Wasps: Useful helpers or annoying pests?

Wasps are fascinating insects that play an important role in the ecosystem. They pollinate flowers, fight pests and serve as food for other animals. But they can also become unwanted guests when they help themselves to our food or drink or sting us.

How can we deal with wasps without harming them? In this article you will learn everything you need to know about wasps: what they are, how dangerous they are, how to avoid or get rid of them and how to treat wasp stings.

What are wasps?

Wasps belong to the phylum Arthropoda, to the class of Insecta and to the order of Hymenoptera. In addition to the wasp, the Hymenoptera include the ant, the bee and the hornet, whereby the hornet actually also belongs to the wasps.

There are several hundred species of wasps, but only a few are relevant for us humans. These are especially the common wasp and the German wasp, because these two sting humans most often. The most important wasp species are:

The common wasp

The common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) is one of the most common and well-known wasp species in Germany. It is about 1.5 cm long and has a black-yellow coloration with a black longitudinal stripe on the head shield. The common wasp lives in social states with a queen and many workers. It builds its nests from wood fibers, which they chew into a papery material. The nests are often located in sheltered places such as attics, sheds, or tree cavities.

A common wasp in a jar
A common wasp (Vespula vulgaris). Source: Magne Flåten, CC BY-SA 3.0

It feeds mainly on other insects such as flies, caterpillars or spiders. It is therefore a useful pest controller. In late summer, however, it is also attracted to sweet foods such as fruit, cakes or lemonade. Then it can become a nuisance or even dangerous if it feels threatened and stings. And as we all know, sometimes that can happen faster than you'd like.

The German Wasp

The German wasp (Vespula germanica) is very similar to the common wasp. It is also black and yellow in color and about 1.5 cm long. The only difference is a small black dot on the yellow forehead shield. Most people will never see the difference.

A German wasp (Vespula germanica)
A German wasp (Vespula germanica). Source: Fir0002, Wikimedia Commons, GFDL 1.2

Like the common wasp, the German wasp feeds on other insects such as flies, caterpillars or spiders and is thus also a useful pest controller. Sweet or savory foods attract it just as much and if it feels threatened, it will sting you just as quickly.

The hornet

The hornet (Vespa crabro) is the largest and most impressive wasp species in Germany. It is about 3 to 4 cm long and has a red-brown coloration with yellow stripes. The hornet lives in social states with a queen and many workers. It builds its nests from wood fibers, which it shapes into a papery arch.

In fact, hornets are rather tame and rarely sting, but their size makes them look all the more threatening.

A hornet (Vespa crabro)
A hornet (Vespa crabro). Source: Christian Olsen, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Dolichovespula

The long-headed wasp (Dolichovespula) is a genus of wasps that differs from the other wasp species by its longer head and mandibles (biters). There are several species of longheaded wasps in Germany, such as the Median Wasp (Dolichovespula media) or the Saxon Wasp (Dolichovespula saxonica).

The longhead wasps are about 1 to 2 cm long and have a black-yellow or black-white coloration. Long-headed wasps live in social states with a queen and many workers. Nests are often located in free-hanging places such as bushes, trees, or porches.

A Saxon wasp (Dolichovespula saxonica)
A Saxon wasp (Dolichovespula saxonica). Source: Magne Flåten, CC BY-SA 3.0

Dolichovespula feed mainly on nectar and pollen. They are therefore important pollinators for many plants. They rarely attack other insects and are mostly harmless to humans as well. They are only rarely attracted to sweet foods and are thus usually very inconspicuous and do not disturb anyone.

How dangerous are wasps?

Wasps are usually not dangerous to humans. They only sting when they feel threatened or want to defend their nest. A wasp sting is usually only painful and unpleasant, but not life-threatening. There may be local swelling, redness and itching, which subside after a few hours or days.

However, some people have allergic reactions to wasp stings. An allergic reaction can lead to symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, palpitations or shock. In this case, a doctor must be consulted immediately.

To avoid wasp stings, you should follow these tips:

  • Do not strike or blow at wasps. This can make them aggressive.
  • Cover or put away sweet foods outdoors. Do not leave leftovers standing.
  • Do not use perfumes or strong-smelling cosmetics.
  • Do not wear colorful or flowery clothing. This can confuse wasps.
  • Drink and eat with care. Wasps can hide in glasses or on plates.
  • Do not disturb or even destroy wasps nests. In any case, this will go wrong.

How to avoid or get rid of wasps?

Wasps are useful animals and should not be killed without reason. They are protected under nature conservation laws and may only be fought in exceptional cases when they pose a threat to health or safety. If you want to get rid of wasps, there are several ways:

How to drive away wasps

Um Wespen von einem bestimmten Ort fernzuhalten, kann man versuchen, sie zu vertreiben. Dazu gibt es verschiedene Methoden, die hier aufgelistet sind.

  • Fragrances: Some scents have a deterrent effect on wasps, such as vinegar, lemon, cloves, lavender or coffee. You can put these scents in bowls or drizzle them on a cloth and hang them nearby.
  • Smoke: Smoke can irritate and drive away wasps. You can light incense candles, for example. In any case, an open fire is not advisable, as the risk of fire is too high.
  • What you should never do: Blow on wasps or beat them away, as this only makes them more aggressive and, in the worst case, summons their fellow wasps.

Wasp traps

To catch and kill wasps, you can use wasp traps. Wasp traps are containers with an attractant that wasps fly into but cannot get out of. You can buy wasp traps or build them yourself.

For example, sugar water, fruit juice or beer can be used as attractants. They should only be used in emergencies, as they can also attract and kill beneficial insects. Also, do not place them near wasp nests, as this can make the wasps aggressive.

A wasp trap from a PET bottle
A homemade wasp trap made from a PET bottle. Source: Silverije, CC BY-SA 4.0

Harming or killing wasps

Wasps are protected by law and must not be killed without cause. The German Federal Nature Conservation Act prohibits wantonly disturbing wild animals or trapping, injuring or killing them without reasonable cause. Anyone who violates this law can be fined up to 50,000 euros or imprisoned for up to five years. This might differ for your country though.

Exceptions are only possible if there is a hazard to health or safety and a permit has been obtained from the relevant nature conservation authority.

Protect or encourage wasps

To protect or encourage wasps, you can take several measures. These include, for example:

  • Nesting aids: Nesting aids are artificial dwellings for wasps that you can place a little further away from your home.
  • Blooming plants: Flowering plants are an important food source for wasps, which need nectar and pollen.
  • Waterholes: Waterholes are an important resource for wasps, which need water to drink and to build their nests.

How to treat wasp stings?

If you are stung by a wasp, you should take the following steps:

  1. Remove the stinger: If there is still a stinger in the skin, you should pull it out carefully with tweezers or a fingernail. Do not squeeze or suck.
  2. Cool the sting site: To relieve the swelling and pain, you should cool the puncture site with a cold compress, an ice pack or a gel pad. Do not place directly on the skin, but place a towel between them.
  3. Disinfect the sting: To avoid infection, clean the sting site with an antiseptic such as alcohol or iodine.
  4. Treat the sting: To relieve the itching and inflammation, the sting site should be treated with an antihistamine agent such as cream, gel or tablets.
  5. Watching the sting: To detect possible complications, you should check the sting site regularly. If the symptoms worsen or do not subside, a doctor should be consulted.
A maximum swollen hand two days after a wasp sting
Wasp stings cause major swelling. Source: Niels Kolditz, CC BY-SA 3.0

If you have an allergic reaction to a wasp sting, you should take the following steps:

  1. Call 911: If you have symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeat or shock, you should call 911 or be taken to a hospital immediately.
  2. Use the emergency kit: If you have an emergency kit, you should use it according to the instructions. The emergency kit usually contains an epinephrine spray or an epinephrine pen that is injected into the thigh muscle. The adrenaline helps to stop the allergic reaction.
  3. Show the allergy passport: If you have an allergy passport, you should show it to the doctor or emergency services. This will help with diagnosis and treatment.

For even more detailed info on wasp stings, their triggers, treatment, and natural home remedies, check out article on wasp stings from healthline.com.


Wasps are useful helpers and not annoying pests. They play an important role in the ecosystem and should not be killed for no reason. If you want to avoid or get rid of wasps, there are several options to consider. If one does not have an allergy to wasps, a wasp sting is usually not bad. However, if one is allergic, one needs to see a doctor immediately. However, with a little knowledge and caution, you can live peacefully with wasps.

If you liked the article and still want to read about other widely distributed insects, I recommend the article on silverfish.

Wasps: Useful helpers or annoying pests?
Article name
Wasps: Useful helpers or annoying pests?
Wasps are helpers, but also pests. Learn all about wasps, how to avoid them, how to get rid of them and how to treat wasp stings.

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