difference will be made - and seen.

Where do wasps hibernate?

Single queens may find protected shelter in a variety of places, from crevices in walls and trees, to a sheltered spot in the roof of the garden shed.  We have found sleepy common wasp queens in the attic of our house.  Read about the life cycle of wasps.

Where do wasps go in winter?

In social, aerial nesting wasps, commonly the whole colony will die, and only the queens will hibernate or overwinter somewhere sheltered (see above). There may be some differences in various parts of the world and depending on species.

Which trees attract wasps?

Whether or not a tree will attract wasps will partly depend on the stage of the wasp colony and the range of plants and trees available upon which the wasps can forage.  I have seen wasps foraging on cotoneaster flowers.

Soft fruits such as plums may attract wasps especially later in the summer, as they may wish to feed on the sweet, ripe fruit.  

If you wish to distract them away from seating areas, choose a place in your garden safely away from the home/patio/seating areas, and try leaving banana skins and discarded fruit and apple cores in that place.  Wear a pair of thick gloves, and pick up or sweep away soft fruit and wind falls at night (wear protective clothing, just in case!).  Move them to the back of the garden, out of the way.

If wasps are good for natural pest control, why aren't farmers using them?

They are - this process is in development, but it is taking time.  Read about farming and wasps.

How can I treat wasp stings

There are various treatments for wasp stings.  Various wasps are becoming increasingly important for farmers to assist in controlling crop pests.

What is the difference between wasps and hornets?

Hornets are part of the wasp family, but they are of course larger than the smaller, more ubiquitous species such as the German wasp.  Read more about wasps and hornets.

Which wasps have the worst sting and which wasps are aggressive?

German wasps and the common wasp can become agitated if they feel under threat.   When the colony grows, there is more competition for food and space.  This may be when they are more likely to become grumpy - i.e. toward the end of the season.  However, I have never, ever been stung by a wasp, despite having nests in our garden, and one in the attic one year.

Solitary wasps and paper wasps are considered to be less aggressive.

sandy colored ball shaped wasp Nest in our atticNest in our attic - we had no idea it was there until the wasps were long gone. We have not seen them since.

body snatcher wasp side view - image links to a page about this subject

Body Snatcher Wasps!

Why are farmers turning to wasps to help them control crop eating pests?

Watch the Body Snatcher Wasp

Wasps play an important role in the ecosystem.  Read about:

Wasp Pollination

a yellow and black wasp queen on a pale pink rose flower.