Australian wasp and bee species

In Australia there are around 10,000 wasp species and 2000 bee species, according to the Australian museum and all have valuable roles in our ecosystems.

A few species can become pests in urban areas and pose a threat from stinging, such as the introduced European wasp which can be aggressive when a nest is disturbed. Bees are rarely a pest and are less likely to sting. The introduced honey bee can cause problems when queens disperse and set up new nests in homes and gardens.

Below are some of the common wasp and bee species that you can encounter in Australia:

European wasp and English wasp

(Family: Vespidae, eg Vespula vulgaris & Vespula germanica)

These are the two commonly found wasp species in NSW, Victoria, and Tasmania and the ones responsible for causing painful wasp stings.

European Wasp Vespula Germanica

Appearance

  • Yellow and black body, marking varies according to species
  • Workers vary in size from 12 – 17mm
Life cycle and habits of the European wasp and English wasp

Life cycle

  • Only young queens survive over winter and emerge in the spring to start nest building and lay eggs
  • Workers (sterile females) emerge during early summer and take over nest building 
  • Queen continues to lay eggs
  • New queens and males mate in early autumn
  • Nest dies during winter, including all the males and workers
  • Wasps do not swarm

Habits

  • Nest in old rodent burrows, hollow trees and bushes
  • Indoors, they prefer to build nests in sheltered locations with easy access to the outside, such as lofts, garages and wall cavities
  • Food preferences are insects early in the season when the brood is young and sweet foods later in summer as the brood matures and the workers become more of a pest to humans
  • Females sting readily and can sting repeatedly
  • A colony may have as many as 25,000 individual wasps.

Dealing with wasp infestation?

If you're dealing with the most unwelcome sign of wasps arriving ominously with a sting in their tails, you can rely on our local team for professional wasp control for your home or business.

Our Pest Control Technicians understand that these pests can be dangerous to handle and can offer both convenient and safe solutions to get rid of your wasp problem quickly.

Honey bee

(Apis mellifera)

If you have a problem with a honey bee swarm, contact a local bee keeper or Environmental Health Department as they will be able to arrange for the swarm to be relocated.

Honey-Bee

Appearance

  • Honey bee workers are around 12 mm in length, similar in size to the 
  • European wasp Bees have a fury abdomen and are mostly black with grey stripes on the abdomen 
  • The queen is larger than the workers and has a longer abdomen and small wings 
  • The drone is also larger than the workers, has a fatter body, large eyes, large wings and no stinger
Life cycle and habits of the honey bee

Life cycle

  • Bees have a typical insect lifecycle of egg, larva, pupa and adult. These are all present in a hive for most of the year 
  • Worker bees are produced from fertilized eggs. They develop in around 21 days and live for about 45 days. Workers can lay unfertilised eggs if the colony becomes queenless 
  • Queens are produced when female larva (which would become a worker otherwise) are fed a special food called royal jelly. Queens generally live 3-5 years 
  • Soon after becoming an adult a queen leaves the hive to mate with drones, then returns and stays in the hive unless the colony needs to swarm 
  • Drones, which are male, are produced when a queen lays unfertilised eggs. They take 24 days to develop.

Habits

Honey bees normally build hives in hollow trees, wall cavities or roof spaces. They can also build nests hanging from tree branches

A colony size can often be greater than 30,000 bees Worker bees clean the hive, guard it, forage for nectar and pollen, build the honeycomb cells for the eggs and feed the brood 

Periodically colonies swarm to new sites. They are not aggressive as there are no young to protect 

Honey bees feed on plant nectar and pollen. They regurgitate honey and secrete beeswax through special glands in their abdomens 

Honey bees also produce propolis which is made from plant resins mixed with beeswax and honey. This is used to seal cracks or holes in the hive and is also a disinfectant

Australian mortar bee (blue banded bee, masonry bee)

(Amegilla sp. 250+ species)

Mortar Bee. Credit: Chiswick Chap, Wikimedia, Creative Commons licence

Appearance

Life cycle and habits of the Australian mortar bee

Lifecycle

  • Females build a solitary nest in a burrow and lay an egg at the end of the burrow with a pollen and nectar mixture for the larva to feed on 
  • Adults die off in cold season 
  • Young, immature bees stay in the nest until spring

  • Solitary bee, but multiple individuals can nest close to each other 
  • Nest in soft sandstone cliffs, dried up river banks, soft mortar in buildings, earth banks under houses 
  • Males ‘roost’ on plant stems at night, females in the burrows 
  • Found throughout Australia except Tasmania and in neighbouring tropical countries to India 
  • Not aggressive but can sting if handled roughly 
  • Are good pollinators of some food crops and wild flowers, using a technique called buzz pollination in which the flower is grasped and vibrated by rapidly flapping wings 
  • Limited foraging range of around 300m

Yellow jackets (social wasp)

(Vespula spp.)

Appearance

  • Worker 13 mm long 
  • Queen 19mm long 
  • Alternating black and yellow bands 
  • Two sets of wings 
  • Narrow waist 
  • Lance-like stinger
Life cycle and habits of the yellow jackets (social wasp)

Lifecycle

  • Annual colonies 
  • Queen begins to nest in spring 
  • Aggressive numbers in late summer 
  • Colonies begin to decline by autumn 
  • Only inseminated queens nest over winter

Habits

  • Feeding: early in the year they feed on insects including caterpillars / harmful flies, as colonies mature later in summer they are attracted to sweet food and become more of a nuisance
  • Sting: sting repeatedly, will sting if provoked with symptoms range from swelling to life-threatening allergic shock 
  • Visibility: active during the day as they don't see well at night 
  • Nesting: in trees / shrubs, or internally in attics, hollow walls/ flooring, sheds, under porches/eaves of buildings

Carpenter bees

(Xylocopa spp. — 8 species)

Appearance

  • Carpenter bees are the largest native Australian bees at 15-24 mm long 
  • Females have a glossy black abdomen and yellow fur on the thorax 
  • Males are covered in yellow brown or olive fur including on the head
Life cycle and habits of carpenter bees

Lifecycle

  • Tunnel into wood to lay eggs
  • Life cycle from egg – larva – pupa – adult takes approximately seven weeks 
  • Larva is large and noisy 
  • New adults emerge from the nest late August

Habits

  • Active — late-spring to mid-October 
  • Nesting — they make tunnels in bare, untreated wood to lay their eggs
  • Old nests are used year after year
  • Location — around homes nests can be found in eaves, window trims, fascia boards, siding, decks and outdoor furniture 
  • Feeding — feed on pollen and nectar; pollen is stored in the tunnels for over-wintering
  • Do not sting unless provoked