Wasps in Australia
Wasps are bees’ more aggressive, territorial, meaner cousins. They are capable of multiple stings and don't hold back when push comes to shove. A wasp would have no problem injecting you with venom multiple times. This can be a real problem since that same venom can be used to paralyse a tarantula. In most cases, you would want them at a safe distance. Wasp control is one of our more popular services, but that doesn’t mean wasps don’t have their place in the world.
There are more than 10,000 native Australian wasps. They are not as good at pollination as their hardworking kin, yet they still hold a crucial role in the Australian ecosystem. Wasps perform natural pest control services. They keep in check many different bugs that may otherwise be harmful to your garden. They also help with the reproduction of figs (which they live and die inside of). Finally, some species often scavenge for dead insects, paper, small debris, and that may cause them to come at odds with us. And no one wants to have their tool shed, garage, or attic infested by small, angry-looking, buzzing, aggressive insects.
They are a lot more nuanced than bees, ranging from relatively docile to absolute nightmares!
Species of Native Australian Wasps
Spider wasps take their name from their peculiar breeding habits. Most wasp species create a nest and lay their eggs there. Not these wasps! They instead turn the hunters into the hunted.
In order to procreate, the rather large orange and black spider wasp looks for the biggest spider it can find. Then it paralyzes it, drags it to her nest and lays her legs inside of it while it’s still alive. The venom doesn’t kill it. The vital organs remain intact so that they can be fresher the longest.
When the larvae hatch, they begin munching on the helpless spider. It dies away in quiet agony. Nature is truly scary!
Image source: Shutterstock Sean Heatley
Fig wasps in Australia have evolved in symbiotic relationship with fig trees. The wasp is brown-golden in colour and needs the tree in order to survive. The fig needs the wasp in order to procreate. Perfectly balanced!
Naturally, the wasps only live in areas around fig trees. The females fly into the fig and lay their eggs there. This is their last trip, because they often tear their wings out as they enter the fig. Once the eggs are detected, the fig isolates them and provides them with nutrients.
The male hatchlings stay inside the fig. The females fly outside to find another fig with males inside. Once the female enters the fig, it pollinates it and the cycle can continue.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Black wasps are native australian wasps that are, well - black, with bluish wings. The adult wasps feed mostly on nectar and help pollinate native plants. This makes them a valuable member of the ecosystem. But there’s another, less widely known use for them.
The black wasp larvae feed on grubs. The adult female lays her eggs underground in the presence of grubs and the larvae being eating the grubs once they hatch. Since grubs can be harmful to plants, this makes them especially useful for gardeners.
Image source: Shutterstock Sylvie Lebchek
The more creative of the bunch. Mud-dauber wasps are solitary and build pottery-like nests from mud. They are very adept at creating mud nests with perfect shapes. They grow up to 3 cm and a red and yellow in colour.
Like other wasp species, the larvae are carnivorous. Mud-daubers often place one or several spiders in their nest before the eggs hatch so the larvae have something to eat. Although not very aggressive, their venomous sting can still be very painful.
Image source: Shutterstock Maciej Olszewski
We can’t talk about the mud-dauber without mentioning the cuckoo wasp. Cuckoo wasps are bright green or bluish. They are parasitoids or kleptoparasites. This means they live at the expense of their host species by either killing and eating them (parasitoids) or by eating their food (kleptoparasites).
The female cuckoo wasp lays her eggs inside the nest of another wasp, most often a mud-dauber. Once the larvae hatch, they either eat the mud-dauber larvae or they eat their food. Either way, the mud-daubers don’t make it to maturity.
Cuckoo wasps have evolved protection from stings and mandibles and they have excellent defensive capabilities. Most of them can’t sting, though.
Image source: Shutterstock Katarina Christenson
Just like their cousins - the bees, solitary wasps live independently of one another. Each female creates her own nest and preps it for the hatching of her eggs. This makes them vulnerable to cuckoo wasps. Most native Australian wasp species are solitary.
In order to avoid some of the downsides of being solitary, particular wasp species have evolved to work together. All females are still fertile, but they share the same nest and always have one of them keeping watch.
Social wasps have a social structure with a queen, workers, and males (drones). The queen is the only one that is fertile, causing the end of the colony if she dies.
If you have a wasp infestation, this would be the most likely culprit. The most popular of these are the European wasps. As the name suggests, they are not native to Australia but an introduced species. However, due to their fast reproduction, they started to affect the ecosystem.
Unlike bees, wasps can sting multiple times without dying. Each time, they release venom which is very painful (some species even have paralytic properties, though grown humans are too large to be paralyzed entirely). To top it all off, they also release a pheromone that marks you as a threat. This causes nearby wasps to also spring to attack.
Wasps have a relatively diverse diet ranging from nectar and fruit to small insects and even arachnids. In fact, some species paralyze big Huntsman spiders and lay their eggs inside the spider while the creature still lives. As a result, the eggs hatch and larvae begin to feast on the flesh of the unlucky arachnid. It's a very gruesome scene that inspires many a horror film.
Wasps are most dangerous if you're allergic. If you have allergies, you can go into anaphylaxis if you get stung. Your airways will close up due to the body's extreme reaction to the venom and measures are not taken immediately, the outcome might be lethal.
Even if you're not allergic, some species have an extremely potent venom. This can cause excruciating pain and even shock. Many wasp species are very aggressive.
The majority of the wasp species we have here in Australia is solitary. This means they don't build big nests but every female is fertile and builds her own nest, which is usually abandoned after reproduction. The nests can be built from different materials such as wood fibres, resin, or even mud.
When you spot a huge wasp nest, it's definitely a social species. Social species have a single queen that reproduces and the rest of the wasps in the nest are sterile females and drones (short-lived males whose only purpose in life is to inseminate the queen).
When you have an infestation, it's most likely social wasps - paper or European wasps, more specifically. European wasps are an introduced species to Australia. Their lack of natural predators allows them to multiply quickly at the expense of native Australian species. They are far more aggressive than native wasps.
Removing a wasp nest on your own is not an easy job. Depending on the type of nest, you can use different removal methods. You can try killing the nest with wasp poison or with pest powder containing carbaryl. Identify the entrance and exit holes of the nest and seal them. The wasps should be dead in 5-6 days.
If you're allergic to wasp stings, avoid taking down a nest without calling a professional!
There are things you can do to prevent wasps from nesting in your home and garden. Inspect your house for holes and cracks, they can be the perfect place for a wasp nest. Don't leave holes in the garden and make sure to keep the trash cans in check. Most of the wasp species are attracted to different types of food, mainly sweets.
Signs of a Wasp Infestation
If you see wasps buzzing around, this should make you suspicions enough to check for a wasp infestation. European wasps, for example, are notorious for using small holes to get inside of cavities and build their nests there. For the most part, wasps aren’t dangerous unless you’re allergic. Even if you are not allergic, a sting can be quite painful so take care.
You can usually spot a paper wasp nest under eaves, in trees or in bushes. Be careful if you decide to investigate. They can be extremely aggressive when defending their nest and they have a painful sting. Unlike bees, they can sting multiple times. To top it all off, once you get stung, a signal is sent to the rest that you’re a threat and you will get attacked from multiple sides.
Paper wasp nest
It is a very common type of wasp nest you can easily encounter. Paper wasp nests are usually constructed under eaves or in tree branches. You can often see them hanging, with wasps flying around. They feel papery because they’re made out of chewed-up wood fibers and wasp natural secretion (they literally apply spit on it). Australian paper wasp nests aren’t usually all that big.
Mud-dauber wasp nest
Mud-dauber nests look like small pieces of pottery attached to your wall. They usually inhabit territories close to humans and are easy to identify with their interesting look. You shouldn’t be surprised if you find a mud-dauber wasp nest in your shed.
Many people confuse bees and wasps. This is understandable since they are members of the same order and have many similar properties. However, there are certain distinctions that should help you confirm you're indeed dealing with wasps.
Honey sees live in hives. They use wax as their main building material and produce honey. Wasps live in nests that are mostly built from chewed up tree fibres to make a papery material. You can usually find their nests under eaves, on or in tree trunks, or in branches. Be careful while performing the inspection because social wasps are very aggressive. Book a professional inspection if you don't feel like taking the risk.
Wasps are usually attracted to fruit and sweet things. There is nothing you can do to prevent them if you have an orchard or even fruit trees in your garden. However, you can keep them away from your home by not leaving food lying around and taking out the rubbish regularly.
What should you do in case of a wasp infestation?
The best course of action would be to seek professional pest control help. You can handle a smaller nest on your own but it's not without risks involved. If you're allergic, the risks are huge. Even if you're not, being attacked by multiple flying venom injections is not the most pleasant feeling in the world.