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How to identify a wasp nest

A wasp nest can be a nuisance, causing concern and fear, especially if they are in areas were we live, work and play.

The life cycle of a wasp starts in spring, when the days start to warm and the queen wasp comes out of hibernation, where they have all spent the entire winter. During winter there are no active wasp nest but the queen will know start to look for a suitable place to build a nest.

Many people believe that a harsh, cold winter will kill the queen. Traditionally, the queen wasp does die over the winter but not due to the temperature. They die as a result of the natural life cycle of the queen as well as a result of predators, such as spiders. Warm winters affect the queen wasp more, as she will tend to come out earlier if the weather is warmer than usual.

Building and expanding the nest

When the queen wasp has chosen a nest site, she will start to build the nest by stripping wood, usually from fence panels, shed walls or rotten wood (if you see 'white tramlines' on fence panels or shed walls, then you may have a wasp nest being built nearby. You can treat the affected area with something similar to 'Curptinol'). The queen then chews this wood and her saliva turns it into a wax-type cellulose material, which she then uses to build the nest.

The queen wasp starts to build the nest by attaching it to something sturdy and solid; in a shed, for example, this may be a roof rafter. She builds a 'stalk' (known as a petiole) and around this central stalk she adds 'cells', similar to those that you may have seen in a beehive. In these cells, the queen wasp will start to lay eggs. When hatched, she will then forage for food to feed the larvae; these larvae grow quickly on the protein rich insect food. Once the larvae become wasps they then start to fly in and out the nest which, by mid summer, can be densely populated.

Identifying a wasp nest

Identifying a wasp nest can be relatively straightforward. The first thing you need to establish the answers to the following basic questions:

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

Wasp nests are fully established by mid summer and you won't be able to miss the nest of social wasps simply due to the large numbers of wasps entering and leaving the nest. However, you might be able to see the nest but you can see the wasps flying around. They will enter their nest through a hole or holes in fascia boards, shed walls etc. where the nest is out of sight.

Locating the nest

If you are being plagued by wasps out in your garden there could be several reasons for this such as the nest is close by or the scout wasps have found a food source in or around the garden, and are in the process of relaying the food back to the nest. Wasps will seek out and find sweet things and dead flesh.

Wasps do swarm and so if a scout wasp has gone back to the nest, relayed the message there is a food supply available, then several hundred wasps will swarm to that food source. If this is happening, then you need to identify the food source – is the bin lid closed properly? Is there a small hole or damage to the bin which means scouting wasps are able to get in to the food?

However, if you convinced there is a nest nearby then you will need to stand still and watch for a few minutes. During this time you will need to identify the 'flight paths' of the wasps; by doing this, you can determine where the main wasp activity is concentrated. You will then probably find the nest in this area.

Identifying a wasp nest is straightforward in that there will be a substantial amount of wasp traffic arriving and leaving the nest. The most common places for wasp nests are up in the eaves of roofs, so check your and your neighbours. When fascia or soffit boards become old, they start to rot and this offers the perfect place for wasps to create a nest in the gaps. As minute as they are, there can also be holes around the entry points of aerial cables into the loft space and these tiny holes offer a way in for wasps.

But, if on inspection, the roof is not the nesting place then the next places on your list to look is in the garden shed and/or garage. All you need is a quick look around these areas and if there is a nest then you'll notice it straight away.

What about indoors?

If you are finding wasps in your home on a daily basis, then there is a chance that there is a wasp nest in the building somewhere. Wasps will find their way in through tiny gaps in roof spaces etc and can then fly around the house finding a suitable place to build a nest. People have discovered wasp nests in bedroom cupboards and the recent modern trend of 'down lights' in ceilings seem to attract wasps, possible as they also allow light to filter up through the home, attracting wasps down toward the light. Wasp nests can be found in surprising places!

Underground nests

These can be more difficult to locate as there can be debris such as leaves etc. covering the nest hole. However, if you see wasps coming in and out of a certain area then again, just watching and following them will reveal where the nest is. Some other places favoured by wasps to nest can be found in old compost bins, playhouse or equipment, holes in trees, under patio slabs and wooden decking, bird boxes and the list could go on!

If you are unsure, then call on the services of a pest control company. Being the experts they know where to look and how to deal with wasp nests.

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