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Wasp Nests - How to Locate and Identify Them

Close up photo of a wasp.The majority of wasps are solitary insects. However, there are some that prefer to live together. In fact, the species populating the U.K are actually social wasps.

Eusocial wasps live together in a nest. Eusociality means that there are groups in the nests, consisting of worker wasps, that are not reproducing, reproducing cast and an egg-carrying queen.

All social wasps build their nests out of some form of fibre. Wasps chew wood and plant fibres to mix them with their saliva in order to make a construction material for their nests. This material has a paper like structure. The placement of the nest depends on the type of wasp.

The nests are constructed of rows of cells, resembling those of bees. Wasps lay their eggs in those cells. Later, the larvae will be kept and fed in the same cell until they develop into a mature wasp.

Learn more about wasps >

Identifying a Wasp Nest

If there is a nest of social wasps on your property you will notice a vast increase of wasps. In order to find their home, you can simply follow the wasps from a safe distance. There is no way for you to miss the stream of scouting and working wasps leaving and entering the nest. Remember, don’t get too close! Bear in mind that wasp species like to nest in huge cracks. Nests could be under your porch or in a crack between your roof and the walls of the house. Nests in cracks, especially on the roof, can potentially lead to an entry point to your home.

While following the wasps, keep in mind that they are extremely aggressive, especially when it comes to their nest!

Learn more about stings and why do wasps sting >

Learn how to treat a wasp sting >

How To Identify Wasp Activity Around Common Nesting Spots

Common nesting spots for wasps in close proximity to human dwellings are:

  • Cracks in Buildings
  • Under Roofings
  • Garden Sheds
  • Garages
  • Deep Bushes
  • Under Patios

Some wasps even make nests underground like the German Wasp and the Red Wasp.

You can identify activity by keeping an eye out for the "traffic" of worker wasps. Wasps will go back and forward, carrying food to the hive during the day. You can’t miss that, and it will help you determine where exactly is the entrance of the nest. Another sign of wasp nest nearby is the constant buzzing sound. When the insects, group in bigger quantities the sound is unmistakable. Be very careful if you spot a hole in the ground in your garden. Always stand aside and observe before tempering with the soil around the hole. Those openings might be the entrance to an underground German wasp nest.

Sure Sign

If you see fresh stripes on wooden surfaces, that is a clear sign of wasp activity. Perhaps you’ve noticed thin white lines on the tool shed or wooden fence. Those lines are formed while wasps are collecting the wood fibre for building their nest. By striping a line of fibre they reveal the hidden surface of the wood, that is not weathered by the sun, and you can see it with a naked eye.

That is a sure sign of a wasp nest being constructed nearby.

Difference Between a Wasp Nest and a Bee Hive

Although, wasp nests and bee hives have some similarities, they are some differences. You need to know what you are dealing with, because bees are a protected species and tempering with their hives is against the law.

Building MaterialPreferred LocationSize of Nest
BeesWax like substance created by the bee itself. Also known as beeswax, that bees are creating with their abdomens.South facing hive with an entrance not bigger than an inch and a half in diameter.Big enough to collect 6 and a half gallons.
WaspsPaper like substance created by mixing plant fibre and saliva while chewing.Covered nest, somewhere out of sight. One entrance at the bottom of the nest.Size varies. The biggest nest reported was 1.75 metres in diameter and 3.7 metres in height.

How Many Wasps Live in a Nest

The number of wasps housed inside the nest varies again with the specific type of wasp. Another factor is if the nest turned into "polygynous" or not. If it is, it will be inhabited by more than one egg carrying queen and may live through the winter and grow, even more, next season.

In the UK, the most common wasp in urban areas is the German Wasp (Vespula germanica), whose nests can house around 1000 individuals. That number can go up to 1500 individuals, although the phenomenon is rare. Most of the nests house around 600 - 800 wasps.

Red wasp, also populating the UK rural areas, are the wasps that build some of the biggest nests. A red wasp nest usually contains 3000 - 5000 wasps. Be extremely careful not to strike those nests if you are not ready for war.

Wasp Nest Facts - UK Species

German Wasp Nest
German Wasp Nest

Image by: Susan Drury

Red Wasp Nest
Red Wasp Nest

Image by: Wikipedia

European Hornet
European Hornet

Image by: USFWSmidwest

A single queen is starting the nest by making a couple of hexagon cells in which she will lay her eggs. Those cells will keep the young wasps safe through their immature stages of life. During the summer the colony will expand fast. More worker wasps will be produced and the nest itself will grow.

Closer to the end of the summer the colony will start producing more males and start building bigger cells in the nest. Those big cells will be home to the new queens and males during fall. The old queen will die and the new ones will hibernate during the winter.

An interesting fact is that on some rare occasions the nest can become polygynous - having more than one egg-laying queen. This nest will live through the winter and continue growing next year.

The German Wasp has one more interesting nesting habit. It can build its nest underground.

Those red paper wasps are known to build some of the biggest nests. They prefer to build their nests somewhere safe, and are rarely seen in rural areas. However, manmade structures give them the perfect conditions to build their umbrella-like nests. Garden sheds, underneath bridges or a, well protected from the winds, chimney. The nesting of this type of wasp has four phases.

Founding Phase - A red wasp queen will settle and start building the nest. It is a common site for a couple of queens to start a nest together. Later on, some of them will move to another nest. Queens are not limited to one nest, they will occasionally move around to different nests and even lay eggs there.

Worker Phase - Female worker wasps are being produced. As they hatch, they start to take care of the nest and the younglings.

Reproductive Phase - This reproductive phase continues from the appearing of the first foundresses until the colony start declining. Then, new queens go on a search for a new nest. All the foundress mate and lay eggs, but the dominant one is laying the greater number of eggs in the colony.

Intermediate Phase - Intermediate phase is characterised by the new offspring starting their own nests. Occasionally while the newborn wasps are leaving their nest, the queen (dominant foundress) disappears as well.

The European hornet is building a paper like construction that has a shield. This shield is an envelope that protects the nest from sunlight. Those hornets prefer dark places for their nests, but if they can’t find one, they can deal with the problem by creating an envelope surrounding the nest. Inside this envelope is the actual paperlike comb.

This hornet is combining natural and manmade materials in order to build its nest. It again uses its saliva and plant fibre to create paper pulp. Artificial materials are glued together with a different saliva solution. That substance acts as cement in the building process. The European Hornet uses more saliva and less plant fibre in order to build its nest.

Actually, the saliva is what makes the cob waterproof and durable to weather conditions. The European hornet uses around 30% plant fibre and 70% of its own saliva. Combining the saliva with minerals from the surrounding soil makes the cement for the comb even stronger. Minerals like titanium, iron, and zirconium were found in the walls of a European hornet nest.

Will a Wasp Nest Disappear on Its Own

Wasp colonies usually don’t live through the winter, because of low temperatures and lack of food. So if the nest is not bothering you in anyway and you just leave it be, it will grow by the end of summer and die off in the winter. So to answer the "evergreen" question: "How long does a wasp nest last?" We can safely say: "Usually, one year". However, an egg-laying queen may be hibernating inside and waiting for the weather to warm up in order to restart the life in the nest. Those would be "polygynous" nests. Queen wasps have an average lifespan of 12 months, but we are talking about the duration of a nest, and a single nest can have multiple queens. On top of that, after a queen dies, a younger one takes her place.

Even if there are no queens left in the nest, the very construction could be repopulated next year. So as long as the wasp nest is present, they may be wasps inside and probably will be.

If a nest is removed, from a specific location, wasps from the same colony will not return to that spot again. Unfortunately, if the perfect conditions for nesting are present, a new colony could re-establish itself on the same spot.

In some rare cases, wasp predators take away entire nests. These rare cases are mostly doing of racoons (slightly possible) and weasels. And on super rare occasions birds like the magpie or the blackbird. Those are all natural predators of the wasp that enjoy the taste of adult wasps and are not tempted only by its larvae.

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