European wasp drinking from a puddle on the ground.

European wasp, an introduced pest.

The picnickers nightmare: European wasp

The introduced European wasp is now a pest in many areas of southern Australia.

  • 1 November 2008 | Updated 20 February 2013

About European wasps

European wasps, Vespula germanica, are accidental introductions to Australia from Europe and were first found in Tasmania in 1959 and on the mainland near Melbourne, Victoria, in 1977.

They are now found in Tasmania, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, south-eastern New South Wales, and the wetter parts of South Australia.

They can be serious pests. Wasps aggressively defend their nest, swarming out to attack if disturbed.

Their sting is painful and multiple stings, or a sting in the throat, can be dangerous. Unlike bees, they can sting multiple times.

European wasps are also an environmental pest. In large numbers, they are a threat to native insects and spiders. They may however, have some beneficial value as predator of other pest insects.

European wasps are social insects and form large colonies. The queen hibernates through winter and emerges in spring to establish a new nest.

European wasps, first introduced into Tasmania, are now pests in many parts of southern Australia.

Her first offspring are workers which take over nest chores. They build a ‘paper’ nest from saliva mixed with wood fibres which grows over summer to football size.

The nest is nearly always concealed, often underground or in a roof or wall cavity, and by the end of summer may house several thousand wasps.

Newly mated queens are produced in autumn and the nest usually dies out in winter.

Workers are 12-15 mm long (about honeybee size) and are bright yellow (not orange). They have black markings (including arrow-shaped marks down the middle of the abdomen and paired black spots on the sides), long and transparent wings, black antennae and mostly yellow legs.

Queens are similar but larger, growing to about 20 mm in length.

The wasps feed on sweet substances such as secretions from sucking insects and fermenting fruit. The grubs in the nest are fed on insects and spiders or bits of meat from carrion or pet food bowls.

European wasps and people

Where wasps are abundant, people dining alfresco should be wary of them and avoid drinking from opened bottles and cans.

Destruction of nests should be done by someone qualified.

For multiple stings or a sting in the throat, seek urgent medical aid. Otherwise apply an ice pack or anaesthetic spray.

Or follow this advice from 400 years ago: 'If any venomous beast, by his sting or biting have caused your flesh to rise…put upon the stung place the dung of a cow or ox very hot'.

CSIRO Entomology is not currently researching European wasps. This fact sheet is provided for information only.

State museums and Canberra Connect in the ACT will usually provide identification and advice for the general public.

Read more about CSIRO’s research on Managing insect pests and weeds.