When the sun is out, the wasps are out, and they sure know how to keep busy. The problem? 'Wasps' is a general term, and non-aggressive wasps, such as paper wasps, are very easily confused with other (more dangerous) stinging pests.
The key to dealing with wasps is to find their nest and treat them accordingly. Controlling them requires slightly different treatment methods depending on the species. How do you identify and safely get rid of a wasp nest without getting stung?
Before You Begin
Wasp stings can be dangerous, especially if you or someone close by is allergic to them. If you're allergic, it's recommended that you get help treating a wasp nest in order to avoid any serious reactions or accidents. This is especially true if the wasps you're noticing are yellow jackets or bald-faced hornets as they tend to be more aggressive.
It's important to know how to tell the difference between these pests and other non-aggressive pests like paper wasps and various bees. If you're easily startled, afraid of stinging pests, or treatment requires a ladder, these are also situations that may warrant professional help. Avoid getting yourself into a dangerous situation, and if you go the DIY route, make sure you have proper PPE (personal protection equipment) such as a bee suit or other protective clothing. If you use a chemical application, make sure to closely follow all label instructions.
What Do Wasp Nests Look Like?
Wasp nests are made from brown paper. Foraging wasps create this paper themselves by chewing things like wood and plant particles. A wasp nest can vary in appearance based on the species of wasp that built it. Some nests are open-face, some are closed, and others aren't wasps at all, but actually bees.
Believe it or not, wasps are interesting creatures that, like many pests, are often misunderstood. Wasps perform mostly beneficial functions, including pollination and consuming other nuisance insects. Many people are afraid of wasps, and understandably so. But, keep in mind that wasps can actually be quite harmless if given adequate space. When wasps feel threatened, they can become aggressive, and unlike bees, they are capable of stinging multiple times.
Wasps can vary in size depending on the type, but have smooth, slender bodies and longer legs. Their wings are transparent and their abdomens are usually yellow or black, but can also have brown, yellow, or reddish coloring.
Many times, people will see wasps around their bird bath, kiddie pool, or plants and assume that chemical treatment is needed immediately. This is often not the case. In fact, in this situation, attempting to control wasps with harsh chemical sprays can cause more harm than good and lead to injury. So, what should you do first? Play pest investigator.
Observe the wasps on your property from a distance and take note of their flight patterns and behavior. This can tell you a lot about the activity you're seeing. It can be easy to confuse foraging behavior and an active flight path, so you may need to watch for a while if you want a clear picture of what's going on.
What is an Active Flight Path?
When inspecting for wasp activity, an active flight path is what professionals are looking for to determine whether the activity present is foraging activity or an active nest. There are attractants around our homes that draw wasps in. You may see wasps very active around a water source (like a bird feeder) or you may find them swooping around a specific shrub they enjoy foraging from. Foraging activity should not be treated with chemicals.
3 Ways to Get Rid of a Wasp Nest
With some know-how and knowledge, you can identify what wasp nests are worth treating yourself and which ones should be handled by a professional. Yellow jackets and certain types of bees (especially bumblebees) are known for nesting underground.
- Yellowjackets are sleek, smooth, and streamlined. They are also aggressive and very protective of their nest.
- Bees are more gentle. They have a fluffy, slightly furry appearance and have a meandering way of flying.
It can be hard to get an up-close look, so be cautious, but the last thing you want to do is mistake a bee hive for a wasp nest and treat it chemically if you don't have to. If you're unsure, it would be wise to seek a second opinion.
This method works best if the wasps you're seeing are paper wasps. Paper wasps construct open-combed, umbrella-shaped paper nests. These nests tend to stay smaller (76-254mm or 3-10 inches in diameter) and don't have as many adult wasps as other species (on average 20-75 adults in a nest).
Start watching your eaves early in the spring, especially on the south and southwest sides of your home where the roof gets the most sun. If you see a small, open-faced paper nest being built, you can remove this yourself before it becomes too large. Even later in the season when the nest is more prominent, you could try and remove it yourself, but the nest will be bigger and maybe a little more intimidating.
Some of the wasps will be in the nest when it falls. While paper wasps are generally non-aggressive and tend to be pretty disoriented by the nest removal, aiming to remove them early in the season will ensure that you don't have to deal with so many adult wasps.
To remove a paper wasp nest, follow these steps:
- Wear proper protective clothing, including boots, pants, and long-sleeves.
- Locate the nest on the underside of your eaves.
- Make sure it's open-faced and not a closed paper nest.
- Select the proper tool for removal. This could be a broom, a long-handled scraper, or even a cob-web brush attached to a mop handle. You could also use a pressurized spray can of wasp killer to blow the nest apart, as the paper is delicate and will easily break up and the wasp killer will kill the wasps inside.
- Disrupt and scrape the nest free. If it is a paper wasp nest and it falls to the ground, you should be ready to stomp the nest quickly with a sturdy boot or spray the nest directly with an over-the-counter product.
DIY Chemical Treatment
There are wasp killing products available at the hardware store that are a great option for DIY paper wasp treatments. While these products are rated to kill other wasps such as yellow jackets and hornets, it is not recommended that homeowners handle these types of treatments themselves.
Paper wasps aren't the most aware when it comes to wasps. After their nest is knocked down, they're disoriented and unsure of what's taking place, giving you a chance to eliminate the small amount of wasps present.
Yellow jackets and hornets, on the other hand, have much bigger nests (anywhere from 100s to 1000s of wasps) and are good at locating and attacking any threats. They are sensitive to vibrations and incredibly protective of their home, meaning that once you start treating the nest, you're going to tick them off and have them ready to sting something. That something will likely be you!
Whether you have a hornet nest or yellow jacket nest, or if you just don't feel comfortable performing your own wasp investigation and treatment, don't be afraid to call a pest control company for help.
There are lots of pest control companies out there, and unfortunately, they're not all equal. The right company for you depends on what you're looking for.
Have you had recurring wasp issues on your property? Is it a constant struggle to keep wasp nests out of your eaves? You may want to have a pest control company coming out on a regular basis for maintenance. They'll take care of active issues during the regular service and they can be called in an emergency if something unexpected pops up. If you've already shelled out quite a bit for one-shot treatments, this option is much more cost-effective than paying for separate one-time treatments.
Signs of a Wasp Nest
The most obvious sign of a wasp nest is going to be visually spotting said nest. Wasps are widespread, so seeing them around your home isn't always an indication that you have a nest. One of your neighbors could have a nest, there could be one hiding in plain sight in the ground, or they could be visiting from the nest that's hidden in a nearby tree.
When looking for wasp activity, keep an eye out for the active flight pattern that indicates them coming and going from the nest entrance.
Yellow jackets are prone to nesting in the ground, and they are very sensitive to vibrations. Kids running around in the yard or a lawn mower passing over can prompt them to become defensive and aggressive. If you stumble across a nest by mistake, fight the urge to run away screaming. Instead, walk away slowly and cover your face with your hands or shirt to protect it from angry stings.
How to Keep Wasp Nests Away
If you're seeing wasps around your property but you're not sure if there's a nest, start by reducing the things that could be attracting them. These attractants could include:
- Standing water
- Sweet or protein rich foods
- Sticky spills
There may be some things around your home that attract wasps that aren't as easy to remove. If you have a specific bush wasps love to forage on, the only option may be to remove the bush. Most people opt for learning to give wasps their distance and letting them perform their beneficial functions from afar. Others are very bothered by wasps and will choose to remove the shrub.
“Nuisance Wasps and Bees.” Colorado University Extension,
- Paper Wasps, Yellowjackets and Other Stinging Wasps, Oklahoma State University
- Your Safety Around Yellow Jackets, National Park Services