How to identify a wasp nest

how to identify wasps

A nearby wasp’s nest is a hazard that we are all likely to encounter at some stage, making our home and garden less safe.
A wasp’s life begins in the warmer days of spring when the queen awakes from her winter hibernation. There are no active nests during the winter period, but once the queen awakes she will immediately seek a suitable habitat for her nest.

It is wrong to assume that a harsh winter will kill hibernating queen wasps, although they are most vulnerable during this period. Predators, such as spiders, and old age are much more likely to kill the queen. A warm winter encourages earlier awakening of the queen wasp, sometimes as early as January or February.

Building and expanding the nest

Once a suitable nesting site has been chosen by the queen wasp, she immediately begins to gather the required material by stripping wood from local sources. Fence panels, rotten wood, sheds and garden furniture are prime sources. White lines are visible on the affected wood and are strong signs of a nearby nest. A substance similar to Curptinol can treat these white lines. The stripped wood is chewed by the queen, which becomes a waxy cellulose material when mixed with her saliva. This pulp is used to construct the nest.
The queen requires a stable structure to attach the nest to, with roof rafters and other domestic enclaves providing good bases. The nest begins as a stalk (or petiole) around which the cell structure is built, similar in look to the better known beehive pattern. The queen lays her eggs in these cells, which pupate and hatch to become foraging wasps that feed the next round of larvae. The larvae consume other insects caught by the wasps. Once these larvae hatch the nest becomes densely populated.

Identifying a wasp nest

There are two basic questions to ask when trying to identify a wasp’s nest.

  1. What is happening?
  2. What can you see?

It is best to look during mid-summer, when the sheer volume of wasps will give away whether a nest is active or not. The wasps will be entering and leaving the nest in large numbers. You may not be able to see the actual nest as the entry point may be through a hole in a wall and or screen which obscures the nest.

Locating the nest

More commonly you will encounter the wasps in your garden, when they seek and find food sources in the outdoors. Sweet or sugary things and dead flesh are their targets.
When a food source is found by wasps, a message is relayed to the nest triggering large numbers of wasps to swarm the food source. The first thing to do in this case is locate the food source and seek to cover it – perhaps a bin lid has been left unclosed, or has been damaged allowing wasps to enter.

If you believe they are coming from a nearby nest, then watch the flight paths of the wasps for a while, which will help you determine where they are coming from.

Once establishing their general direction, look first in roof areas, such as the eaves and check your neighbour’s garden too. There is a large amount of traffic in nest areas so it shouldn’t be hard to miss. Fascia and soffit boards rot as they age, providing perfect nesting areas for wasps; even the smallest holes, such ones used for cables, can be enough for wasps to enter loft and roof space.
If the roof is clear of wasps, then garden fixtures such as sheds and garages are the next point of search. Again, the heavy traffic of a wasp nest should make it easily visible.

What about indoors?

A constant population of wasps inside your home makes it likely that a nest is inside the house. With porous roof spaces ideal for wasp nests, wasps can easily travel through cavities into your home. Some nests have even been found in cupboards and modern ‘down lights’ encourage nests as they send light up into the attic which attracts wasps.

Underground nests

Underground nests can be tricky to locate as outdoor debris, such as leaves, can obscure them well. The same principle of observation applies in finding them, by watching the flight path of wasps to their nests. Popular nesting locations include old compost bins, holes in trees, patio paving stones, wooden slats and decking, bird boxes and so forth.
As always, don’t leave the problem if you are unsure how to proceed. Pest control companies have the knowledge to easily treat a wasp infestation.

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