New Zealand has some of the highest densities of German and common wasps in the world. They have major social and environmental impacts.

New Zealand has several kinds of native wasps which have evolved here and have never become a nuisance. In recent years there have been four social species accidentally introduced which are classed as pests.

Social wasps live as colonies in nests of honeycomb-like cells. They form complex social groups and all members of a colony help raise the young.

There are many ways you can help us reduce wasp numbers, like destroying nests.

Introduced social wasps

German and common wasps

These wasps are very similar in appearance, and both have the characteristic black and yellow colouration.

German wasp.
German wasp

Common wasp. Photo: D Sikes (cc).
Common wasp

The German wasp was introduced in the 1940s and the common wasp arrived relatively recently but is now widespread.

Both species live in large colonies, about the size of a soccer ball. These colonies can become huge if they manage to survive over winter.

German wasp nests are grey. Common wasp nests are brown. The world's largest recorded wasp nest was discovered at Waimauku (near Auckland). It was 3.75 metres tall and 1.7 metres wide.

Impact of social wasps

New Zealand has some of the highest densities of German and common wasps in the world. This is because they have no natural predators here, our winters are mild and there is plenty of food for them.

Social impacts

Wasps are a nuisance to forestry gangs, and a worry to tourist operators. They are unwelcome guests at summer picnics and barbecues. No-one finds a wasp sting a fun experience.

The venom from a wasp sting contains several toxins that can cause a hypersensitive or allergic reaction in some people.

Environmental impacts

Wasps are a major problem in some beech forests where they consume massive amounts of honeydew. Honeydew is produced by a native scale insect and is an important food for native birds, bats, insects and lizards.

Wasps also eat huge numbers of native insects and have even been seen killing newly hatched birds. By eating so much, they upset the natural food chain of the forest.

In some beech forests there are an estimated 12 nests, or 10,000 worker wasps, per hectare. This makes the numbers of wasps in these areas higher than that of all native birds, stoats and rodents, put together.

Paper wasps

Paper wasp. Photo: John Wattie (cc).
Asian paper wasp

Although not as much of a problem as German and common wasps, paper wasps have also been introduced to New Zealand. 

The Asian paper wasp has been found in the North Island and top of the South Island. The Australian paper wasp remains confined to the north of the North Island.

Both paper wasps build small nests out of regurgitated woody material, about the size of a pear.

You can help 

The best way to reduce a local wasp population is to find and destroy all the nests in the area. Usually wasps fly no further than 200 metres, so you should aim to kill all the nests within this range.

Finding the nest

If you search on sunny days, near dawn or dusk, the low light angles will highlight the flight path as wasps enter and leave the nest.

Destroying the nest

Call Positive pest Control so we can spray permex powder into entrance.

Worker wasps flying in and out will spread the powder into the nest and the colony usually dies within a day. If activity continues repeat the treatment until wasp activity ceases.

Don't shine your torch into the nest or wasps will fly up the beam.

DOC's work aims to:

  • Reduce the removal of valuable food sources for native animals from our forests by social wasps
  • Reduce predation by wasps on native invertebrates and bird nestlings
  • Improve the public’s experience when visiting public conservation land

Lake Rotoiti through beech.
Lake Rotoiti through beech

Common wasps increase in numbers here in summer as the area contains large amounts of beech forest, full of honeydew.

The RNRP was established within the Nelson Lakes National Park as one of six DOC 'mainland islands.'

A major focus is on conducting research into pest management and sharing the lessons learnt


Wasps taking beech honeydew, Pelorus Bridge Reserve, Marlborough. Photo: James Reardon www.jamesreardon.org.

This study assessed the economic impact of German wasps and common wasps across industries, society and the natural environment in New Zealand.

 Common wasp. Photo: D. Sikes (cc).

An award-winning New Zealand-designed wasp bait could make a significant difference in the fight against the costly pests, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry says.

 Introduced wasp.

 The Bug Stops Here!