Wasp Nests - Identification And What To Do About Them

What do wasp nests look like?

A wasp nest, depending on the species and number of wasps, can be a fantastic structure - truly an architectural masterpiece to rival the honeycombs made by honey bees! 

It's true that wasp nests are not usually welcomed by many people, but it has to be said that on balance, wasps are very beneficial insects both as pollinators (whose role is probably not fully understood), and natural 'pest control' - they can help keep down populations of crop eating ‘pests’.  They are largely beneficial in the garden, although you may think otherwise if you have lots of them feeding from the ripe plums from your plum tree.

There are actually thousands of wasp species, and most are solitary species and are pretty harmless, but the type of wasp people are mostly concerned about, are the black and yellow social wasps, which may be attracted to sweet, sugary drinks.

This page is mostly about social wasps.

I genuinely recommend this book on the right - it will inspire and educate children (and even any adults who read it!). 

My generation and earlier, were brought up to 'kill just in case, and in ignorance'.

I believe understanding helps to replace fear with respect.  I'm convinced that fear, the corresponding release of pheromones, not to mention any accompanying arm waving etc, actually provokes stings.  Please help spread the word and re-educate people about wasps!

Here, I will provide information about wasp nests and some video, but if you are worried about wasp nests, then there are ways you can deter wasps from building a nest where they are not wanted, as I'll explain below. 

Wasp Nest Identification

How do you know whether you already have a wasp nest?

This wasp nest was in our attic. Funnily enough, we didn't even notice it until after the season had well finished! They had not caused any trouble. However, I had previously found a few sleepy, overwintering wasp queens in the folds of an old sleeping bag. I didn't do anything about the wasps - I simply left them alone.

Of those wasps which build their own nests, and depending on the species in the country you are in, and whether they are social or solitary wasps, wasp nests can vary in size, construction material and appearance, but are typically greyish or straw coloured in appearance.

You may come across nests in the ground, or aerial nests hanging from tree branches or eaves of buildings, for example.

I’d like to thank Kelly Pinnick for permission to use the following photographs.

This nest (social wasp) was inside a shrub, and the picture was taken in the UK.  As you can see, this nest has a papery appearance, as if there are leaves of grey paper stuck together in a kind of spherical ball shape. 

These photographs show a little of the inside of a wasp nest.  You can see the cells are neat construction of hexagonal shaped cells - a super efficient way to use space and fit compartments together, whilst using the minimum amount of materials (and hence resources!). Indeed, this is exactly what honey bees do!

These are the cells where wasp larvae are reared. 

Nests are only used once, and wasp colonies only last a season – a little like bumblebees, because only the queens survive to establish future colonies.  In warm weather, and maybe in different geographical regions, a colony may thrive longer.

Wasp Nest Construction

Wasps are magnificent architects!  Truly!

Here is an excellent short YouTub video of a wasp nest outside a window by Vangelis Tsalesis showing wasps in the process of building a nest.

However, whilst it is amazing (and I like wasps), it is also somewhat likely to be intimidating in such a location - which is a shame, because it's also very interesting.  And I suspect this nest could become huge if left. Such a nest would require professional removal.

Signs Of Wasp Activity

You may see tell tale signs of wasp activity in the form of tiny scratches on wooden fences and garden furniture as below.

Seeing these markings could indicate there is or has been at some point, a wasp nest nearby. 

Last year, wasps here were collecting material from our garden fencing.   They were using it to construct a nest in ivy growing up an old tree in our neighbour's garden.  Our neighbours had sold the house and had already moved out.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get myself into a position to be able to take a photograph of the wasp nest.  The new neighbours removed the old nest before I had the opportunity to see it.  A disappointment for me!

Where Do Wasps Build Their Nests?

As stated, a nest may be in the ground - or in a compost heap, for that matter.

When building aerial nests, wasps commonly build their nests in trees, shrubs, hedgerows, and in my experience, fruit bushes such as raspberries, where they may provide excellent pest control as well as a brilliant pollination service (especially for autumn raspberries), but may cause concern in case of stings.

Below is an image of a wasp pollinating our raspberries.  You can read more about wasp pollination here.

However, they may select other places….

Wasp Nest In Shed Or Garage

Nests are commonly found in sheds and garages, and this photograph below provides a clear image of a nice smooth looking wasp nest in its entirety, that was found in a shed. 

Wasp Nests In Chimneys

Another favourite place is the chimney – my sister had such a scenario.  Take into account that the nest was basically paper, and could be a potential fire hazard, so I advised her against lighting a fire in order to 'smoke the wasps out'.  Anyway, this could have backfired and made the wasps very angry! 

In my sisters case, fortunately, she did not use that particular room (where the fire place was located) very often, and it being a warm summer, she did not need to light the fire.  She simply kept the door closed to keep the wasps out of the rest of the house. 

Later in the year, when the wasps were no longer active, she removed the nest from the chimney, and got the vacuum cleaner out to clear away any dead wasps left behind in the room.

Wasp Nest In The Compost Heap

For a couple of years, we had a nest in our compost heap.  At that time, the composter was made of plastic, and close to the back door of the house.  There were wasps going in and out all the time.  I am especially tolerant, however, and didn’t worry about the nest.  I simply stopped using the composter for some months.  Later, we dismantled the compost bin, and moved to another area of the garden.  The wasps did not come back.  We then acquired a larger compost bin, and bumblebees moved in, and successfully reared workers, males and new queens :).

Anyway, I was never stung (and nor have I ever been stung by a wasp), nor was my husband (though he has previously been stung - at that time, he used to hate wasps, but he has since developed an appreciation for them, and lets them be).

I find I am able to keep calm around wasps, and believe this is part of the answer, but that's just my opinion. 

It's very curious that some people are stung and others are not.   I can tolerate wasps landing on my arms or hands.  Similarily, I have seen videos of beekeepers who handle whole colonies of honey bees - bare chested, and with no hat - and are never stung, whereas most beekeepers where gloves, overalls and veils.  I can also handle bees, and despite having red ants in nearly every allotment bed on our allotment, have never been bitten at all - but I do love ants too, and can watch them for hours!

But I tremble at the site of a large non-biting spider!  On seeing cockroaches in India, I tried to not be bothered by them, but failed miserably - and they were HUGE!  Give me a wasp any day

Wasp Nests In The Loft Or Attic

Another common place to see them, and sometimes an occasional hibernating queen or two, is the loft or attic. 

As stated, we have had hibernating wasp queens in the attic (actually - I believe several times),  and we found a nest - already abandoned.  I am quite protective, and never harm the queens. 

Everyone's situation is different, and indeed, an especially large nest could cause alarm, especially where there are pets and young children.

Seek Assistance If A Nest Is Large And Intolerable - Take Steps To Deter Them In The Future

If you discover a large nest in the attic and find this intolerable, you will have to call for professional help. 

Alternatively, you could leave the nest alone and could remove any disused nest at the end of the season - we have left ours in place, it's in a tricky spot, and anyway, we understand this will deter wasps from building a nest close by in future. 

If you are going to remove an old nest yourself, wear protective gloves and clothing to ensure you are not caught out by any left behind wasps.  After that, install a Waspinator.

You can get a Waspinator. 

Waspinators work by discouraging wasps from building nests, because wasps are territorial, and tend to avoid nests of other wasps (further information below).

The Eaves Of A House Or Building

Another favourite.

If the nest appears on a school, the wasp colony may be finished and gone by the time children return from the summer vacation period.   An empty nest may then provide an interesting talking and study opportunity - ensure there are no wasps inside. 

On the other hand, the nest may be very active. 

Seek assistance as appropriate.  You could also consult a local wildlife organisation - are they able to advise you of the species, and whether it will soon be gone anyway?  

 I also recommend a number of repellents:

Repel - is available from Amazon US or

Incognito - is available from Amazon UK.

There are other products available too:

In the event that you are stung, you might like to try a Venom Extractor Kit - this is obviously something you would need to have as a precaution, and in advance of the stinging event occuring.

How To Remove A Wasp Nest And Deter Them In The Future

Personally, I love wasps, and I am able to tolerate wasps anyway, and I advise against killing wasps, but if circumstances are such that something really must be done, I recommend you should seek help if you urgently need to move a nest.

THEN, I recommend you install a Waspinator   (see image).  A Waspinator looks like a wasp nest, thus deterring wasps from building a nest nearby, because - as stated earlier, wasps are territorial.  You could have a go at making one, but on the other hand, they are not too expensive and should last some time. If you already have the materials, you may as well make one.

You can also use them to take with you on picnics.  I do not advise similar products made from paper - they are not durable, and though initially cheaper, probably will not last as long.

You can get a Waspinator from Amazon.

If you are simply bothered by wasps in the garden, remember they are excellent pollinators and pest-controllers - but if you still find them intolerable, then try the repellents mentioned - and see the very practical tips on my page about deterring wasps.

A variety of products are available to help you repel wasps from the garden. 

Wasps are fascinating creatures! 

Read about the lifecycle of wasps.

Read about hornets.

3 Ways wasps benefit people and the planet



Frequently Asked Questions

Read Wasp FAQs


.......are unsung heroes of our ecosystem, pollinating our food (and the food of many of our farm animals) and many of the trees that enable us to breathe.

They therefore provide food for birds and mammals, all of which play a role in the food chain, supporting the web of life on earth.

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