There are a number of different
species of wasp in Britain and they all have
the same general appearance. The most
common are the Common Wasp
(Vespula vulgaris) and the German Wasp
The Common Wasp
Wasps are social insects that live in
a nest. The nest is constructed from
paper made from wood chewed up and
mixed with saliva by the wasps. Each
new nest is established in spring by a
queen wasp that has hibernated over
the winter. She makes a small starter
nest that grows over the summer to the
extent that by the end of summer the
nest may contain many thousands of
wasps. Common sites for nests are soil
banks, roof spaces, hollows in walls
and hanging from trees. Wasps can
choose sites in or very close to houses.
Towards the end of the summer male
wasps and new queens are produced.
The mated queen wasps then leave the
nest to over-winter before the whole
process starts again the following
spring. The mated queens are the only
wasps to survive the winter.
With the start of cooler weather in
the autumn, the worker wasps and
remaining males become sluggish and
they also feed on ripe fruit, which can
lead to them being aggressive. As
temperatures drop in late autumn the
wasp’s nest dies off. A wasp’s nest
only lasts one summer and is not reused
the following year although another
nest may be built nearby if there is
Wasps as Pests
Wasps are actually quite useful
insects and are really more of a nuisance
than a true pest. Early in the season
they spend much of the time catching
other insects to feed the growing
young in the nest. This means they destroy
a large number of garden pests. They become a
nuisance later in the season
as the redundant workers and males
search for sweet food and are attracted
to ice creams, rubbish bins etc.
The issue with wasps is their ability
to sting. Wasps can sting repeatedly
(unlike bees) and will vigorously
defend their nest. There is evidence that
wasps release a substance called a
pheromone that causes other wasps to
become aggressive when another wasp is
killed or stings something.
Therefore it is not a good idea to
kill a wasp near its nest or try and destroy a
Wasp stings are usually more painful and
alarming than they are dangerous.
Mild swelling and soreness follow an
initial sharp pain. Some people are
allergic and can rapidly develop the
serious condition ‘anaphylactic shock’.
Multiple stings can also have a
cumulative effect. Stings in the mouth or
throat should be taken very seriously,
as the swelling can obstruct the airway.
In all cases of stings, if you are
unsure get medical advice.