If you have wasps living on or near your home, it might a good idea to eradicate them. In some cases, you can leave them be and just coexist. However, in the event of a large wasp population or if a family member has an allergy to wasp venom, the best option is to get rid of them as soon as possible. Around 3% of people in the United States and Europe are allergic to insect stings. In people with sting allergies, wasp stings can lead to a situation called anaphylaxis, characterized by hives, nausea, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, and even death. Repeated exposure to wasp venom increases the risk of developing an allergy. The larger the wasp population and the closer it is to places where people live and congregate, the greater the chances of being stung. Wasps and bees are considered more dangerous even than spiders, scorpions, or snakes.
Here, we’ll cover wasp identification, including how to distinguish wasps vs. bees, how to keep them away from your home, how to find a wasp nest, how to get rid of a wasp nest, and when to call an exterminator rather than trying to deal with them yourself.
There are over 100,000 species of wasps worldwide, all members of the order Hymenoptera, suborder Apocrita, which also includes bees and ants. So, in this article, we’ll give you some useful information on wasps to help identify and get rid of them. But if you’re looking for more detail, check out our other articles on wasps such as The Most Common Types of Wasps, The Difference Between Wasps and Bees, and Purpose of Wasps: Why Do We Need Them.
Wasps can be divided into two general groups, social and solitary. This division is based primarily on their living situation. Social wasps, of which there are only about 1,000 species, live in colonies containing many individuals. Social wasp colonies have a single queen, several workers, and (late in the season) drones. The queen lays the eggs, the workers care for them, and the drones are the males that fertilize the next generation of female wasps (only some of which will become queens). Solitary wasps, on the other hand, nest alone. A single fertilized female builds a nest, packs it with food for her larvae, and lays eggs. She then seals off the nest. In some species, a male will remain to defend the nest while in others, the larvae are on their own.
It’s important to know whether you’re dealing with a social or solitary wasp because each type has a different means of defense. While solitary wasps defend the nest on their own or not at all, social wasps band together. If one senses a threat to the nest, it sends out a pheromone that alerts the other workers and they attack together.
Common social wasps include paper wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets. The distinction between a hornet vs. a wasp is basically a square/rectangle situation. All hornets are wasps, but not all wasps are hornets. Common solitary wasps include mud daubers and cicada killers. Parasitoid wasps are a specific type of non-stinging solitary wasps that are typically small and don’t bother people.
Most common types of wasps
All wasps feed insects or spiders to their young, while adults consume sugary foods, such as nectar or aphid honeydew. This penchant for sugar is why you often see them hanging around picnics and diving into soda cans. Sweet foods and drinks, floral clothing, and bright colors are all attractive to wasps.
Paper wasps have long abdomens, narrow waists, long legs, and typically have yellow abdominal bands. However, coloring differs by species, with some primarily reddish-brown or black wasps and others black and yellow like a yellow jacket. Red wasps are paper wasps. Paper wasps build umbrella-shaped nests with hexagonal cells out of a papery substance they make by chewing up wood and mixing it with their saliva. They tend to build these nests under building eaves or overhangs. For more information about nests, take a look at our article, Wasp Nest Identification. While all social wasps defend their nests, paper wasps are considered less aggressive than their cousins, the yellow jackets.
Yellow jackets are distinguished by their black and yellow abdominal bands. They reach lengths of about ½ inch and have shorter legs than paper wasps. They build their papery nests in cavities underground or inside trees or buildings. Yellow jacket nests differ from paper wasp nests in that they are enclosed in an envelope. In addition to nectar and honeydew, adult yellow jackets are known to eat windfall fruit and even meat. They are more aggressive than other wasps and are responsible for most wasp and bee stings.
Hornets (except for the bald-faced hornet, which is a yellow jacket) are mostly brown or black with yellow, orange, or white markings. They are larger than yellow jackets or paper wasps, often reaching lengths of an inch or more. They nest much like yellow jackets, in cavities within trees or beneath roof overhangs and build a protective envelope around their nest. While they will defend their nests, sometimes aggressively, they are less aggressive than yellow jackets.
There are several genera of mud daubers, but only three are particularly common: black and yellow, organ-pipe, and blue mud daubers. They range in color from black and yellow to black with white legs to dark blue. Mud daubers are about ¾ of an inch long and thinner than other wasp species. Most mud daubers build their nests out of mud that they make by mixing their saliva with dirt. They plaster this mud to vertical surfaces, often the sides of buildings, and build stacked cells that they provision with paralyzed spiders. Blue mud daubers are a little different, in that they tend to parasitize the nests of other mud daubers rather than build their own. Unlike social wasps, mud daubers are not aggressive.
Cicada killers are very large, reaching up to 2 inches in length. They are also stockier than most wasp species. They are red to reddish brown. Some have yellow bands around the body and others have black abdominal tips. Cicada killers nest underground in mud nests. As their name suggests, their larvae specialize on cicadas. They are less aggressive than social wasps.
Wasps and bees are closely related, but there are many differences that will help you distinguish between them. First, they look pretty different. Wasps are smooth and slim and have a narrow, pinched waist. Bees, on the other hand, are fuzzy and stocky with little in the way of a waist. Where wasp legs are thin and tubular, bee legs are flat and paddle-like.
Where wasps and most bees can sting several times, the honeybee can only sting once. Its barbed stinger becomes stuck in its target and ripped from the bee’s body, which kills her.
Because of this, honeybees are less aggressive than other bee and wasp species. Unlike wasps, bees feed only on nectar and pollen and feed their young pollen and honey (which they make from nectar). Thus, you won’t find bees buzzing around your sodas or hotdogs. They tend to just hang out around flowers and their nests, which also differ from those of wasps. While bees do build nests of hexagonal cells, their nests are constructed from wax, which they make using honey, rather than mud or paper.
Think twice before killing wasps
While wasps can be very dangerous, and nobody wants to get stung, wasps are actually good for natural ecosystems and gardens alike. Wasps inhabit a crucial pest control niche, taking out several pest insects that damage native plants and crops. When they’re out hunting for nectar, they also act as pollinators. While they don’t pollinate as heavily as their bee cousins, they are still important for the survival of flowering plants. Finally, when yellow jackets eat windfall fruit, they’re taking up the mantle of decomposers, drawing down the amount of waste matter in the ecosystem.
How to keep wasps away
If you’re concerned about wasps or you or a family member has an allergy, we can tell you how to keep wasps away from your house and property. We’ll go over some simple tips, the use of netting, fake wasp nests as a deterrent, traps, and baits, and finally, we’ll help you identify some things that don’t work so you don’t waste your time.
Daily tips to avoid wasps
First, it’s good to know what attracts wasps, so you can eliminate those things and maybe keep them out of your yard. We’ll quickly go over a few, but for a more detailed look, read our article, What Attracts Wasps to Your Home, Yard, and Pool Area? Wasps need somewhere to nest. For social wasps and some solitary wasps, try to cut down on rotting logs, patch up any cracks or crevices in your walls, and fill in any holes you find in your yard. For parasitoid wasps, try to keep pests out of your garden. Wasps will also approach your property looking for food. Don’t wear bright or floral clothing or sweet perfumes and don’t leave any food outside. Make sure garbage bins are tightly covered. If you feed hummingbirds, you should probably stop because the sugar water will attract hungry wasps.
If you have wasps around, there are also ways to keep yourself from being stung, or at least from being stung multiple times. If there’s just one wasp buzzing around you, just stay calm and still. They don’t attack unprovoked and a swat counts as a provocation. If one is in your car, remain calm and open all the windows so it can get out. In the event of an attack, leave the area, especially if there are several wasps or if you’ve been stung by a social wasp. As mentioned, they call in reinforcements via pheromone.
Avoiding wasps using netting
One tried-and-true method for preventing unwanted wasp attention is simple screens or netting. Window screens, as well as screened porches and patios, are great ways to enjoy fresh air without the hassle of wasps and other insect pests. For wasps, larger meshes that let in lots of light (18-by-16 mesh, which is about 20 holes per square inch) are more than sufficient. More specific products include mesh nets that fit over baby carriers and strollers to protect infants outdoors during the summer.
Hanging fake wasp nests (Wasp decoys)
One option for keeping wasps off your property in the first place is a wasp decoy. A wasp decoy is an object that looks like a wasp nest that you can hang from a tree or your home’s eaves. They are available commercially or you can make your own by inflating a paper bag, tying it closed and hanging it upside down.
The idea behind such devices is that wasps are territorial and won’t set up shop in a place where other wasps already live.
They look like a hornet or yellow jacket nest and not like a paper wasp or mud dauber nest. As such, they’re likely to be effective against hornets and aerial-nesting yellow jackets. Ground-nesting yellow jackets, paper wasps, and mud daubers are unlikely to be deterred. However, if hornets and/or yellow jackets are of concern, you must hang them early in the season when females are out scouting for a nest site. If you hang them later in the summer after nests have been established, they won’t be effective. They are a wasp deterrent only. Established colonies will not move. Some people have had success, others have not, and entomologists are skeptical. Wasps are defensive of their nests but may not be as territorial as advertised.
If you’re trying to combat an existing wasp population, traps may provide temporary protection for your outdoor activities. Wasp traps and other bug traps, capture and typically kill insects. Traps will not control a wasp population or eliminate an entire social wasp colony. As long as the queen still lives, she will continue to produce more wasps. However, wasp catchers can be used as a sort of decoy to draw wasps away from a picnic, pool, or other outdoor recreation. There are three general types of insect trap: baited, non-baited, and electric. Some are specially formulated for wasp control.
Baited traps, as their name suggests, contain a bait or lure of some kind. Most baited traps for wasps contain either a sweet lure or a protein lure. Sweet lures are best used near the end of the season when adult wasps are foraging for themselves. One drawback of sweet lures is that other insects seek out nectar and you will inadvertently catch beneficial insects such as butterflies and honey bees. Protein lures will be most effective in the early summer when wasps are hunting insects to feed their larvae. Some traps contain both types of bait in separate sections. This allows the capture of different types of wasps at different times. Another type of bait is the synthetic chemical n-heptyl butyrate. This lure is most attractive to yellow jackets as it smells like rotting fruit, making a trap baited with it a great yellow jacket killer. Most baited traps have a funnel entrance, which insects can enter but are unable to exit. Reusable baited traps are typically made of a hard plastic tube and must be emptied, cleaned, and rebaited when full. Disposable baited traps, on the other hand, are often large plastic bags that are thrown away when full. The biggest drawback of baited traps is their allure. They can end up attracting more than just the wasps living in your yard, potentially leading to an increased sting risk. The safest way to use baited traps is to place them at least 20 feet from human activity. This will draw the wasps (and other hungry bugs) away from your food and water and into the trap.
Non-baited traps are much less targeted and capture insects indiscriminately. The most common type of non-baited trap is the sticky trap. They are typically made of yellow sticky tape that you can hang from a roof or awning. While some have an enticement of some kind, most are passive traps that catch any insect that flies too close. Once they fill up, they must be thrown away. Keep in mind that sticky traps don’t work in the rain, so you’ll either need to hang them under cover or use a baited trap. The greatest downside of sticky traps is that they don’t discriminate between pests and friends and can even catch birds. Some sticky traps come enclosed in a cage designed to keep birds from brushing against the tape. Because they don’t usually have smelly lures, you can hang them close to your outdoor activities without fear of attracting more wasps.
Finally, bug zappers are typically baited only with ultraviolet light and sometimes emit CO2 (purported to be good for catching mosquitoes). Some models include fans that suck insects in if they get too close. Once inside the trap, an insect touches an electrified plate and is killed. Like sticky traps, bug zappers don’t target specific types of insects but kill pests and beneficial bugs alike. Because light is the main attractant, many bug zappers are fashioned to look like lanterns and thus are more aesthetically pleasing than a plastic tube or sticky tape filled with dead bugs. However, like baited traps, it’s best to hang them away from your summer festivities.
To learn more about the different commercial wasp traps available, read our article Best Wasp Traps.
For existing wasp populations, you can set out traps at any time. However, as mentioned, they won’t eliminate the population. If you want to take a stab at preventing a colony from moving in, put out traps early in the season. You might catch some females scouting for nesting places and maybe keep them from establishing a colony. To handle an established population, place traps in known wasp activity areas. If you can safely do so, place them near nests. If you’re having a gathering, put traps around the perimeter of your outdoor space starting a few days before the planned event. Two to three traps per acre of land should suffice. If using a reusable trap, place it in the freezer for about a day when you’re ready to empty it to make sure the wasps are dead. You don’t want to open a can of angry wasps.
Finally, you can do some wasp trap DIY using just a soda bottle. Cut the top off a 2-liter bottle right above the label. Put bait in the large bottom piece and place the top upside down inside it. This provides a funnel for wasps to get in. Tape the two sections together. You can place it on a surface or poke two small holes on opposite sides of the large opening and thread string through to hang it. While commercial lures are more effective, you can bait your homemade wasp trap with meat, cat food, rotting or fresh fruit, fruit juice (apple works quite well), soda, syrup, or anything you’ve noticed wasps trying to steal from you. A mixture of apple cider vinegar (2 cups), sugar (2 cups), water (1 cup), and liquid dish soap (1/4-1/2 cup) is also an effective bait with the added benefit that you can pour it into a spray bottle and kill individual wasps when you’re doing things outdoors.
We’ve already discussed bait used for trapping individual wasps. But there’s another type of bait that can be employed in the fight against wasps: poison bait. Poison baits are lures mixed with an insecticide that wasps collect and take back to their nests. By feeding it to the larvae and queen, they bring down the entire colony. It’s a tricky business, though. When using insecticide, it’s crucial that beneficial insects like honey bees aren’t attracted to the bait. The best options, then, are protein-based lures such as meat, fresh fish, and canned cat food (specifically sardine-flavored). This means that only certain types of wasps at certain times of the year will be attracted. Poison baits are thus only effective against scavenging yellow jacket wasps. However, these are the wasps that cause the most trouble at summer picnics.
Poison baits also negate the need to seek out and dismantle wasp nests, which is a dangerous activity that is essentially impossible for people with wasp allergies. Baits should be placed in the middle of the season to be the most effective. Too early and wasp activity will be too low for complete control. Too late, and the wasps will be done collecting protein and likely will already have interrupted your summer activities. One effective commercial bait with proven success and no honey bee collateral damage is Vespex. If you’re going to bait your own poison traps, do not use sugary lures. Follow package directions for mixing proportions as a large insecticide to bait ratio can cause bait rejection. Each bait station should have a maximum of 3 oz of bait + insecticide and should be clearly labeled and placed in an area where children and pets cannot access it. The bait is likely to need to be replaced approximately every 3 days.
Things that don’t work well
Some strategies and products do not work against wasps or have limited effectiveness. Things that don’t work include:
- Insect repellent, such as that for mosquitos and ticks. There is some evidence that wasps are even attracted to the scent of some insect repellents. There is speculation by pest control experts that repellents containing DEET may work, though.
- Trying to drive wasps from their nest by lighting a smoky fire nearby. This will only drive them away temporarily and carries the risk of a house or other property fire.
- Eucalyptus and its oils. Though some sources cite eucalyptus as a wasp repellent, social wasps have been found in eucalyptus plantations.
- Basil and its oils. Basil is attractive to pollinators, including wasps.
- Marigolds, which, like basil, attract many types of pollinators.
Some things that work, but not as well as sanitation and traps, include:
- Natural wasp repellents, such as:
- The oils of some plants that have been shown in research trials to repel both yellow jackets and paper wasps, including various mints (spearmint, peppermint, and ginger mint), Wintergreen, Wormwood
- A mixture of the oils of clove, geranium, and lemongrass and this same mixture with the addition of rosemary, which was also scientifically tested as insect repellents.
- Cucumber peels, which have a bitter agent that wasps avoid.
- Biological control by attracting predators with molasses or honey (e.g., skunks, raccoons, or opossums). They may or may not be attracted and may or may not take care of your wasp problem. It’s simply not a reliable method.
- Biological control by nematodes. Such control is typically unavailable to the general public and unlikely to completely eradicate a colony.
- Biological control by releasing parasitoid wasp species. In widespread trials in New Zealand, where some social wasps are invasive, parasitoid wasps only established populations in a small fraction of the sites where they were introduced and were unsuccessful at reducing social wasp populations.
- Biological control by carnivorous plants. Though they are known to eat wasps, carnivorous plants are generally indiscriminate predators and don’t consume enough insects to control an entire colony.
Aerial wasp nest removal
Despite their important role in the ecosystem, if wasps set up shop too close to high-traffic areas of your home, you may need to get rid of the entire colony. If that’s the case, you’re going to have to destroy a wasp nest or two. Wasp removal is a very dangerous activity and should not be attempted by people with allergies. For those who have decided that the aerial wasp nests have to go, we’ll walk you through how to go about removing them.
What you should know
Paper wasps, some yellow jackets, and hornets all build open-air nests that hang from some type of surface. If you have wasps and you think they probably nest aerially, but you’re not sure where their nest is, carefully check:
- Trees and shrubs
- The eaves of your home and outbuildings
- Decks and deck roofs
- Picnic shelters
- Attic ceilings
- Anywhere else that is high and sheltered
You can find mud dauber nests in the same types of places as long as there’s a flat vertical surface on which to build.
The safest time to remove social wasp nests is early in the season when the queen is just starting out. On a cool, rainy day, you can spray small, new nests with a hose to knock them down. If possible, wait until the queen is out foraging and the nest is unguarded. This is easiest for paper wasp nests because they lack the protective envelope of yellow jacket or hornet nests. For these, you should wait until nighttime when it’s cool and the wasps will be less mobile. Just make sure to stand back. You’ll have to keep an eye on the area afterward to make sure the queen doesn’t try again.
For established colonies, you’ll need to first mark the nest so you can find it again. Don’t get too close and disturb the wasps, but just leave an indicator nearby. Note the location of the entrance. The earlier in the season you remove the nest, the better. By fall, the wasps aren’t using it anymore and most of them are dead anyway. The wasp lifespan is only about the length of a season.
Only work on nests at night, when it’s dark and the temperature is lower, and wasps are less active. The best time to kill wasps is at least two hours after dark. European hornets are active at night, so use caution when dealing with hornet nests.
When you’re ready to attack the nest, be sure to wear protective clothing, preferably of a thick, smooth material that wasps can’t easily sting through or land on. Wear long sleeves, thick rubber gloves, long pants, and boots. Seal the cuffs of your sleeves and pant legs with tape or rubber bands. Finally, wear a beekeepers’ hat with a screen and secure it to your shirt or jacket. For added protection, put a red filter over your flashlight. Wasps have trouble seeing the color red, so this should prevent them from being attracted to your light source. Make sure that no pets or people are nearby. Both the wasps and the insecticides are dangerous.
Approach the nest slowly and quietly so as not to disturb the wasps. First, treat the nest with an insecticide, preferably one that allows you to stand well back from the nest. Be sure to spray with any wind at your back and don’t let the spray blow onto outdoor eating/cooking utensils or surfaces, vegetable gardens/fruit trees, pet kennels, or windows. Direct the insecticide at the nest entrance or across the comb entrances (paper wasps) and apply it for several seconds to ensure the nest is fully saturated. Immediately leave the area. Thoroughly wash your hands in case they came into contact with any insecticide. Avoid going near the nest for a full day. Check it after a day has passed. If you still see wasps coming and going, you’ll need to do another application. If not, take down the nest and dispose of it.
Products you should use
As mentioned, the best wasp killer for the job is one that reaches a long distance. There are a few options available that meet that criterion: foams, sprays, liquid insecticides, and foggers.
Wasp nest killer foams
Some spray insecticides foam up on contact. These are generally called wasp nest killer foams or wasp foams. When sprayed, they expand to fill every cell, coating the nest and all the wasps within the nest. Most insecticidal foams (and other sprays) contain a chemical that attacks the wasps’ nervous systems. They become paralyzed, fall from the nest, and die. Many foams have an additional residual effect in addition to their immediate, on-contact (‘knockdown’) effect. This means that the insecticide hangs around for a while and kills the wasps that were out foraging when they return to the nest. The other useful thing about foams is that they hold better than some liquid sprays. They won’t drip off like a liquid, enhancing their residual properties.
The best wasp sprays have an operating distance of up to 20 feet, allowing the user to remain far from the danger zone. One potential drawback of wasp foam sprays is that application is a two-part process and the second part is potentially dangerous. First, spray the nest entrance from a distance. Once the foam has expanded to fill the hole, approach the nest and stick the spray straw through the foam into the nest itself. Spray again, directly into the nest, for several seconds. Before starting this process, make sure there are no other openings through which angry wasps can fly out. If there are, quickly seal them off with foam as well.
Ready-to-use aerosol sprays
Aerosol sprays are oil-based, quick knockdown sprays. Like foam sprays, most aerosol sprays act on the nervous system to paralyze and kill wasps. These aerosol sprays act on contact, which is why it’s important to saturate the nest. Any wasps that don’t get a dose will be all too ready to go on the attack. Direct the spray at the entrance and get out of there quickly. Because some aerosol sprays don’t have a residual component, you may have to treat the nest one or two additional times to ensure all the wasps are dead. Be sure to get a spray that reaches at least 15 feet, preferably 2067. Such long-range sprays are the best wasp killer sprays.
Liquid insecticides require a bit more work. They are concentrated liquids that must be mixed with water before they can be used. Some come in spray containers and others need to be poured into a separate sprayer. Like other wasp killing products, liquid insecticides incapacitate and kill wasps by targeting the nervous system. Some are on-contact while others are residual and can be used to pre-treat areas that wasps may find attractive. For nest treatment, it’s recommended to spray liberally, concentrating on the nest entrance. For pre-treatment, spray all around an area you’ve noticed them nesting in before or where you think they may decide to nest in the near future. As mentioned, wasps prefer sheltered areas with proper space to hang a paper nest or construct a mud nest. Take care when mixing these insecticides that you don’t get any on your hands. Since they are concentrated, they will be more dangerous for you, your family, and your pets.
Total release foggers
Sometimes, wasps manage to get inside your home and build their nests. That’s where total release foggers – also known as pest control bombs or wasp smoke bombs – come in. These are devices that propel aerosol insecticides straight up in the air, where they spread to fill the room. Foggers are ideal for wasp nests in attics, garages, basements, and large sheds. They work like the other insecticides mentioned and are of the quick knockdown variety. They come in various sizes that treat areas of different size. Choose the one that is closest to the square footage of the room you need to clear. Once the device is engaged, leave the room and shut the door. Leave it closed and don’t go back in for a few hours. After those hours have passed, ventilate the room for an additional half hour before spending any time within. Because some of the ingredients are flammable, make sure that no pilot lights are on or flames are lit anywhere in the home. No foggers are suitable for use in closets or under sinks. They might explode. Once the pest bomb has done its job, you can safely remove and discard the nest.
What you shouldn’t do
Now that we’ve covered some of the things you should do to get rid of a wasps’ nest, we need to make you aware of things you shouldn’t do.
Getting rid of wasps is a dangerous business and you need to go about it in the safest way possible. Don’t take a baseball bat or a stick to a wasp nest to knock it down (unless you’ve already exterminated the residents).
This will only lead to a swarm of angry wasps and a lot of painful stings. As mentioned, using smoke to get rid of wasps doesn’t work and you shouldn’t do it. If you’re lucky, they’ll just come back once the fire is out. If you’re not, you could set fire to your home or lawn and/or just make the wasps angry. Don’t try to bag untreated nests. You’re very likely to get stung. When using sprays, don’t stand directly under the nest. You could get blowback from the insecticides and angry wasps falling on your face. When dealing with yellow jackets or hornets, be sure not to break the protective envelope around the nest as it will allow the wasps to fly out in all directions and more easily attack. If you can’t get a red filter for your flashlight, do not shine it directly at the entrance. It’s best to place it on the ground before you start spraying because wasps are attracted to light, and you don’t want to make yourself an easy target. Don’t just block the entrance to a wasp nest and hope they’ll starve to death inside. They can just make a new entrance by chewing through the walls of their nests.
Once you’ve eliminated existing nests, you’ll need to know how to stop wasps from coming back. Also, before the next season starts, there are some steps you can take to prevent future nesting. In addition to those mentioned in the Daily Tips section above, you can use wasp repellent spray on surfaces they may try to use for nests. There are commercial repellents available, but you can also mix ammonia (6 oz) with water (1 gallon) and spray it around trash cans and eating areas as well as around your home (beneath eaves, on walls, under roofs, etc.).
One of the ways wasps get sugar is through aphid honeydew, so be sure to control any aphid infestations in your garden.
They also need water, so fix any leaking outdoor faucets, sprinklers, and hoses.
To make it harder for wasps to build nests under your eaves again, paint them. It’s harder for the wasps to attach their nests to slick surfaces.
Ground wasp nest removal
Many species of yellow jackets nest underground, as do cicada killers. This can be very dangerous for your family and pets as their holes can be hard to spot and you can get too close without even noticing. If you’ve stumbled across a ground wasp nest in your yard or you’re pretty sure there’s one out there somewhere, we’ll tell you how to safely remove it.
What you should know
Care will be needed when dealing with an underground wasp nest, especially one containing yellow jackets, which are more aggressive than cicada killers. Underground nests are harder to find on purpose than aerial nests, but your best bet is to monitor the wasps and see where they appear to be flying to and from. For yellow jackets, specifically, you can leave out bait (e.g., cat food) and watch a foraging yellow jacket after it has taken the bait. They typically fly directly home with their haul. You may have to keep an eye on the area for a while if you didn’t catch exactly where the wasp disappeared underground. If you keep monitoring the activity in the general area, eventually you’ll find the hole they’re disappearing into. This way, you can trace them back to their nest even when you can’t see it. Ground-nesting wasps are also known to make nests in other void areas, such as:
- Rotting logs
- The hollows of living trees
- Within building walls
- Playground structures
- Pet hutches
- Other small, dark spaces
The earlier in the season you can get to them, the better. Early in the season, when the colony is small, you may be able to simply pour soapy water into the burrow. Silica aerogel is another alternative. It’s a desiccating agent in powder form that kills insects by dehydrating them. If this is ineffective, you’ll need to invest in some insecticides.
Like aerial nests, you should carefully mark the location of a ground nest, making sure not to get too close. The procedure for treating an underground nest is generally similar to that followed for aerial nests. The best time to spray wasp nests is after dark, preferably at least two hours after the sun has set. If possible, put a red filter over your flashlight. If not, don’t direct the light at the nest opening and set it on the ground before you begin treatment. Wear protective clothing and approach the nest slowly and quietly so as not to disturb the wasps. Choose an insecticide that is safe for plants. If using a spray insecticide, be sure to choose one that you can spray from at least 10 feet away. Apply spray insecticide to the entrance hole for several seconds. If using a dust insecticide, quickly dump it down the hole and get out of there. If you’ve used a fast-acting insecticide, you can approach the nest and plug the hole with soil (or otherwise cover it). Treat the plug with insecticide to kill any absent workers when they return. Otherwise, leave it for about a day to ensure you eliminate any workers that may have been out foraging when you applied the insecticide. Once you’re satisfied all the wasps are dead, fill in the burrow entrance to discourage other wasps from building a nest there.
Products you should use
Residual powders and dusts
Dust insecticides are residual insecticides in a powder/dust form. Like other pesticides, wasp killer powders and dusts attack insects’ nervous systems. They’re an excellent ground wasp killer because ground-dwelling wasps often build their nests far from the burrow entrance and liquids or aerosols may not penetrate far enough to reach it. They don’t work immediately, and you have to approach the burrow entrance, so it’s imperative that you wear protective clothing and leave the area immediately after application. The residual power of dusts is so great that it will prevent other wasps from nesting in the area for up to 6 months.
Liquid insecticides used to combat ground-dwelling wasps are the same as those for treating aerial nests. They’re concentrated liquids that must be mixed with water and usually poured into a sprayer. As mentioned, be sure to choose one that is safe for plants as you’ll be spraying it at your lawn. Spray the insecticide directly at the entrance hole and be careful not to breathe the liquid in or get it on your skin.
Granular insecticides are large grains of clay, ground corn cob, or groundnut husks treated with an insecticide. Typically used to treat entire lawns for ants or other widespread pests, their contents penetrate the soil when water flows over them and seeps into the ground. Some experts are dubious about their effectiveness and recommend sprays over granules for their covering ability. Others, however, consider them a good choice for cicada killer nests and recommend spreading them over a large area surrounding burrow entrances (using a seed spreader) and watering them in. They are considered safer to handle than liquid insecticides as the insecticide itself has been absorbed into the granule and is only released when wet. Like powders, granules provide up to 6 months of residual control.
What you shouldn’t do
As was true when dealing with aerial nests, there are things you shouldn’t do when taking care of subterranean nests. Don’t pour water or any flammable liquids like gasoline into a wasp burrow. The bottom of the burrow is beneath the lowest tier of the nest, so you won’t be able to flood the actual nest. Flammable liquids may explode and will eventually percolate into nearby groundwater, thus polluting it. Don’t try to vacuum the wasps out of the ground. It’s far too dangerous. Don’t cover the entrances to underground wasp nests instead of using insecticides. The wasps will simply dig another way out. This is also especially true for nests within walls or floors. If you block their entrances, wasps may end up chewing into your home. You definitely don’t want wasps in the house. Also, for the same reason you shouldn’t use wasp foggers inside cabinets or closets, don’t try to deploy one underground.
Many of the same steps taken for general wasp repulsion or aerial nest prevention will work for ground-dwelling wasps as well (e.g., sanitation, sealing up cracks, repellents, early-season traps). In addition, be sure to close up the burrow or any holes in your home after the wasps have been eradicated. Plant grasses or other thick vegetation around abandoned burrows. Bare spots are attractive to cicada killers, especially. Covering the entrance with wood chips will also serve as a decent disguise. Wasps that live in the ground prefer to use existing burrows, so if they can’t find one, they’ll look elsewhere before digging one themselves. Apply a residual insecticide (granular, liquid, or powder will all work) near eradicated and filled in holes to kill and repel any wasps that do try to re-excavate.
When to call an exterminator
Sometimes, a wasp problem is bad enough that you need to call in the experts. Any wasp problem is bad enough if you are allergic. The money you’d save is not worth the anaphylaxis.
If, for any reason, you know that you can’t quickly run away once you’ve applied treatment, it’s also recommended to leave it to the experts. Mass envenomation (when someone is stung many times) is dangerous even for people without allergies and should be avoided at all costs. An inability to get out quickly could be due to physical limitations or nest location. If you have to get on a ladder to treat a wasp nest, don’t.
Very large nests are best left to professionals as well. With aerial nests, you can see how large they are and make a decision about your ability to handle them. For subterranean nests, it’s best not to try to treat them yourself if it’s late in the summer. Yellow jacket colonies can number in the thousands by summer’s end. Although we mentioned wasps in walls and wasps in attics a few times in this article with product recommendations, you should call an exterminator to deal with any indoor or in-wall infestations. Without a fogger, you may have trouble getting out of an attic quickly after spraying a nest. Also, even if you can treat nests within your walls, floors, or ceilings, the dead wasps will have to be removed before they start to rot and stink up your house. Professional exterminators have the skills, tools, and experience needed for that final step.
Wasp colonies around your home can be a serious problem, especially if they’re located in high-traffic areas and/or if someone in your household is allergic. If, however, there’s a wasp nest located in an out-of-the-way place, it’s recommended to let them be. After all, they’re beneficial pest predators and pollinators, which are good for your garden and the environment.
However, if you need to eliminate a nest or some, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ve provided a brief overview of the different types of wasps and how to recognize their nests. We’ve also outlined some strategies to keep them away from you when you’re trying to enjoy yourself outside, including via sanitation, repellents, and traps. These tips are a great first step if you’re not sure where a nest is or how bad the infestation may be. In some cases, they’ll be enough, and you won’t have to destroy the entire colony. However, in case that becomes necessary, we further detailed how to remove both aerial and subterranean nests, including the different types of products you’ll need, safety tips, and things you shouldn’t do. There is no best way to get rid of wasps. It all depends on the type of wasp you’re dealing with and where they’ve set up their nest. For aerial nests, foams are probably the most effective, while underground nests are best treated with dusts and powders. Always wait at least a full day before trying to remove an aerial nest.
We also included some wasp prevention tips for each type of colony. Finally, it’s imperative that you know your own limitations. In some cases, the best solution is to call an exterminator and let them take care of it for you. Good luck!