European Wasp Warning

Native wasp, Thynnid

Native thynnid wasp (flower wasp)

Have you noticed the busy activity of wasps in the garden in late summer and autumn? Many of these are harmless and beneficial native wasps, like flower wasps. These perform an important role as pollinators and as biological pest control on the farm or in the garden. Some help control caterpillars which they feed to their larvae. Others lay their eggs in or on a range of host insects. The larvae hatch and eventually kill the host. There are wasps which parasitise leaf-eating scarab insects, pasture grubs and Christmas beetles and whitefly pests of tomatoes and cucumbers. So it’s worth loving your wasps.

Landholders and the Koori Work Crew here in the Bega Valley have recently reported seeing (and feeling the stings of) a less loveable wasp – the European wasp (Vespula germanica). This wasp is neither harmless nor beneficial. It poses a threat to local ecosystems, personal safety, recreational values and rural industries on the far south coast.

European wasp stings are painful and, unlike bees, a wasp can sting people repeatedly. While European wasps generally won’t attack unless provoked, the nests (most commonly in the ground) are often hard to see and people can inadvertently step on or disturb them and be set upon by numerous wasps. This is potentially lethal for those with wasp allergies. Wasps may also enter soft drink bottles in search of sugar which creates a risk of being stung in the mouth or throat.

European wasp in Namadgi National Park by Harvey Perkins

European wasp in Namadgi National Park by Harvey Perkins

Environmentally European wasps pose a significant risk to ecosystems as the wasps prey on indigenous fauna (particularly other insects) and compete for nectar. This reduces food for native birds, reptiles and animals and impacts on species that pollinate plants. European wasps are responsible for large biodiversity losses in New Zealand, can threaten rural industries such as fruit growing (particularly grapes) and bee keeping and can adversely impact on tourism by invading picnic areas and outdoor food venues.

Native to parts of Europe, Asia and North Africa, the European wasp and doesn’t have natural predators in Australia to keep its numbers in check. In Europe, the cold winters ensure that only the Queen wasp can live, but the warmer climate of Australia means the entire nest can survive and can reach dangerously large proportions, up to 100 times larger than the nests in Europe.

How to know if you have European wasps
Have a look at this handy identification guide from the WA Department of Agriculture which will help distinguish between European wasps and other look-alikes. European wasps are often confused with the widespread yellow paper wasps (Polistes dominulus) which are beneficial and less aggresive but which will still sting if their nests are disturbed or threatened.

If you can safely take a photo of your wasp, upload it to the Atlas of Life in the Coastal Wilderness. It’s easy to do and an expert moderator will identify your sighting. This will start to build a better picture of where European wasps are occurring across the Bega Valley. You can also let Andrew Morrison from Bega Valley Shire Council know by emailing amorrison@begavalley.nsw.gov.au

Underground European wasp nest

Underground European wasp nest

How to control European wasps
Try and locate the nest site (this Victorian government website provides photos and details on how to do this). The safest approach to controlling European wasps is to engage a local pest control contractor to destroy the nest.

What to do if you’re stung
Although they are painful (usually far more painfull than a bee sting), isolated wasp stings seldom cause serious problems. The initial sensations of a wasp sting can include sharp pain or burning at the sting site followed by a raised welt around the perimeter and usually the pain and swelling recedes within a few hours of being stung. Use a cold pack to reduce swelling and pain, use pain-relieving medication and creams and be alert for signs of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that can result in death from swollen airways.

European wasp venom contains toxins that can cause allergic reactions in susceptible people. Around one in 10 people who are stung two or more times become allergic, which means they will experience severe reactions to any subsequent stings.

When to call an ambulance
The most severe allergic reaction of all is anaphylaxis, which may be life threatening. For any life threatening symptoms such as anaphylactic shock immediately phone 000 to call an ambulance. For more details on first aid and when to call an ambulance visit the Victoria state government website on European wasps.

8 comments on “European Wasp Warning

  1. I have had European wasps at my place in Nethercote this year. I was not able to find their nest.
    I heard part of a talk on the ABC 20/04/17

    • Hi Wendy. I’m looking for a nest at my place in Buckajo too. Have you tried putting out small pieces of meat, like liver that they can easily bite off, and watching which direction the wasps fly as they should fly directly back to the nest? You may need to keep moving the meat closer in the direction they fly to narrow it down. Let me know how you go. Ali

  2. I discovered a nest in my backyard in Burragate.Last night I tried to burn it out placing a rag soaked in petrol on the end of a tomato stake into the hole and throwing a burning fire lighter onto it and piling dried leaves and sticks on top.I fuelled it for 15 minutes or more.In the morning there were only a couple of disoriented wasps which I sprayed with wasp spray. Thought I had been successful in wiping them out but by the time the morning fog cleared and the sun was shining the wasps were back checking out the hole in the ground! Back to the drawing board!!

    • Hi Donna. That sounds hard core. I’m glad you weren’t stung. There is a pest control contractor in Kalaru who can talk you through other ways to kill them if you want to do it yourself. Most websites recommend getting a professional in because of the risk of being stung and the potential for having an anaphylactic reaction. I hope it all goes well. Ali

      • Ali, to put your mind to rest regarding being stung.I had two pairs of tracksuit pants,layers of tops including a heavy jacket,gloves,bee helmet with net and boots so felt okay as far as safety.What I would like to know is the layout of the nest within the hole e.g do they have tunnels off the main hole? Could that be why I was unable to burn it?7

        • Hi Donna. The nest can be quite extensive underground, can have a tunnel leading to it which may be horizontal before it goes into the nest and is very moist due to all the larvae. Also, the queen goes straight to the bottom of the nest when under attack so may have escaped the effects of the fire. Not all wasps come home at night so you might have seen these ones returning in the morning. If you’d like to talk to experts about the best way to eradicate nests or to see photos of nests, visit the website http://ewasp.com.au or call the European Wasp Hotline based in the ACT on 02 6258 5551. Jim is really helpful.

  3. Hey Ali, we’ve had them at our place in bega, they come to get dead cockroaches (that our puppy has killed) off our verandah! I will try to find a nest!

    • Hi Sally. I read that they forage up to 500m from their nest so if you can’t find it at your place it could be on a neighbours block. The wasps are really busy at the moment gathering protein to take back to the larvae in their nests. You can often see them eating dead insects from the grille at the front of cars.

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