Wasp Repellents: Do They Really Work?

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One model of artificial wasp nest.

You’ve probably seen them in your local garden center… or in somebody’s garden. A gray or brown inflated object that looks vaguely like a paper wasp nest. I’ve seen models made of paper stretched over a spiral of wire that look just like a Chinese lantern (without the gaudy colors), others covered made of a greyish felt-like tissue and yet more made of inflated plastic. Yet other people make their own from a paper bag filled with waste paper.

The idea is the following: you put them up in early spring, before there are any wasps in the sector, hanging them from a branch, a roof overhang or any other structure. When a queen wasp, the one that starts a new colony, sees the repellent, she thinks the territory is already occupied by a rival colony and so goes somewhere else to set up her new home.

A wasp repellent in the form of an artificial wasp nest seems like a brilliant idea: after all, no pesticides are needed and it is easy to use (just hang it up somewhere). But does it really work?

It’s Hard to Prove a Negative!

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By the fall, a paper wasp nest can include over a thousand individuals… but there isn’t much use treating them at this point: all the worker wasps will die very shortly. Only young queens survive the winter to start a new colony in spring.

It’s very hard to prove anything when it comes to wasp nests. Unlike beehives, wasp nests are annual structures, abandoned at the end of the season, and can appear almost anywhere. Queen wasps, the ones who start a new colony each spring, don’t appear to be very picky when it comes to choosing a site. Trees, shrubs, woodpiles, houses, picnic tables, clotheslines: you name it, they’ll try it. Even if you do nothing to prevent wasp nests, in any given year you may find one in your yard or you may not. Some years there can be several even on a small lot, while other years there are none at all.

If you install an artificial wasp nest and no wasps set up shop in your yard that year, it therefore proves… absolutely nothing!

Happy Customers… For Now

You’ll see lots of testimonials online from people are thrilled with their wasp deterrent. They really believe the artificial nests keep wasps away. But that was year 1 and maybe year 2. Chances are they won’t be so thrilled as years go by. Because paper wasps seem as oblivious to artificial wasp nests as they are to real ones.

You see, paper wasps frequently set up their new home right near an old nest. And why not, given that it is empty? (Again, each colony starts anew each spring, but old, empty nests often remain visible for a year or so.) Why they would they find an artificial nest more threatening than a real one?

My Personal Experience

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A new nest with only a queen. At this stage, the nest is easy to remove

I tried using an artificial wasp nest a few years back, after having had to deal with a paper wasp nest in my back yard a previous year. In fact, I put up two nests, one in the front yard, one in the back. And it worked… apparently, at least the first year.

The second year, the fake wasp nests went up early, as usual. A month later, I went to clean out the eavestrough… but didn’t get very far. There was a very small but very visible paper wasp nest just under the eave… in full view of one of the fake nests, not 10 feet (3 m) away! I managed to blast the small nest to smithereens with a hose (this was early enough in the spring that there appeared to be only a queen wasp: if there were any workers around, I didn’t see them). I’ve never bothered putting up a wasp repellent since.

Oddly enough, that was 5 years ago, and I haven’t seen a paper wasp nest in all that time. But that’s just the way things are with wasps: you can go for years without a problem, but then have them 3 years running! Or find 2 or 3 nests the same year. And installing an artificial wasp nest will make absolutely no difference!

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