18 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.

18 FAQS About Wasps

1. 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, and some species of bee could easily be mistaken for wasps. Please see: Are bees and wasps related?

2. 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.

3. 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.  Most bees feed their offspring pollen and nectar (although there are exceptions).

4. Do wasps make honey?
A small group of wasps found in South America, are known to make honey.  You can read about them and watch a video on my page: Do Wasps Make Honey?

5. Which wasp has the most painful sting?
In a study comparing the sting pain of 96 insects, the most painful sting came from the tarantula hawk wasp, yet its sting was also the least venomous! 

Read more about bee, wasp and hornet stings.

6. Do wasps pollinate flowers and crops?
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.

Wasp pollinating raspberry flowers.Wasp pollinating raspberry flowers.

7. 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.

8. Where do wasps build nests?
It depends on the type of wasp, but 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 bins or other cavities.  See these examples of wasp nests

However, there is great variety between species.  Some wasps use mud, others hollow plants stems.  Gall wasps induce a 'gall' to develop, particularly on tree branches and leaves, thereby effectively leaving the plant to do the work of protecting the wasp's developing offspring. 

A wasp nest is genuinely a fantastic structure. A large colony of social wasps can produce a nest as complex and amazing as the combs produced by honey bees!  Watch: a wasp building a nest.

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 social wasp nest.

9. How long does a wasp nest last?
Most wasp nests 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. 

Wasp nest in shed.Wasp nest in shed.

10. How can I remove wasps without killing them?
You'll find some advice on  removing wasps without killing theme

11. 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, such as presence of predators etc.

12. 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 some species of wasp will hunt other insects to feed their larvae, and that includes bees.  Similarly,  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, see do wasps attack bees.

If this is a distressing thought, but it must be remembered that wasps too, have their survival problems.  Humans kill animals for meat and eat non-free range.  Humans will also kill for the sake of it, which must surely include the shocking amount of animals killed for food that is then wasted, 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 always 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.

13. Where do wasps go in winter?  Where do wasps hibernate?
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.

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.

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. Which wasp sting hurts the most?  Do wasp stings hurt more than bee stings?
See my page: bee vs wasp vs hornet stings.

17. 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.

18. 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.

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.