How to Get Rid of Wasps
17–19 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
Wasps are a frightening pest for many people. Setting up their nests near homes, they fly swiftly around doors and entryways and pack a powerful sting if they feel threatened.
Yet not all wasps sting, and they are a beneficial insect in some ways. Without wasps eating insects, there would be a gaping hole in the food chain. With about 30,000 identified wasp species, some are more common pests for humans than others. All this makes it important to know what kind of wasps are causing you problems before you attempt to get rid of them — or even they are wasps at all. Learning more about bees and wasps is key in safely ridding your property of an infestation.
Differences Between Bees and Wasps
Bees have robust, rounded bodies made up of one section, whereas wasps are slender and have a tapered waist area that connects their thorax to their abdomen. Bees are hairy, while wasps are more smooth and shiny. Bees feed on pollen, while wasps feed on insects. If you see something buzzing near a flower, it’s more likely to be a bee than a wasp. Honeybees die after stinging, whereas wasps can sting and fly directly away.
Physical Characteristics of Wasps
Wasps all grow up to about 1.5” and vary in size by species. However, their bodies are all composed of a head, thorax and abdomen separated by a tapered waist. They have one pair of wings, one pair of antennae, and six legs. All female wasp species have venom which they inject into their victims when stinging them. Only females can sting, and their stingers are located at the very end of their bottom half. This stinger also doubles as a reproductive organ through which the wasp can lay eggs.
Common Species of Wasps
How To Identify:
- Grow to about 3/8” to 5/8”
- Yellow and black pattern that appears striped along its body
- Found worldwide, American yellow jackets are mainly found in the Southeast
- Their nests can be found inside structures, hanging from structures, and on the ground
- Live in colonies and work to fertilize the queen wasp’s eggs and build a nest to protect the entire group
How To Identify:
- Grow up to ¾” to 1” long
- Predominantly brownish-black with yellow to red markings along their head and abdomen, not to be confused with the striping pattern found on yellow jackets
- Can be found all throughout North America
- Like to build their nests near buildings, under eaves and closer to the ground on sturdy plants.
- Nests are made of paper or similar materials
- Like other wasp species, paper wasps won’t sting unless they feel like the colony is being threatened Tend to swarm if they feel their colony is being threatened
How To Identify:
- Average size is 1.25”
- Predominantly black with light yellow or white stripes more structured than those of yellow jackets
- Prevalent throughout North America but more commonly found throughout tropical Asia
- Build their nests out of paper and paper-like materials
- Locate nests most often on sturdy plants or high trees, but sometimes near buildings and homes
- A social species of wasp which tends to behave similarly to yellow jackets and paper wasps Does not sting unless provoked
How To Identify:
- Usually grow to ½” to 1” long
- Predominantly black with yellow markings on their legs and thorax
- Significantly thinner bodies than those of other wasps
- Native to North America but found throughout the world
- A solitary wasp which does not live in colonies or build nests together with other wasps
- Builds a smaller nests for itself and its offspring
- Builds its nest out of mud, usually place near buildings
- Docile until provoked
- Does not swarm
If you’ve noticed unsightly nests or seen black and yellow pests flying about your house, there is a chance you’re dealing with a wasp infestation.
While it may be unnerving to purposefully get close to a wasp colony or nest, they’re usually easy to identify by their shape, color and markings, as well as their nest shape and materials.
Gather the Tools You’ll Need
For peering into dark corners
For finding small entry points
For finding small entry points
Step 1: Prepare Yourself for Safety
If you are comfortable getting close to a wasp’s nest, you’ll need to prepare yourself for the off chance that you’ll be stung. This doesn’t happen unless they feel provoked, but it’s always better to be prepared. Dress in long sleeves and long pants, with closed-toed shoes and gloves. You can also wear glasses or goggles to protect your eyes.
Step 2: Identify the Nests
If you’ve seen wasps flying around, you may even be dealing with more than one colony. After all, if one spot is ideal for a colony, it will probably also be ideal for others. Be sure to check the following places:
- Underneath window sills and eaves
- On plants, trees and bushes
- On the ground near plants and bushes
- Undisturbed areas
- Underneath siding or any other overhangs along a building
Step 3: Identify the Species
Take a look at the nest while at a safe distance. Whether it’s on a building or on a tree could be your first clue towards the probable species. A ground nest may point to a species like the mud dauber. Once you’ve noted the location, try to see what the nest is made out of. While paper could indicate that it is a paper wasp colony, be aware that other species tend to use the same type of materials. Then try to get a glimpse of the actual wasps without getting too close or disturbing them. Their coloring and size should be the last piece of the puzzle you’ll need to identify the type of wasp.
Step 4: Determine a Treatment Plan
Your targeted treatment plan will depend on the size of the colony or the number of present colonies, as well as the nest location. There are other factors you’ll need to consider, such as if anyone in your home is allergic to stinging insects or if you’ve already been stung.
When an individual social wasp is disturbed, it reduces a distress signal in the form of pheromones that alert the rest of the colony. This is how they’re able to swarm and attack.
Queen wasps in colonies are the only ones that survive throughout winter. They hunker down and create a new colony once spring comes around. This is why they are only prevalent during hotter months.
Unlike bees, wasps are able to remove their stinger from their victim after stinging. This makes them more dangerous since they can sting over and over again.
Wasps pack a dangerous sting — and for most people, that all they need to know. But if you have spotted a wasps’ nest on your property, you’ll need to properly identify them in order to protect your family and pets. Wasps can also be confused with bees and hornets, and even knowing the type of wasps can also make a tremendous difference in the types of repellents and treatments that you use. If in doubt at all, it is never wrong to call a professional exterminator.
Important Note on Stings and Allergic Reactions
The majority of people who are stung by wasps will develop a redness or a slight soreness at the point of the attack. This does not mean that you have an allergy to stings. In the case of a true allergic reaction, the symptoms will usually be much more pronounced. It is important to understand the difference between a normal reaction and an allergic reaction.
Allergic reactions are defined as reactions that invoke the immune system to overreact. The type of wasp that causes the most reactions are called paper wasps. A paper wasp nest can be found in woodpiles, in shrubs, or under certain eaves. They’re streamlined with red, brown, black, and yellow marks. The reactions that an allergic reaction can cause vary from slightly annoying to life-threatening:
If you experience breakouts on the skin away from the point of contact, you may be having an allergic reaction.
One of the more serious allergic reactions is a swelling of certain glands in the body that block airflow through the body. Get professional help immediately if you experience this symptom.
Stings from wasps and hornets may cause an inability to think, concentrate, and may even cause seizures or lightheadedness.
This is a term referring to life-threatening reactions caused by allergens. Anaphylactic shock looks much more serious than regular symptoms and can include a weak or rapid pulse, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, and a tingling sensation throughout your body. Anyone with severe allergies who is susceptible to anaphylactic shock should obtain a prescription for an epinephrine autoinjector, which is a medicine that immediately reduces symptoms.
Successfully understanding the dangers that wasps pose can be crucial in knowing how to prevent and treat wasps.
As with any pest, the best way to prevent nesting behavior is to take preventive action, especially during the spring and summer months.
Seal Off Entry Points
Changing weather patterns may open crevices around your doors and windows that wasps and hornets can easily take advantage of. If you notice your insulation suffering, take this as a cue that your home may be vulnerable to nesting activity as well. Shore up these entrance points, paying special attention to your roofing, basement, and attic.
Remove Food Sources
Make sure that you take away the food sources that wasps and hornets may be attracted to. Both of these pests are attracted foods that are sweet or contain protein. This includes pet food and old leftovers. The latter of these may be accessed through open garbage bags that you may leave in your backyard. Keep in mind that once a wasps or hornets identify a food source, they will imprint that source. Even after the food is removed, you may have to deal with pests coming back to that area to conduct future searches.
Wasps and hornets switch to sweetened foods in the summer and fall, when high-energy foods become less prevalent. Flying requires a great deal of energy for these insects, and they will begin to die off if they can’t find a food source. This means that they become much more aggressive — an important thing to remember if you spot a hovering pest. During this time of year, make sure that you do not leave open soda cans or other sugary foods lying around indoors or out. Cover your garbage cans and harvest fruits from any trees in your yard so that they do not fall and leave sources for wasps and hornets.
Steer Clear of Solitary Wasps
Stay away from bright colors on your clothing or floral patterns when you are spending time outside. Wasps and hornets may actually mistake these colors for flowers that produce nectar. Similarly, the strong scents from perfumes and colognes may smell like sweet-smelling food, especially in the latter part of the summer.
Line Your Overhangs
You must take special precautions if you have smaller structures such as birdhouses on your property. Lining the area under the roof with aluminum foil is a great way to avoid nests in that area. You can also avoid nesting activity by rubbing the area under the roof with common bar soap. This should last you through a whole season of nesting.
Use a Fake Nest
A fake nest works on the principle that wasps and hornets tend to avoid the nests of other wasps and hornets. When nesting, they mistake the fake nest for a real one, and nest elsewhere.
There are also some additional wasp deterrent products on the market that are usually budget-friendly and efficient in keeping wasps out of your yard before you even have to worry about them forming a nest.
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Whether you’ve found the nest or not, any sign of a nearby wasp colony should be treated immediately with pest control methods to prevent danger to you and your home.
If you’ve identified the wasp colony’s nest, one of the most effective treatments you can use is drenching the nest with an insecticide spray specifically formulated for wasps. This very dangerous task shouldn’t be taken on by anyone who has a wasp allergy. Depending on the severity and location of the nest, there are both hand-held can sprays and larger containers that include a long nozzle sprayer. The nozzle is ideal for large nests so that you can stand far out of harm’s way as the wasps stream out. No matter which type of spray you use, you should be properly prepared with long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and goggles or a safety mask.
Stand as far away from the nest as possible and start by spraying the area around it. Then create a steady stream of the spray and fully drench the nest. As you see wasps start to fly out, try to spray as many as you can. Once you’re certain all the wasps are gone, knock down the nest and destroy it if possible, then be sure to clean everything up. If you aren’t able to remove the nest, you’ll need to spray it for the next two weeks to ensure that any immature wasps are killed before they’re able to mature and re-start the infestation.
These are some of the best wasp and hornet sprays available for purchase.
Nest dusting poses less risk to whoever is using the method, as compared to nest drenching. As its name implies, inside of a liquid pesticide, you’ll be using a dust version for this method. This is ideal if the wasp infestation isn’t posing an immediate threat, or if the wasp nest is located on the ground. All you have to do is quickly sprinkle the dust over the nest and surrounding area, and move away immediately. Be sure to wear protective clothing and take all of the other precautions that you would also take when using a spray insecticide.
The dusting method may require re-application, and can take days to weeks before the insecticide is able to kill off the entire colony. Find out which wasp powders are the best on the market and can help you eradicate a colony.
Perimeter spraying is an important step to take for wasp control as it will help mitigate the amount of wasps you’re dealing with and prevent them from creating more nests around your house. For this method, you can take the same insecticide you might have already used to drench a nest, and spray it in the areas where you’ve seen the wasps flying. Insecticides can be harmful to plants, so it isn’t advisable to spray directly on them, but you can spray around the area if you’ve seen that wasps are attracted to sweet-smelling flowers in your yard. Other good areas to pay attention to are near the entryways of your home, so that the wasps aren’t likely to make their way inside. This is also a great method to use even if you aren’t able to locate the wasps’ nest. While it won’t eradicate them like drenching or dusting will, it will help ward the wasps off so you’re in less danger, and it gives you more time to get a professional on site who can successfully locate the nest for you.
We’ve already identified some of the best wasp repellent sprays on the market that you can use to spray a perimeter around your home.
Baiting is another option you can use if you aren’t able to locate a nest, or if it’s in an area you can’t reach with insecticide spray or dust. There are many bait and trap products available that can effectively draw wasps out of their nest. Most of these baits are more successful if the wasps are yellow jackets. Find out what the best wasp, yellow jacket and hornet traps are on the market. With this method, you’ll need to monitor the amount of yellow jackets you see and continuously refill the traps as necessary. Even if you can’t find the yellow jackets’ nest, this method isn’t ideal if you’re dealing with a large infestation because of the time it takes to work. In this case, it may be better to let a professional find the nest for you and take care of the problem faster. But if you are dealing with a smaller problem, there are also some DIY wasp traps you can make on your own to save money while still effectively getting rid of the wasps on your property.
DIY Wasp Trap
- 2-liter soda bottle
- Knife or scissors
- Single hole puncher
- Rope, twine, wire or string
- One piece of lunch meat
- ½ Cup of soda
- 1/8 cup of vinegar
Cut the soda bottle head off at the point where the top slope ends. Add the lunch meat, soda and vinegar. Turn the head upside down and place it inside the open body so that the neck is facing towards the bottom of the bottle with the cap unscrewed. With your hole puncher, create two holes on each side of the top of the trap. Using the holes, attach your rope or other material which you’ll use to hang the trap outside.
The ingredients inside will attract wasps in a matter of days. Because the head is turned around, they’ll slide right in and won’t be able to come out. The added vinegar in this recipe is important because it’ll keep bees away — we don’t want to be killing honey bees if they aren’t harming us! Just be sure to keep an eye on the trap. You’ll need to dispose of the dead wasps periodically and refill the trap with ingredients when necessary.
Treatment for Stings
Even if you follow all of the above preventions and treatment methods, there still is a chance that you’ll be stung by a wasp while you’re performing a treatment or waiting for one to kick in. This makes it important to understand wasp sting treatment in addition to the treatments you’ll use to get rid of wasps.
The first treatment for any sting is to control the swelling. An application of cold water or ice should be able to reduce it to a point that it can be further treated. If the sting occurs on an extremity of the body, elevate that part of the body and remove any tight-fitting jewelry.
The next step to relieving the pain of a sting is to treat the itching. Apply a mixture of water and baking soda, meat tenderizer, topical steroids, or calamine lotion to the affected area to reduce itching and pain.
Keep in mind that a sting victim with any past history of anaphylaxis should be referred to a medical professional as soon as possible, even if symptoms do not appear on that person immediately.
Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen should do the trick for any pain that the victim experiences. If the sting becomes itchy, an over-the-counter antihistamine should relieve this.
If you have taken all of the above precautions and you still see large swarms of wasps or hornets around your property, it is time to call in a pest control expert.
Especially if you’ve already used chemical methods to treat a nest and you still see wasps coming back, professionals are trained at applying stronger chemicals that will kill off even the most determined wasps.
It’s also best to call a professional if you know you’re dealing with a large nest or even multiple nests. Professionals will have protective material that will reduce their risk of being stung while applying treatment, and attempting to do the same job yourself could put you in danger.
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