What you Need to Know About Wasps

There are some things that you need to know about wasps: Although they have a reputation for being pests and nuisances, they are incredibly interesting insects. Worldwide there are about 103,000 wasp species. Of all the species, only 1,000 of are social. The others are solitary or parasitoids. Each species has unique characteristics and quirks that make them fascinating and they all have their place in our ecosystem.

Yellow Jackets are probably the most prevalent species of wasps. Other species that are often encountered include Paper Wasps, Mud Daubers, Ground Wasps, and Red Wasps. With summer upon us, it’s important to know more about these buzzing creatures so we can coexist with them peacefully.

What family do Wasps belong to?

Wasps belong to the insect order Hymenoptera, which also includes ants and bees. Within this order, wasps are primarily classified into two main families: Vespidae (paper wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets) and Sphecidae (digger wasps, mud daubers, and other solitary wasps). There are many other smaller families of wasps as well, but these two families contain the majority of wasp species.

Anatomy of Wasps

Although wasps exhibit a diverse range of sizes and anatomical features, they generally share some common characteristics. Size-wise, wasps vary considerably depending on the species. Some parasitic wasps can be as tiny as 0.005 inches (0.14 mm) in length, while larger species like the Asian giant hornet can reach up to 2 inches (50 mm) in length. Most common wasp species, such as paper wasps and yellowjackets, have a size range of 0.5 to 1 inch (12-25 mm).

The typical wasp anatomy consists of three main body parts: the head, thorax, and abdomen.


The head contains the wasp’s eyes, antennae, and mouthparts. Wasps have large compound eyes that provide them with excellent vision, and they also possess simple eyes called ocelli for detecting light. Their antennae are used to sense their environment and communicate. The mouthparts consist of mandibles for biting and chewing, as well as a proboscis to feed on nectar or other liquid food sources.


The thorax is the middle part of the wasp’s body where the wings and legs are attached. They have six legs, each ending in a pair of claws for gripping surfaces. Wasps have two pairs of wings, with the front pair being larger than the hind pair. These wings are connected by small hooks called hamuli, which help in synchronized flapping during flight.


The abdomen is the posterior part of the body and contains the wasp’s reproductive organs, digestive system, and venomous stinger. In many species, the female wasp has a long, slender waist called a “petiole” that connects the thorax and the abdomen, giving them their distinctive hourglass shape.

Identification and Lifecycle of Wasps

Wasps are easily identifiable by their thin waist, slim body, and narrow wings (they are also hairless unlike their bee counterparts). There are two main types of wasps; social and solitary. Social wasps, like paper wasps and yellow jackets, work together to build and maintain their nests while solitary wasps like cicada killers and mud daubers are mostly seen building their individual nests. Wasps undergo a complete metamorphosis that starts from an egg, to larvae, pupa, and finally an adult. Although their lifespan varies significantly between species, they usually only live for a few months.

Where do Wasps build their Nests?

Top left and right – Above ground Wasps nest  Right – Ground nesting wasp

European wasps build sizable communal nests that are often discreetly located with a small visible entrance. These nests are usually round or oval-shaped and about the size of a basketball. They are made from chewed wood pulp and saliva and often look similar to the material used for egg-cartons.

About 80% of wasp nests are constructed underground, with the rest usually built above ground. Underground nests are often found in holes, abandoned burrows, garden rockeries, base of trees, hedges, rubbish heaps, compost piles, or within retaining walls. Those built above-ground are typically found in wall cavities, ceilings, roof spaces, or outdoors in logs or tree trunks.

Do Wasps make Honey?

The majority of wasp species do not make honey. However, they eat honey for a quick burst of energy.

What is the difference between a hornet and a wasp?


The primary distinction between a wasp and a hornet is size and body shape. A wasp is smaller than a hornet, which can reach a size of up to 2.2 inches. Although both wasps and hornets have black and yellow bands, those of a hornet are more intense. In addition, the body shape of hornets are different. They have longer abdomens, which also makes them appear bigger.

Both insects can be dangerous to those who are allergic to their venom. Many people think that a wasp is ´out to get them´ This is not true, although, research has shown that wasps remember individuals for at least a week! Like bees, a wasp or hornet only stings if it feels threatened or their nest is in danger. Whereas bees typically die after they sting, wasps and hornets do not.

What is The Purpose of Wasps?

Contrary to popular belief, wasps are essential to our ecosystem. As predators, they control the population of other insects such as caterpillars, flies, and spiders which can be detrimental to our gardens and crops. Additionally, wasps help with pollination, ensuring that our plants continue to thrive.

What do Wasps Eat?

Unlike honey bees, they scavenge for their protein from animal sources like carcasses, garbage, pet food, and picnic tables. They also prey on arthropods like spiders and nestling birds. They also like fruit, nectar, tree sap, sweet drinks, ice-cream, beer, and ‘honeydew’ from plant leaves. These sugars are particularly vital for the new queen wasps developing in late summer.

Stings and How to Deal with Them

Wasps are known for their painful and often dangerous stings. The venom injected into the skin can cause an allergic reaction, with some species causing more severe reactions than others. If stung, remove the stinger and clean the area with soap and water. Ice can be applied to alleviate the pain and swelling. Those who are allergic to wasp stings must seek immediate medical attention!

Prevention and Control of Wasps

Preventing infestations starts with proper property maintenance. Cover trash cans, clean up spills, and remove any food sources that could attract wasps. Close windows and doors or use mesh screens to keep wasps out of the house. If a nest is found, do not try to remove it as this will put you in harm’s way. Call a professional to handle the situation as they have adequate safety gear and equipment. Pest control or even local beekeepers will be able to help!

Why does killing a Wasp attract more?

The answer is simple, – they are visually attuned to detect the abrupt, swift movements of insects. Therefore, if you  try to swat a wasp with frenzied flailing actions, it will only increase their determination to find ´the prey´. Moreover, if you kill a wasp, it emits pheromones that attract other wasps nearby. The best reaction is to stay calm and remain still. Wasps quickly realize that there is nothing to gain and move on.

Tips to repel Wasps Naturally

Do you know what smell they hate? Wasps have an excellent sense of smell so why not use their ability to your advantage? If you like to sit outside, place strong smelling plants, outdoor candles or small containers with aromatherapy oils nearby. Like many insects, these criters do not like the strong smell of Basil, eucalyptus, peppermint, spearmint, cloves, geranium, thyme, citronella, bay leaves, and lemongrass. You can also repel them with coffee grounds, and cinnamon. Another option is to soak a cotton ball in peppermint oil and place them around you. Alternatively, use a spray bottle filled with water and add a few drops of peppermint oil to spray areas.

Another option is to make a wasp trap and hang it nearby.

How to build a simple Wasp Trap

You will need:

  1. An old plastic soda or water bottle (a 2-liter bottle is ideal but smaller ones will work as well)
  2. String to hang the trap
  3. A paring knife or scissors
  4. Water, sugar, and a few drops of dish soap

Prepare the bottle: Using a paring knife or scissors, cut the top of the bottle off just below where it starts to narrow for the cap. The part you’ve cut off should look like a funnel.

Invert the top: Take the top part of the bottle that you’ve cut off and invert it (flip it upside down) without the screw-top and place it back into the bottom part of the bottle. It should look like a funnel leading into the bottle. If there´s a gap, you can use duct tape or something similar to secure the two parts of the bottle together.

Create a hanger: Punch two holes opposite each other on the top of the bottle. Thread a piece of string through the holes to create a hanger.

Prepare your bait: Mix together water, sugar, and a few drops of dish soap. The dish soap breaks up the surface tension of the water and aids in drowning the wasps. Pour this mixture into your bottle through the funnel. The liquid should be deep enough to drown the insects but not so high that they can easily escape.

Hang your trap: Hang the trap in an area where you’ve seen wasps. They will be attracted to the sugar water and crawl into the bottle, but will be unable to crawl back out.

Remember to regularly empty the trap and replace the bait as necessary.

Interesting Wasp Facts

Despite being often misunderstood, wasps have some fascinating quirks. Here are a few interesting facts to consider:

The tarantula hawk wasp has a sting so painful that it has been equated to “a bolt of lightning wrapped in shards of glass.”

They have an incredible sense of smell, using their antennae to detect scents from up to two miles away.

The common yellow jacket can fly up to nine miles per hour.

In Japan, wasps are made into a type of sake called “vespa mandarinia” which is said to have a nutty, savory flavor.

They often invade honey bee colonies when their usual food sources diminish. They prey on adult bees and rob the honey.

Did you know that New Zealand has some of the highest numbers of wasps in the world?

These criters can be intimidating creatures, but they have an important role in our ecosystem. Understanding their purpose, identifying their characteristics, and knowing how to safely interact with them is necessary for peaceful coexistence. So the next time a wasp visits your garden or patio, appreciate their presence and give them space to fulfill their important role in nature.

Let us know in the comments if you want to know more about wasps or have a story about wasps!

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