It’s that time of year, March and April, when populations of European wasps reach their peak and people start looking for ways to reduce them. European wasps, Vespula germanica, are an introduced pest species that was first spotted in Melbourne in 1977 1 and soon spread throughout Victoria. They thrive in our relatively mild climate, can be a major social pest and can impact native fauna, livestock and fruit crops. Although there is a perception of these wasps being highly aggressive “killers”, only 2 deaths between 2000 and 2013 have been attributed to wasps in Australia 2. In comparison, 25 deaths due to bee stings have been recorded over the same period, only one of which was a beekeeper.
Vespula germanica is a skilled scavenger – the biggest risk to people is from taking in a mouthful of food or drink with a wasp in it. For most people, it’s the disruption of outdoor social activities that drives them to look for ways to reduce the wasp population. There is a lot of information on the internet regarding European wasp control techniques, but very little attention given to the off-target effects. The main strategies are summarised below, along with their legal implications.
These come in a number of styles, but usually involve a plastic milk or soft drink bottle with small holes drilled in it. Either a sugar or protein-based lure is used, topped up with enough water to drown the trapped wasps. These are most effective in spring and autumn, when queen wasps are foraging, otherwise their impact on the wasp population is very limited. The off-target impact of these traps varies on the environment and lure, but can be significant 3.
Many recipes recommend a honey-based lure, but this is an offence under the Livestock Disease Control Act 4. Of primary concern is that honey can contain American Foulbrood (AFB) spores, a serious disease of honey bees with potentially devastating effects on apiaries. Providing bees access to honey can be a very effective way of spreading this disease to both managed and feral hives. It is also completely unnecessary, since it has been shown that honey is less attractive to European wasps than a sucrose solution 3.
Illegal homemade wasp baits are usually some form of poisoned meat, designed to be taken back to the nest by workers, killing the entire nest. A popular version being advertised online uses a veterinary chemical intended for use on domestic animals to poison the meat. The use of these illegal homemade baits poses a significant risk to other animals and unlike registered chemicals, the potential impact of using these baits has not been assessed by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA). An APVMA permit is required before unregistered chemicals can be legally used – this allows the APVMA to ensure the intended use does not causes unintended adverse impacts on the environment, human health or trade. Examples of APVMA permits issued for european wasp control can be found at
It is also an offence to provide information that leads to someone using chemicals in an illegal off-label 5 manner, and carries a maximum penalty for an individual of $7,500 6.
Nest Discovery and Destruction
European wasp nests can be difficult to find, as the nest is usually concealed in the ground or within a cavity, identifiable only by the stream of wasps coming and going. Often nests are only discovered by chance, but with patience it is possible to track foragers back to their nest. Foragers generally fly in a roughly straight line back to their nest, which will usually be less than 200m away. Once discovered, the safest way to deal with the nest is to contact a pest controller as the wasps will defend their home if disturbed.
Wasp powder (permethrin) is the usual method for destroying nests, applied to the nest entrance, preferably after dark. There are various products registered with the APVMA for this purpose, but it is important to note that in order to minimise risks to the user and the environment they all must be used in accordance with the label. In particular, chemicals like permethrin must not be allowed to enter drain, sewers, streams and ponds and some of the products also prohibit the use on humans, pets, exposed food, food preparation areas or food utensils. A full list of registered products is available at
- Museum Victoria, European Wasps in Australia
- Injury trends from envenoming in Australia, 2000–2013, Welton (2017), Internal Medicine Journal
- Carbohydrate bait preferences of wasps (Vespula vulgaris and V. germanica) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) in New Zealand, Spurr (2010), New Zealand Journal of Zoology
- Livestock Disease Control Act 1994, Division 5 – Bees.
- Considered to be “providing false and misleading information” under the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1992.