Wasps In Winter: Do They Hibernate Or Die?

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:56 pm

Despite their importance for nature, wasps are one of the biggest nuisances for many people. The insect hunters draw attention to themselves especially towards the end of summer, when they venture ever closer to people’s food because their own food sources are dwindling. If a wasp nest is also found, the peace and quiet is usually over. If you want to remove it, you have to ask yourself whether the wasps hibernate in the nest like bees or not.

Do wasps survive the winter?

A major difference between bees and the species of the subfamily Vespinae is the way they hibernate. While bees use their hive as winter quarters over the cold season, the state dissolves completely in wasps. Bee colonies form so-called winter clusters with the queen in the middle. Whereas young wasp queens leave the wasp nest before winter and look for a shelter until the new year. The rest of the tribe and the old queen die and the nest can be removed by humans over the winter months without permission. The disbanding of the state is done by all species of wasps found in Europe.

Wasps In Winter: Do They Hibernate Or Die?

Yes, even hornets follow the same annual cycle as the other wasp species. Since Vespa are larger, peaceful varieties, many people forget that they are the same family. This means that whether you find a hornet or wasp nest, they will all have dissipated by the onset of winter. However, depending on the species, the young queens may return to the same nest site the next year because they prefer certain locations. This is especially the case with field wasps. However, when a wasp colony dissolves is related to many factors, which are explained in detail below.

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Wespennest mit Wespen daran

Tip: Even the cuckoo wasps, including the mountain field wasp cuckoo wasp (Polistes atrimandibularis), false cuckoo wasp (Dolichovespula adulterina) and Austrian cuckoo wasp (Vespula austriaca) dissolve in autumn at the latest. On average, the life span of these colonies is even shorter.

Hibernation: Procedure

Hibernation and simultaneous dissolution of the wasp colony does not happen overnight. As the summer draws to a close, a precisely planned sequence of events occurs that is related to the natural life cycle of the animals. The following steps explain this process in detail:

Young Queens Leave The Nest

The dissolution of the wasp colony before the winter period begins, depending on the wasp species, as early as mid-August and lasts until the beginning of mid-October. This depends on the outside temperature, because this determines the time of mating of the young queens, whose departure heralds the “demise” of the nest. With the exception of the following four wasp species, the young queens leave their colonies as early as mid to late August:

  • European wasp (Vespula germanica)
  • Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris)
  • Hornet (Vespa crabro)
  • Asian hornet (Vespa velutina var. nigrithorax)
  • In the case of these, migration does not begin until mid to late September.

Fertilization And Winter Quarters

The young queens are immediately followed by the drones, i.e. the males, as these are necessary for fertilization. In the state itself only the workers and the old queen remain, which do not overwinter, but die over the winter.

After the young queens are fertilized, the drones die over a course of several weeks, but do not return to the wasp nest. The queens may even be fertilized several times and then seek protected quarters for the winter. This can be, for example, pieces of bark, piles of wood or holes in the ground, which have a stable microclimate that is subject to only minor fluctuations. Attics and shutter boxes are also welcome.

Winter Hibernation

During the cold season, the young queen wasps remain in hibernation. They lie down with their underside on the ground, folding their antennae, legs and wings tightly against their bodies to avoid freezing to death. At the same time, a kind of “antifreeze” (glycerol) is produced by it, which enables it to survive the cool temperatures.

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Old Queen & Death Of The Colony

After the young queens leave, the workers remain in the wasp nest and continue to care for young workers, but no longer for the old queen. The latter then leaves the state and dies after a few weeks. The typical life span of queens is about one year.

Since the old queen has left the state, no new workers are born. This leads to the complete death of the colony over the next few weeks. The period for the majority of wasp species is between the last week of August and mid-September, which is quite early. Only the species mentioned in step 1 last until November.

The wasp workers last until there are no more larvae to be cared for or no more food to be found. However, these wasps do not die in the abandoned nests, but rather while trying to find food. As a result, the nests are completely empty in high winter and can be removed on their own without any problems with nature conservation.

New Foundation Of Wasps

As soon as it gets warmer in spring, usually around May, the young queens wake up from their rigidity and start to establish a new state. In doing so, the wasps rarely seek out sites from the previous year.

On average, eight to ten out of 10,000 young queens manage to establish a state the next year. The others are eaten by birds or other animals, or fall victim to bacteria and fungi when temperatures fluctuate. The true timing of nest dispersal can be significantly delayed depending on where you live. The outside temperature plays a decisive role, because in warmer regions of Europe the young queens sometimes leave their nest up to two or three weeks later. This is especially the case in the warm south and west of Europe and the wine-growing regions, where temperatures are higher than in the rest of the country. This means that if you have a wasp nest nearby, you should be especially careful when it is still quite warm in the fall. Because then there could still be numerous worker wasps in it.

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Tip: If you see one or two larger wasps in your living quarters over the winter, they are probably young queens that have taken up their winter quarters within your four walls and have suddenly woken up due to the warmth. If this is the case, you should carefully collect them and give them some sugar water to drink. After that, slowly accustom them to the cool outside temperatures so that these can fall back into their winter torpor.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

    https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-jones-436784297/ gardeninguru@outlook.com Jones James

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