Queen wasp drinking

How do I know if I have a wasp nest? 

Its April and its spring! No, it does still feel like winter, but we are in spring and that’s official, the trees are in blossom and their leaves are budding out all over the place, in the morning you can hear a lot more bird song and certainly, on those very odd days when the rain clouds blow away and the sun comes out, it actually, feels quite warm. 
So yeah, it is spring and that means the Queen wasps who have been hibernating in sheds, woodpiles and lofts are now coming out to start this year’s season and so soon enough, you may find yourself having to deal with angry wasps. Its funny, wasps seem to only have two emotions; angry and really super, mega angry. 
I was out in the garden last weekend during one of the brief sunny spells getting rid of dead stems and planting border plants when a Queen emerged from one of my outdoor wood piles. She was very sleepy and it being a spring day, by that I mean cold, she sat on the garden wall next to me and didn’t move. At this time of year, the Queens really need an insect version of an alcoholic shot; nectar, they’ve been in a dormant state, and they need that sudden sugar rush which they can only get from certain flowers. As it was cold, she probably wouldn’t summon up enough energy to fly and go off and find that flower, so I did something which I hope that I don’t have reason to regret later, I fed her a sugar water mix, and then off she went. 
I then started thinking about where she would go and where she would end up building her nest and that led to a beer, well it was the weekend, then another beer and then, to this blog: How do you know if you have a wasp nest? 
The four signs that you have a wasp nest 
A Queen wasp fresh out of hibernation searching for a quick nectar fix 
Queen wasp on a pot
You may have heard the saying as a busy as a bee? Well, bees are certainly busy and there’s no denying how hard they work but wasps make bees look leisurely. In the film Forrest Gump, Forrest becomes a champion football player because of his speed and singlemindedness when it comes to running; wasps are the Gumps of the insect world. 
Where bees are social insects and stop at the hive entrance and perform a waggledance to let other bees know where they’ve been, wasps don’t mess about, they fly straight in, drop of the food they’ve caught and then fly straight back out again to get more. Generally these are all female wasps and they are extremely busy providing for the colony, this aerial traffic is noticeable. 
Wasps won’t always be flying into a hole in the brickwork, they can nest in the ground and higher up in bushes but you will see them arriving and departing almost on a flightpath. Living as I do near Heathrow which is the busiest airport in Europe, the planes take off and come in on clearly defined flightpaths, just like wasps do, so if you can see a stream of insects flying in and then flying out in fairly well defined streams; then you’ve got a wasp nest at the end of it. 
wasp nest in a bush
Wasps are busy, they’re very industrious insects and one of their weird behavioural quirks is that unlike animals like birds that will happily re-use a nest, wasps don’t ever reuse a nest. Remember I wrote about the Queen coming out of hibernation and being exhausted? She will start a entirely new nest in the spring which becomes the responsibility of her workers to enlarge and maintain when she becomes an egg laying machine. 
Every wasp nest starts with a single strand called the pintel which the structure hangs from, the Queen may well build this right next door to an old nest but she won’t use that or use any of the now left over material. Initially she builds a set of eight hexagonal cells and then a wafer thin sheath around the outside, as the years moves on, the workers add layers of cells and thicken the sheath, and this means that while hundreds of wasps are outside hunting for insects, hundreds more can be inside breakdown and rebuilding the nest. 
This is like having an insect building site in your walls or roof and you can hear a crunching sound from all the activity, it makes enough noise that I’ve had people call me out for mice because the wasps are making such a racket. 
Inside a wasp nest
Wasps build their nests from wood pulp and saliva, and that makes you think about it, if you have to live in a house made up of spit and woodchips, maybe that’s what makes them so angry?  
This material is scraped off fence panels, wooden furniture and from old rotten wood by the workers, occasionally you’ll come across a nest with jazzy coloured lines because the neighbour’s painted their side of the fence with a bright colour. 
Wasps aren’t going to fly far when harvesting wood so if you’re seeing either the wasps on the wood work or clean zigzag lines where the faded outer layers been gnawed off, you probably have a wasp nest nearby. Watching how they take off and where they fly to will give you its location. 
two wasps
If you walk into a room and discover a wasp on the window, you don’t immediately think “Uh oh we’ve got a wasp nest” and why would you, wasps can be everywhere in the summer, especially if we get a warm spring to start them off right. But if you find two, three or four wasps sat on that window or a couple of wasps appearing every day, then yeah, its time to go “Uh oh”! 
If you keep finding unwelcome wasp visitors then you’ve got a nest nearby, hornets will hunt at night and so if you got the lights on and the windows open on a hot summers night, its no problem if you find a hornet in the room. Wasps aren’t like they’re larger cousin in that they don’t go out in the dark, but, when light escapes into the area around the nest they will come out to investigate and if you’ve woken them up, they’ll be angry, well, they’re always angry so don’t really worry about that. 
On the note about coming from dark to light; if you’ve got to visit the loft to get the holiday suitcases down, just put the light on and wait for a minute or two. The reason is, if you’ve got a wasp nest that’s in a position out of sight and you put the light on and start rummaging around, you may suddenly find yourself being divebombed by wasps who will see you as a threat. Several years ago I was working at a house for squirrels where English wasn’t often spoken and Grandma took me to the loft hatch so I could go up and set my traps, now I went up with a head torch because I didn’t want the main loft light on, but Granny to help me out came up the ladder and switched the light on. Her understanding of English wasn’t good and within a matter of seconds I was getting attacked by wasps and I’m wearing a light on top of my head to make matters worse. After getting stung on the head and almost standing on top of her head to get her down the ladder, she now understands a few more words. But the lesson learned is, turn the light on and …. wait. 
Wasp in close up

The four signs of a wasp nest 

Wasps can be a problem if left alone, later in the season after the Queen dies all the workers will be left to their own devices, as the wasp grubs feed the workers a sweet syrup in return for being fed mashed up insects, generally they have a purpose and are just in their day-to-day angry mode. When the grubs pupate into Queens themselves and then leave the nest, those workers now don’t get fed and the insect form of hangry is just extremely mega super angry, and you’ve now got a big problem.  
When the wasps are working for the colony, they’re going to the nest and so we find them easy to treat; attack the nest with insecticide and it’ll be over in a few minutes or hours, once the workers abandon that nest, they become untreatable. The workers have to drink a sugary solution, because they don’t have teeth the only form of food, they can find will be our sugary drinks, some sweet sap producing plants and any nectar that is still around.  
At this stage wasps will be everywhere, and I mean absolutely everywhere, I often go out in August to these colony breakdowns and find that the customer can’t even go out in the back garden because of the amount of angry starving wasps crawling over everything. If you discover a wasp nest from one or more of the four signs then call out a professional to get rid of them so that you can enjoy the summer in peace. 
No wasps sign
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