How wasp nests are constructed
The Wasp nest is a fascinating piece of engineering constructed from wood which the wasps strip from fence panels and garden sheds etc. The queen wasp starts building the nest from scratch in the spring after she emerges from winter hibernation (You can read about the life-cycle of the wasp).
Wasp nests grow at varying rates depending on a variety of factors.
Food availability in early summer is a big factor in the growth of a wasp nest. If there is a shortage of food in early summer, the numbers of individual wasps will not be as high as "normal" years.
Available nest material is also important. Wasps strip untreated dead wood from fence panels or garden furniture and sheds which is converted into a paste that the wasps use to construct their nest.
Despite age old rumours and misunderstandings, wasps do not swarm in the same fashion as honey bees. Wasps only swarm around the nest location when the nest is tampered with (under attack) such as when a nest is treated. Wasps do swarm when feeding, but this will not be in the area of the nest and not in the same fashion as honey bees.
When foraging scout wasps find a source of food, they return to the nest to communicate the location of the new food source. In late summer/autumn when wasps no longer have food supply in the nest, they can become a problem as they interact and compete with humans for sugary type foods, pub gardens are a good example.
In midsummer onwards into late autumn you will be able to easily tell if a nest is active or live. Take a few moments to watch the nest from a safe distance. If you can see wasps walking over the outside of the nest then it's live. Similarly if you can see wasps arriving at the nest and also leaving, the nest is live.
How Wasp Nests are made
The nest starts off in the spring with the queen building a petiole (a single stalk from which the nest hangs) and a single hexagonal shaped cell at the end of the petiole, then approx six more cells are formed around the centre one.
The queen will lay eggs in each cell as it is being constructed. Once these eggs have hatched out and gone through the developments stages and pupated into adult wasps, these new worker wasps take over nest construction and leave the queen solely to lay eggs and control the nest, this from now on is her primary function!
Read more detailed information about the wasp life-cycle and how wasp nests are built
Why are some wasps aggressive and some calm?
The queen also determines the “mood” of the nest, some are very aggressive, some are not so, it all depends on the individual queen. She emits a pheromone throughout the nest that signals to the workers that either everything is ok, or the nest is in danger etc.
What is a wasp nest made from?
The wasp nest is made from chewed wood, as nests are being established in the spring the queen wasp will start to gather old dead wood from untreated fence panels or sheds, even garden furniture. As the nest progresses and worker wasps have hatched, they take over nest material collection duties.
The workers take this material back to the nest and hand it over to young wasp larvae which turn this chewed wood into a paste which the adult workers then use to continue expanding the nest. The paste which is used to construct the nest contains a certain amount of wax which helps with waterproofing.
English (common) Wasps
English wasps (the common wasp) Vespula Vulgaris build their nests in almost any location, favourite places are lofts, sheds, old rabbit and vole burrows in the ground, inside air bricks, cavity walls, chimneys and just about anywhere that is dry and undisturbed. They prefer higher locations but this is not always the case.
The German (European wasp) Vespula Germanica build their nests in bushes, hedges and trees and although very camouflaged, once you find a nest it becomes very noticeable, resembling a large hanging grey football type object. They prefer lower locations, but as wasps are so adaptable, they do sometimes choose higher locations.
There is some debate over which type of wasp is the most aggressive, with some pest controllers saying that the German wasps are more aggressive and others stating that the English wasps are more aggressive. Quite possibly neither is more aggressive than the other, but in our experience the English wasps seem to be more likely to attack when their nests are interfered with, but caution should be taken when dealing with any type of wasp nest.
What are Hornet nests made from?
Hornet Nests are the same as wasp nests, they are made from the same material in the same way as wasps build their nests.
Will wasps and hornets use a old nest?
Some people believe that Wasps and Hornets will re-use a nest year after year, this is NOT the case. Both wasps and Hornets build a new nest each year. Bees will use an old bee nest, but this is normally where an old honey comb has been left and there are some stores of honey still left in the comb.