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Wasp Nest: Signs, Identification, and How to Get Rid of Them

Wasp Nest

Although humans do not usually welcome wasp nests, wasps are beneficial insects as pollinators and as natural ‘pest control.’ Far from being mere nuisances, wasps and their nests are remarkable components of the natural tapestry, contributing to the balance and vitality of our gardens.

Like bees, there are thousands of wasps species, and most are pretty harmless (solitary wasps such as the paper wasp), although if they feel threatened, some may sting.

In outdoor gardens, wasps can be beneficial, although some gardeners may think otherwise if they have lots of them feeding off their plum tree’s ripe plums.

Undoubtedly, the type of wasps most gardeners are concerned about is the social wasps, which are attracted to sugary drinks and sweets and can form massive colonies.

Some wasps species build new nests on top of old nests; this gives a false impression that they are reusing a nest. The key to dealing with these flying insects is to find their nest and treat them properly.

Controlling wasps requires slightly different treatment methods depending on their type. But how do you safely identify wasps and get rid of their nest without getting stung? This article shares everything you need to know about wasp nests and getting rid of them.

What Do Wasp Nests Look Like?

Most wasp nests are made from brown paper. Foraging wasps create this brown paper by chewing things like plant particles and wood. Wasp nests’ appearance can vary based on the specie that built them; they can be closed or open-faced.

These flying insects make their nests from saliva and chewed wood pulp, giving them particular papery walls. They are usually built in sheltered areas with easy access outdoors, like roof spaces, wall cavities, bird boxes, hollow trees, under eaves, garages, or sheds.

Ground nests are usually built in hidden locations like dense trees or bushes. Mud Dauber wasps build their mud nests in protected places such as attics, storage buildings, porch ceilings, and under eaves.

Wasps can vary in size and color depending on the type but have slender, smooth bodies and longer legs. Wasps’ wings are transparent, and their abdomens are usually black or yellow but can also have a brown or reddish coloring.

People often see wasps around their plants and immediately assume chemical treatment is needed. But, most of the time, this is not required. In fact, attempting to control these flying insects with harmful chemical sprays or harsh pesticides can cause more harm than good. So, you should play pest investigator first.

First, observe the wasps from a distance and take notes of their behavior and flight patterns. The foraging behavior and active flight path can be easily confused, so you may need to observe for a while to figure out what’s happening.

What’s an Active Flight Path?

Professionals look for an active flight path to determine whether the activity is an active nest or foraging activity. You may see wasps active around water sources (like kiddie pools or bird feeders), or you may find them flying around a specific shrub they enjoy foraging from. Foraging activity should never be treated with chemicals.

Identifying the Most Common Wasp Nests

Here are some signs and characteristics of different wasp nests commonly found in gardens:

Paper Wasps

Paper Wasp Nest

Paper Wasp Nest – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Paper wasps build open, umbrella-shaped nests that hang from tree branches, shrubs, or eaves of buildings. The nests are constructed from a paper-like material made by chewing wood fibers mixed with saliva.

Paper wasp nests are usually small to medium-sized, housing around 20-30 wasps, but can grow larger over time. They often build nests in protected areas like under roof overhangs, porch ceilings, or within dense vegetation.

Yellow Jackets

Yellow Jacket Nest

Yellow Jacket Nest – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Yellow jackets construct nests from paper material, similar to paper wasps. However, their nests have a distinctive enclosed structure with multiple layers and a small entrance hole at the bottom.

Yellow jacket nests can vary in size, ranging from the size of a tennis ball to a basketball. They can house hundreds or even thousands of wasps. They typically build their nests underground, in wall voids, or hidden within structures like sheds or abandoned animal burrows. They can also be found hanging from trees or bushes.

Bald-faced Hornets

Bald-faced Hornet Nest

Bald-faced Hornet Nest – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Bald-faced hornets create large, football-shaped nests that are often attached to trees, utility poles, or structures. The nests are constructed from a grayish-brown papery material and have a single entrance at the bottom.

Bald-faced hornet nests can be quite large, reaching the size of a basketball or larger. They can contain hundreds of hornets. These hornets usually build their nests in exposed locations, such as high tree branches, where they have easy access to open areas for hunting.

European Hornets

European Hornet Nest

European Hornet Nest – Photo Credit: Dreamstime.

European hornets create large, papery nests similar to bald-faced hornets. The nests are usually grayish-brown and have a football-shaped or teardrop shape. They have a single entrance at the bottom.

European hornet nests can be quite large and can reach the size of a basketball or even bigger. They can contain hundreds of hornets and they typically build their nests in protected areas, such as tree hollows, wall voids, attics, or abandoned buildings. They can also construct nests in bushes or low-lying shrubs.

Mud Daubers

Mud Dauber Wasp Nest

Mud Dauber Wasp Nest – Photo Credit: Dreamstime.

Mud daubers construct nests using dirt, mud, or clay, giving them a unique appearance. The nests are tubular and can be found attached to walls, rocks, or other structures.

Mud dauber nests are typically small and cylindrical, resembling short tubes. Each tube contains several individual cells where the wasps lay their eggs.

They prefer to build nests in sheltered locations, such as under eaves, porch ceilings, or in attics. They are not aggressive and are generally considered beneficial due to their prey-catching abilities.

Why Do Wasps Build Nests?

There are thousands of wasps; like bees, these flying insects divide into social and solitary. Those that prefer family life build nests to house their colony and themselves.

Social Wasps

Asian Hornet Nest

Asian Hornet Nest – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Most of these wasps will settle anywhere to build their new home; they only need a safe, dry, and structurally sound environment to support their new nest.

The process begins when the Queen wasp emerges from hibernation and builds. The queen then lays eggs in the cells – hollow spaces- she creates. The eggs hatch and grow to become her first worker wasps.

When they reach adulthood, workers take over the responsibility of building the nest, so the queen is resigned to laying eggs for the rest of her life. These architect insects will continually grow their nests to house the continuously rising number of wasps n the colony.

Some nests are big and elaborate, whereas others are small. But each specie builds homes ideally suited to the size of the colony and its needs.

Solitary Wasps

Tarantula Hawk Wasp

Tarantula Hawk Wasp – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Not all wasps species are social. Some prefer a solitary life and build smaller nests to rear their young.

A member of the solitary group is the Tarantula hawks wasps, which can be found in the southern United States and is ranked as the second most painful insect sting in the world.

Tarantula hawks spend their lives paralyzing tarantulas and use them as a host for their eggs and larvae. And like many other wasps, the Tarantula hawks (and many other wasp species) will take advantage of fresh food sources in their natural habitat, such as other spiders or insects.

Signs of Wasp Nests

If there’s a high volume of these flying insects in or near your home/garden, there’s likely a nest nearby. A mature nest during the warm summer months can contain thousands of wasps.

Treating a nest early is essential to reduce the threat of harmful stings, which can cause an allergic reaction. Here are the common signs of wasp nests:

Increased Wasp Activity

A sudden increase in wasp activity around your garden is a strong indication that there may be a nearby nest. If you notice more wasps flying around your plants, hovering near structures, or repeatedly visiting the same area, it’s a sign to be alert.

Visible Nest Structures

Some wasp nests, such as those built by paper wasps or bald-faced hornets, can be easily visible. Look for nest structures hanging from tree branches, shrubs, or under eaves of buildings. They may resemble papery structures or enclosed combs depending on the wasp species.

Nest Entrances

Observing wasps repeatedly entering and exiting a particular spot, such as a small hole or gap in a wall, tree trunk, or the ground, can indicate the presence of a nest nearby. Pay attention to these entry points to help locate the nest.

Piles of Chewed Wood Fibers

Certain wasps, like paper wasps, create nests by chewing wood fibers and mixing them with saliva. If you notice small piles of chewed wood fibers near your garden, it may indicate the construction or maintenance of a wasp nest nearby.

Noticing Defensive Wasps

If you inadvertently get too close to a wasp nest, the wasps may become agitated and exhibit defensive behavior. Look for signs of wasps buzzing around, hovering in a specific area, or displaying aggressive behavior toward humans or other animals.

Wasp Nest Material

Keep an eye out for materials used by different wasp species to construct their nests. Paper wasps and bald-faced hornets use a papery substance made from chewed wood fibers, while mud daubers use mud. Spotting these materials in or near your garden can be a clue to the presence of a nest.

Wasp Larvae

Sometimes, you may notice adult wasps carrying prey or paralyzed insects to the nest. This behavior indicates the presence of larvae inside the nest, as they require a constant supply of food. Observing wasps transporting prey can help you locate the nest.

How Big Can a Wasp Nest Get?

Wasp nests start off very small, around the size of a walnut or a golf ball, when the Queen wasp begins to build the nest during spring months. During the summer, the nest will grow as the number of wasp residents increases. The nest size can grow to the size of a football or even bigger if not treated.

Large Paper Wasp Nest

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

How to Prevent Wasp Nests

Limit Food Sources

Wasps are often attracted to sweet food sources, so it’s important to minimize their availability in the garden. Keep lids securely on trash cans and compost bins, promptly pick up fallen fruits, and avoid leaving sugary drinks or food uncovered when outdoors.

Seal Openings

Inspect your garden structures, buildings, and eaves for any openings or gaps that could serve as potential nest sites. Seal or caulk these openings to deter wasps from accessing them. Be thorough in your inspection to ensure all potential entry points are addressed.

Use Natural Deterrents

Some plants are known to repel wasps due to their strong scents or natural properties. Consider incorporating aromatic herbs like mint, thyme, and basil in your garden, as these can help deter wasps. Additionally, planting marigolds, wormwood, or eucalyptus may also help repel them.

Keep Your Garden Clean

Wasps are attracted to sheltered areas, so maintaining a tidy garden can discourage them from nesting. Regularly trim shrubs and trees to minimize hiding spots, remove clutter or debris from the garden, and keep vegetation well-maintained.

What to Do If You Notice a Wasp Nest at Home

Here are some steps to follow if you notice a wasp nest at home:

1. Make Sure You’re Not Allergic to a Hornet or Wasp Sting

Before attempting any action, it’s crucial to ensure that you or other family members are not allergic to hornet or wasp stings.

Allergic reactions can be severe and potentially life-threatening. If you or someone you know is allergic, it’s best to immediately contact a professional pest control specialist for safe removal.

2. Locate the Wasp Nest

Spend some time in your garden observing the flight patterns and behavior of wasps. Watch where they are coming from or returning to. This can give you a clue about the general area where the nest might be located.

If you notice wasps carrying prey or food, quietly track their flight path. They often fly in a straight line between the nest and their foraging area. By carefully observing their movement, you may be able to trace it back to the nest.

3. Figure Out What Type of Nest You Have

Identifying the type of nest is important as it determines the level of threat and the best course of action. Different wasp species have varying behavior patterns, nest sizes, and locations.

Most social wasps construct their nests above ground, while the majority of solitary wasps build their nests underground. Above-ground nests are constructed in a sheltered, hidden place, such as dense bushes or trees, wall voids, attics, or beneath the eaves of a structure.

Underground nests can be found beneath rocks, fallen logs, and concrete or asphalt slabs such as patios, driveways, or sidewalks.

If you’re unsure about the type of nest, it’s advisable to consult with a professional who can accurately identify it.

4. Make Sure to Wear Protective Gear

When dealing with a wasp nest, it’s essential to protect yourself. Wear appropriate clothing that covers your entire body, including long sleeves, long jeans, gloves, socks, and closed-toe shoes. Plus, wear a hat or head covering and use a mesh veil or face shield to shield your face from potential stings.

5. Eliminate the Nests at Night

To minimize the risk of getting stung, it’s best to remove wasp nests at night when the wasps are less active, have a slower reaction time, and are more likely to be inside the nest. Approach the nest cautiously, using a flashlight with a red filter if necessary (as wasps are less sensitive to red light).

Remember, if the nest poses a significant risk, is in a difficult location, or you feel uncomfortable handling it, it’s best to contact a professional exterminator. They have the experience and equipment to handle wasp nests safely and effectively while minimizing harm to the environment.

By following these steps, you can address a wasp nest at home in a responsible and sustainable manner, prioritizing both your safety and the preservation of the garden ecosystem.

4 Common Methods of Wasp Nest Removal

With a bit of research, you can identify what nests are worth treating yourself and which should be handled by professionals; wasps such as Yellow Jackets are known to be aggressive and highly protective of their nests.

It can be challenging to get an up-close look at the nest, so be careful, cause the last thing you want to do is mistake a wasp nest for a bee hive. If you are unsure, you could seek out a technician to get a second opinion.

Physical Removal

This wasp nest treatment works best if you have a paper wasps nest. These wasps construct umbrella-shaped, open-combed paper pests nest. Paper wasps’ nests tend to stay smaller and don’t have as many adult wasps as other types.

Keep an eye out for your eaves in early spring, especially on the southwest sides of your home, where the roof receives the most sunlight. If you see an open-faced small paper nest being built, remove it yourself before it becomes more prominent.

Some wasps will be inside the nest when it falls, so while paper wasps are generally non-aggressive, they tend to be disoriented when the nest gets removed, so aiming to remove the nest early will ensure you do not have to deal with lots of adult wasps. To physically remove a paper wasp nest, follow these steps:

  1. Wear protective clothing, boots, gloves, etc. (especially if you have an allergy to wasp stings)
  2. Locate the nest.
  3. Make sure it’s open-faced.
  4. Select proper tool removal. It could be a long-handled scraper, broom, or long cob-web brush.
  5. Use an aerosol spray of wasp insecticide on the nest entrance, the wasps will die inside, and the paper will quickly break up (this step is optional)
  6. Disrupt and scrape the nest free.
  7. Be ready to stump the nest quickly when it falls, or spray it directly with an over-the-counter product.

Water Method

This water technique is a chemical-free method for eliminating hornet or wasp nests. You can drown hornet or wasp nests with a bucket of water and a cloth bag.

The first step is to place a large bucket of water beneath the nest. Get a large cloth bag that is in good condition, with no tears or holes. Place the cloth bag over the nest quickly and carefully, then knot it with a strong string to prevent insects from escaping.

Pull the nest from the tree branch, place it in the large bucket of water, and cover it with a sturdy lid. You can cover it with a huge stone to prevent wasps from escaping.

If you leave it overnight, all of the wasps will have drowned by the time you check it the next day.

Insecticide Dust

Killing products available at hardware stores are an excellent option for DIY wasp treatments. While these products are made to kill wasps such as hornets and yellowjackets, homeowners should not handle these types of treatments themselves.

When dealing with ground nests such as those populated by ground wasps and yellowjackets, insecticidal dust is far more effective than aerosol sprays, which cannot penetrate the nest entirely.

Wearing the appropriate protective gear, apply the dust liberally at the nest entrance during the nighttime or early morning. Allow the wasps to enter and exit freely. They will be covered with insecticidal dust as they travel through the entrance, which they will carry into the nest, affecting the other wasps.

The wasps should die out in a day or two if you diligently stick to the application of insecticidal dust. If not, you can try the process again.

Professional Treatment

Whether you have a yellow jacket nest or a hornet nest, or if you just don’t feel confident performing your own wasp investigation and treatment, don’t hesitate to call a pest control company for help. There are lots of pest control companies available to help you.

Do you have recurring wasp problems on your property? Consider establishing regular basis maintenance from a pest control company. If you’ve already shelled out for one-shot treatments, this option is more cost-effective than frequent one-time treatments.


Other Wasp Guides from Planet Natural:

Most Common Types of Wasps (And How to Identify Them)

How to Get Rid of Wasps Effectively and Prevent Future Nests

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