Wasps are social insects with two pairs of wings, a constricted waist and an abdomen covered in yellow and black stripes.
The Common Wasp (Vespula (Paravespula) vulgaris) and German Wasp (Vespula (Paravespula) germanica) are the most abundant species in the UK although the Norwegian Wasp becomes increasingly common as one moves north. Both species are almost identical to look at and nest underground and in cavities in trees and buildings.
All worker wasps die out during the winter; the only wasps that survive are the larger queen wasps which hibernate during the winter inside the old nest or construct a small 'golf ball' sized hibernation cell.
During April and until early June, the queen wasp will leave the old nest or hibernation cell and begin the construction of a brand new nest in a new location. The old nest or hibernation cells are never used again.
Nests are mostly made out of a mixture of chewed wood and wasp saliva. Queen wasps will often start to build their nests in roof voids, wall cavities or in outbuildings.
By the time September arrives the nest can be as large as a small armchair with up to 10,000 wasps using it.
During June and July you are unlikely to get wasp stings, as wasps are too busy chasing insects and bringing up the larval wasps. However as autumn arrives these activities stop and the wasps start to feed on fermenting, over ripe fruit. These 'drunken wasps' are now at their most dangerous and can become very aggressive, with a wasp sting more likely to happen.
A wasp sting is used either as a way of paralysing prey for eating or as a defence mechanism when under threat.
Wasps introduce their venom into a victim in a similar way to a syringe. The "sting" is essentially a hollow tube with a smooth outer lining - easy to insert in and out of the victim. The sting has evolved from the egg laying instrument of the female insect - it is therefore only the female of the species that can sting. The venom is stored in a venom sac - a sac in the abdomen which when squeezed by curling up the abdomen delivers its load through the sting very rapidly in less than 0.3 seconds. It is haemolytic (breaks down red blood cells), haemorrhagic (causes excessive bleeding) and neurotoxic (attacks the nerve cells).
You should immediately do the following:
People who are allergic to wasp stings should carry a card, bracelet or necklace that lets other people know about their allergy. If the doctor has prescribed medication for you to be used in case of an allergic reaction, it is important that both you and your family know exactly how to use it.