Ask The Entomologist

Wasp control

I’d wanted to talk about how to read wasp body language this week, but that’ll be postponed. I couldn’t persuade any individuals to do threat displays this week – all live wasps were well-mannered, despite extreme invasion of their personal space.

Most of the wasps I’ve seen around Trego are Polistes paper wasps. We have two main species here – the invasive European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula) and the native Golden Paper Wasp (Polistes aurifer). In our area, Golden Paper Wasps peak in July, while the European Paper Wasps peak in August. While both are still around, I’ve been seeing far more European Paper Wasps lately.

The European Paper Wasp is rather special, in that it doesn’t mind reusing old nests from last year and making them bigger. Because of this, they often reach a larger colony size faster than their native wasp competitors can. As such, these are likely to be most of the problem paper wasp nests you come across.

The best bait for trapping wasps will vary by season. My neighbors have been having great success baiting their wasp traps with scallop and chicken… this means that the wasps that they are catching are from nests with many developing wasps!

A meat-baited trap full of European Paper Wasps – this indicates that there are nearby nests full of wasp larvae.

At this, another friend present asked me why folks these days trapped wasps with meat – he remembered his grandmother having lots of success baiting wasps with beer. The answer is that it depends on the season, and what part of their life cycle the wasps are in…

Early on, a wasp nest is focused on growing: laying eggs and raising larvae to adulthood. Little humans need healthy food, protein to turn into muscle tissue. The same is true of young insects: adult wasps prefer to feed their larvae with protein-rich foods (any meat – caterpillars or dead deer, it makes no difference). If you’re seeing wasp nests with lots of brood cells by your home, consider putting a bit of meat, especially spoiling meat, in your wasp trap!

A nest of the invasive European Paper Wasp – note the cells capped with silk, these contain developing wasps.

Adult insects, however, aren’t going to build any more muscle than they already have. We mammals can continue to develop our musculature throughout adulthood. Insects only get bigger by molting, and almost all adult insects do not molt.

Though they don’t grow, most adult insects do spend a lot of time flying. Flying is very energetically expensive (it’s why hummingbirds are such sugar junkies). Likewise, adult wasps prefer to eat high energy, sugary foods. If you’re trying to trap wasps later in the season, when they’re reproducing less, you’ll have better success baiting them in with sugar solutions, juice, or alcohol.

Here’s good instructions for making a wasp trap – bait it however you’d like.
As always, be aware of your local wildlife when setting up insect traps! If you’ve got a bear in the vicinity, it’s probably best to hold off on trapping for a while. They’re at least as fond of meat and booze as the wasps are…

Next week: Wasp body language: how to tell if they’re aggressive.
(for real this time – none were aggressive towards me this week, so no useful photos).

2 thoughts on “Wasp control”

  1. Is it true that once you are stung by a wasp that you then give off a scent that makes other wasps attack you and if so, how long before that scent goes away. I recently had a bad wasp experience.


    1. Hi, Shari,

      It is true that many social wasps, including paper wasps, release an alarm pheromone when they sting (or when they are crushed). Some of that alarm pheromone remains at the sting site. Fortunately, alarm pheromones are for quickly provoking strong responses and don’t stick around. Pheromones for marking territories or trails tend to last much longer.

      Think about it – it’s not a good use of resources to have law enforcement on duty at a single crime scene after the issue is dealt with. Threats tend to last a short while, so alarms should as well. And if threats return, more alarm pheromones will be released.

      I did some research, and nobody seems to have measured how long the alarm pheromones of our common paper wasps last. However, we can assume they dissipate quickly, based on studies examining other related wasps, as well as ants and bees ( ; ).

      The unrelated Southern Yellowjacket is an example with an “unusually long-lasting alarm pheromone” ( aggressive response to pheromone after 15 hours – ).


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