Warm weather in early spring will rouse hibernating queen wasps from their winter sleep. If you see a wasp at this time of year, it will almost definitely be a queen wasp emerging from its hibernation. These wasps are larger and brighter than other wasps and are the only wasps which survive the winter cold.
While you might consider wasps to be a pest during the summer months, the best time to prevent a wasp problem is when you find a hibernating or newly woken queen wasp. By destroying it now, you are preventing it from building the much bigger pest problem of an entire wasp nest.
How to spot a hibernating queen wasp
A hibernating queen wasp will protect her wings and antennae by tucking them under its body. It uses the middle legs to cover and protect its wings and the hind legs to anchor itself in place for the winter.
The wasp may construct a small hibernation cell, about the size of a golf ball, which may be grey, silver or straw in colour and will often be hidden from human eyes in an undisturbed spot in a loft space or shed.
As with all wasps, a queen wasp carries a sting which injects poison into its victim. This can be painful to a human and in rare cases can cause a dangerous allergic reaction.
If you discover what you think is a hibernating queen wasp and are unsure of how to deal with it, you may want to call in a pest control expert. They have the experience to identify and destroy it.
Prevent queen wasps building a new nest near your home
The queen wasps usually wake up from hibernation at the beginning of April. They immediately begin searching for somewhere to build a nest. Popular locations are roof voids, wall cavities and sheds, but wasp nests can also be found underground and in more unusual places, such as holes in trees or bird boxes.
Once a queen wasp has chosen a location, it begins building the nest. The nest is made from chewed wood and wasp saliva, creating a grey, papery material. Once a few cells have been built, the queen wasp will begin to lay eggs. These hatch into workers who then feed the queen. As the queen wasp is fed, she makes more cells and lays more eggs and so the colony grows, by up to 100 eggs a day.
By mid-summer, the nest could be home to hundreds or even thousands of wasps. If it’s near your home or workplace, it can become a significant pest control problem, as their search for food will keep bringing the wasps to you. They could be a continual nuisance, and you risk being stung, particularly in the autumn, when they become more aggressive.
You may be able to avoid all this by destroying a hibernating queen wasp when you find it, perhaps as it emerges from winter sleep.