Other common names: Avispa comun (Spain), Avispa germánica (Spain), Deutsche wespe (Dutch), European wasp, German yellowjacket, Guêpe germanique (French), Vespa germanica (Italy)
Photo courtesy of: Landcare Research
This species is established in New Zealand.
The German Wasp Vespula germanica ranges in length of 12 – 17 mm long (queens may be up to 20 mm) with a blackish brown abdomen and bright yellow stripes. It is very similar to the common wasp. German wasps have strong black markings including an arrow-shaped mark down the middle of the abdomen a black spots on either side. Wings are long and translucent, legs are yellow and antennae black.
German wasps usually nests underground in holes dug in the soil. Alternatively it may construct its nest in the crevices of tree trunks or stacked materials or in compost or hedges. In urban areas the possibilities are even greater and wasps often nest in walls, roof spaces or other convenient gaps in buildings.
German wasps have a range of impacts; economic, health and environmental. They are considered to be an economic pest of primary industries such as beekeeping, forestry and horticulture. They can be a major social pest as they disrupt people’s enjoyment of the outdoors and the operation of some schools. Furthermore they have a painful sting and are a threat to human health.
German wasps are able to eat a variety of food and are opportunistic predators, feeding mostly on other insects. They will collect sugary solutions such as honeydew, and are well known scavengers. In scrubland-pasture habitat in New Zealand, large over wintered colonies account for much of the biomass of prey consumed. High densities of wasp foragers are created causing a local predation pressure on prey and a depletion of carbohydrate sources. The continuous activity of these colonies reduces the opportunity for the prey species to recover.
German wasps are native to the Palaearctic region: Europe, North Africa and temperate regions of Asia. The German wasp has been introduced into New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, Ascension Island, South Africa, the United States, Canada, Chile, and Argentina. Its introduction into New Zealand probably occurred in the late 19th century, but did not appear in large numbers until around 1940.
German wasps are widespread throughout New Zealand, except in beech forests infested with honeydew where they have been displaced by common wasps. The two species coexist in urban and rural habitats.
There are two ways of reducing a local wasp problem — either finding and destroying nests, or using poison bait. Nests can be destroyed by placing a small amount of insecticide powder (such as a permethrin based product) at the nest entrance in dry conditions. The advantage of poison bait is that foraging wasps carry the poison back to the nest. This means you don't have to find nests or approach those that are very large or hard to get at. There has been considerable research on developing effective poison-baits. In New Zealand a poison-bait is commercially available (Rentokil Wasp Bait), but this is not yet available in other countries. Both control methods will only alleviate the problem for the current season and workers foraging for food will reinvade the area. The area will almost certainly be reinvaded next season by queen wasps, which can fly up to 30 kilometres in their search for suitable nesting sites.
Biological control has been used to try and achieve widespread control of wasps using the Icheumonid parasitoids Sphecophaga vesparum vesparum and S. v. burra.
Page last updated: 22 October 2008