Wasps have a very powerful sting and readily use it to defend the nest or themselves. Unlike bees, which are quite passive, wasps can be very aggressive.

Wasps are mainly yellow with black stripes across their body. There are many species of wasp in Britain but most have this marking to a lesser or greater degree. Some species of wasp are solitary and quite small. However, most wasps are part of a colony that lives in a nest. 

Wasp nests

The queen is much larger than her offspring. She starts a nest in spring as a small ball. This then grows with the colony as it increases in strength. Wasp nests are oval or egg shaped when free hanging. They are made of wood pulp and it is believed the ancient Chinese discovered paper-making by watching wasps build their nest.

The nest can be in a hole in a tree, in the ground, in a roof space, hole in the wall or free-hanging in a bush or tree. Wasps will build a nest almost anywhere where there is little disturbance.

Wasp colony

The colony always starts as a single female in mid spring. She stops flying when she has enough young to provide food for her and the growing grubs. The nest continues to grow throughout the summer until early autumn when she produces approximately 10 to 20 new queens who leave the nest in October and hibernate over winter to emerge next year and start a new nest. The colony all die off soon after this and the nest will never be used again. At its peak the nest will have anywhere between 40,000 and 100,000 wasps.


Hornets are much larger than wasps and behave in a similar way. 

They differ in that they rarely nest in the ground. They have a smaller nest with fewer workers and they tend not to be quite so aggressive unless provoked.


There are many myths about how to eradicate wasp and hornet nests. The nests should only be approached with extreme caution. Multiple stings can be very dangerous.