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Lessons from the year of the wasp

Wasps can be a problem for beekeepers in the autumn of the year. In fact, we usually don’t think about wasps at all until they begin casing our hives, looking for fresh meat. The biggest threat comes from eusocial species—those that are “truly social,” like yellowjackets.

In all but the warmest regions of North America, mated female wasps overwinter alone and begin nesting in the spring. In solitary species, the female builds a nest of her own, but in eusocial species, overwintered queens begin a whole new colony.

Because the eusocial species begin their colonies from scratch each year, you see few of them in the early spring. The ones you do see are usually queens, big and fat. Then, as the season progresses, the colony gets bigger and bigger. By fall, eusocial wasps can be a threat to honey bee colonies because all those hungry critters are looking for food. A hive of nice tender honey bees, all gathered in one place like a fast-food restaurant, is a mouth-watering treat for hungry wasps.

Each year I catch wasps—usually bald-faced hornets—as they stake out the hive entrances, darting and weaving among the returning bees until they manage to knock one out of the air. As the stunned bee hits the ground, a hornet dives in and scoops it up. Bee hives make the hunting easy.

Wasps and more wasps

As routine as wasps are, this year was different. Where I live, it seems like wasps have completely usurped the wild bee populations. Each time I went out with a camera to take pollinator portraits, all I found was wasps. Not just social ones, but solitary ones too. Some of the insects I thought were bees at first glance, turned out to be wasps I’ve never seen before.

While I have plenty of the usual aerial yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets, my place is teeming with little ground-nesting yellowjacket-like wasps. Oddly, I keep mistaking them for bees. They trail me around the yard, fly into me like head-butting honey bees, and if I’m eating anything, they do their best to get a bite.

I haven’t actually found their homes, but I’ve zeroed in on a few likely spots. I think there’s a nest under the azaleas and one under the hop vines. The raspberries vines, too, shimmer with them. When I get near those places, stripey creatures with wings threaten me with nervous side-to-side aerobatics.

My pollinator gardens, which are usually loaded with solitary bees, have been overtaken by wasps of every description. Big and little. Red and yellow and black. Friendly and not so much. Believe me, they are everywhere.

A bee and wasp survey

Quite by coincidence, I’ve been assisting with a bee and wasp survey for a government agency. I have established several locations, each with three different types of trap—two bee traps and one wasp trap. All the traps are baited with brown sugar syrup, some with yeast and some not.

When I first installed the traps, I was terrified of catching honey bees. Three of the traps in particular are very close to my own hives, and I had mental images of entire colonies of honey bees stuffing themselves into the jugs and drowning. The first day or so, I checked the traps every few minutes for honey bees, intending to change locations if honey bees began to accumulate.

Lesson one

After the first two weeks, I stopped worrying about it. In fact, since May, I’ve found only five honey bees in all my traps combined. Our summer dearth began right on schedule—about July 1—and still no honey bees entered the traps. So that’s lesson one: honey bees are not interested in plastic jugs of brown sugar syrup.

But wasps? Never in my life have I seen so many wasps. Each week, the traps are loaded—I mean overflowing—with our most common social wasps, aerial yellowjackets (Dolichovespula arenaria) and bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata). When I empty the traps, great heaps of these things clump into the strainer. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a bee trap or wasp trap, with yeast or without.

It’s actually kind of disgusting. I rinse these things off with water and use forceps to drop them in bottles of alcohol. I look for bees as I go, just to satisfy my own curiosity, but everything insecty-looking goes into the alcohol. So far, I’ve seen very few bees of any type, which isn’t surprising since my garden is without solitary bees as well.

Cartoon bees

The two species of eusocial wasps in the traps, both in the same genus, are the kind that build large, gray, balloon-shaped nests that hang from trees and swing sets. They’re the ones cartoonists draw as “bee hives”—hanging sweetly from a tree and surrounded by smiling yellow-and-black bumble bee-like creatures.

It’s all a lie. These insects are skilled hunters that can be vicious, if you’ll excuse the anthropomorphic description. Worse, they can overcome a honey bee colony in no time. I can’t say I was sad to see them all matted together in sticky clumps, and the sight of them led me to lesson two.

Lesson two

I compared the number of wasps in my brown sugar traps to the number of wasps in the commercial yellowjacket traps I use every year. The commercial traps, even with fresh (and expensive) lures caught fewer wasps all summer than one brown sugar trap caught in a week. So why not use brown sugar traps to safeguard honey bee hives?

It’s an odd thought because I always assumed that a sugar trap of any type would attract honey bees, but that has just not happened, even during nectar death. And this year, as bad as the wasps have been, only one of my hives—the one furthest from the traps—has been pestered by bald-faced hornets.

Further experimentation

I’m not recommending you run out and try this, but I think it’s an idea worthy of more experimentation. One question I have is what happens in a good pollinator year? If more native bees are present, will they be attracted to these traps or not? Surely, brown sugar would not be used as bait for a bee survey if it didn’t attract bees, right?

Based on my experience this year, I’m definitely going to try it next season. I’m thinking I would not erect the traps early in the season when wild bees are plentiful and wasps are few. Instead, I would wait until wasp populations start increasing and wild bee populations begin decreasing, a time that coincides roughly with summer dearth. The problem with that model is it gives the wasp queens a chance to establish a nest. Alternatively, I could just use the jug-style traps and skip the blue vane traps, which are designed to attract bees.

The trap details

In case any of you are interested in experimenting, the jug traps are made by cutting a square or circular opening in a one-gallon plastic jug. The hole is about three inches on a side (or three inches in diameter for the circles) and is roughly opposite the handle of the jug. You put about six cups of brown sugar syrup in the jug and hang it from a tree about 4-to-8 feet off the ground. I tossed a rope over a limb and use it to raise and lower the jug.

Brown sugar syrup is made by dissolving 1 pound of dark brown sugar in a gallon of water (or one ounce sugar to one cup water). Why dark brown? I have no idea, but the directions I received have that particular phrase in bold, so I assume it’s somehow important.

Yeast, if you want it

If you want to use yeast, just add a teaspoon of active dry yeast at the time you load the trap. The yeast makes the traps smell raunchy after a few days, and I didn’t see any difference in the catch rate between yeasted and unyeasted syrup. Personally, I hated emptying the yeast traps, and tried to hold my breath. But I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t collecting, washing, and bottling the sordid-smelling little bodies. Eew.

The location you choose for the traps should be open and sunny, at least part of the day. Try to find the kind of place where bees and wasps like to forage and hunt.

So that’s all I know. I thought it was interesting enough to pass on, especially since so many beekeepers have wasp woes in the fall. Please let me know if you try it.


After I wrote this post, I decided to put a brown-sugar syrup laden blue-vane trap near the hive that is being pestered with bald-faced hornets. The trap is tied to an old t-post that was once used for an electric fence. © Rusty Burlew.
After I wrote this post, I decided to put a brown-sugar syrup filled blue-vane trap near the hive that is being pestered with bald-faced hornets. The trap is tied to an old t-post that was once used for an electric fence. © Rusty Burlew.
Some of the wasp jugs have square holes, most are round. I don’t think the shape matters. This one is hanging in a maple tree, next to a field.
After I finished writing the above, I went in search of the wasps under the azaleas. I found the hole, but as I was clearing the surrounding area for a photo, I accidently dropped a small piece of bark in the hole (upper right). This attracted the guards. © Rusty Burlew.
This wasp returned to find the opening partially blocked. It was certainly the year of the wasp.
This wasp returned to find the opening partially blocked. © Rusty Burlew.
I pulled out the debris with a weeder, which caused even more commotion. With wasps, you can't do anything right. © Rusty Burlew.
I pulled out the debris with a weeder, which caused even more commotion. With wasps, you can’t do anything right. © Rusty Burlew.


Jeff D

I have Carolina red & black wasps. They have blasted me for using a hose near their home in my shed. I despise these little #$%!#$%@#%s. Will the brown sugar work on these devils?



I don’t know, but you can certainly give it a try.


Great post! In the San Diego, CA area, this year I am seeing more yellowjackets than ever. I have been using the pheromone-based yellowjacket traps, but they are very expensive and after about 2-3 weeks they lose their effectiveness. Thanks so much for this timely post!!!!

Tim T

A photo of the gallon jug with the hole would be nice.


Coming soon to a computer near you.

Cindy R


I too am doing a bit of experimenting with homemade wasp traps. I am hoping to find that they are as effective as the sugar water/vinegar/banana peel traps I’ve made up in the past.

The last few I made up I used homemade Kombucha that went beyond the nice pleasant carbonated beverage I enjoy. Almost like an in between stage, right before “vinegar water.”

I hate having to admit failure and I hate even more having to pour out undrinkable Kombucha so maybe I’ve found a way to repurpose those failures as a pleasurable beverage to a wasp trap lure?

Granny Roberta

Just here to sign up for these comments.
(ducks back down out of sight)



Thank you for the article on wasps and yellow jackets. I am having trouble with them and looking for something that really works for control.

As I am a visual person could you post a picture of the wasp trap you suggest?

As always thank you for your articles and devotion to beekeeping.

John Wheeler
(up the road outside of Bremerton)



I knew someone was going to ask. I’m due to empty my traps in the next day or two, and I will try to get a photo (with sticky-sweet hands all over my camera). Such is the life of a blogger.

Patricia Barberi

Hi Rusty,

Thank you for the article. I love it and am going to make the trap with the brown sugar syrup. I have a perfect spot for it.

Can you give some information on what I have been told are mason wasps. Several have taken over my mason bee house and I don’t think I have had any mason bees filling the tubes. Do you think these wasps are keeping the mason bees away?

Thank you,



I have no issues with mason wasps and mine live peacefully side-by-side with my mason bees. They are small wasps so they take smaller prey, and they are solitary, so they don’t raise large colonies. In many, many ways their lives are similar to mason bees, except for their diet. Remember, from a biological and evolutionary point of view, a bee is nothing more than a vegetarian wasp (which is why they can be so hard to distinguish). Anyway, don’t worry about them and try to enjoy them.

No, I don’t think they are keeping the mason bees away. Most probably it wasn’t a good year for masons where you live.


Back in SC, you have to be careful with your soda bottles in summer. A yellowjacket will crawl inside, and when you go to drink, you get a big stinging surprise on your mouth/lip! Ooooh oooh, they love colas.

Now, I go outside here in CA and find huge numbers of small wasps (not yellow jackets) and tiny, odd flies clustered around my mint’s flowers, going flower to flower. (catnip, mint, spearmint) I have not seen a honey bee in the three years I’ve lived here. 😞

John Zone 5

Six cups of sugar seems like a lot to waste on killing wasps. I know you are just following instructions. Is there something cheaper to put in a wasp catcher? A little soda/Coke or a piece of chicken?


Nick Paterson

Hi Rusty,

Greetings from the Antipodes.

Here in Tasmania we have also been invaded by those dang European wasp varmints!
I’ve had great success trapping them in containers with sugary water suspended from my grapevines.

This is recycled each time I empty the contents, it doesn’t seem to matter how festy the brew gets as they just keep on flocking in like little striped lemmings. A little bit of sugar goes a long way. I’ll try the dark brown sugar idea.

These pests bring out the worst in me. ⚠️ don’t try this at home! I’ve taken some delight in pouring petrol down their nest holes……running a dribbled line a fair distance away and lighting it. Best done at nighttime.

Love your blog Rusty!


Okay you visual types, I went out and took a photo of a dirty gallon jug. Some people’s kids!

Gary K. Jackson

This has been the most yellow jackets that I have ever seen, not many bald faced hornets which are usually the big problem around the bee hives.
Dabob Bay, Hood Canal, Wa


I make wasp traps out of cheap fish canned cat food and dish detergent (breaks surface tension) and some water. Put it in a shallow plastic dish. Since wasps are meat eaters, they are attracted to it and drown. It’s cheap, easy and very effective. I also put one near the hummingbird feeders since the wasps aggravate that too. It’s safe for the honey bees.

Andrew Hogg

I have a hate on for yellow jackets that are usually very prevalent in Calgary, Alberta. A couple of years ago they were vicious and were overwhelming our hives at a farm outside of town and we moved the hives into the city to escape the wasps in August. Last year was not as bad but still the yellow jackets were a pest if you wanted to eat outside. This year we set out traps in the city and caught only a few. I have seen only perhaps a dozen all year. Our hives are once again in the city and they were not bothered all summer. But here’s the catch – the aphids were disgusting this year! Normally we have aphids but this year they were everywhere. Riding my bike I’d get covered in them, and it was disgusting. Now, late in the season, there are still no wasps to be seen but aphids are in clouds. I’m told that aphids are one of the major food sources for the yellow jackets so I now am missing those $@#@#$ wasps a bit (not much but a bit). It’s a lesson in balance I guess. No yellow jackets means something else (aphids) take off.



I’ve never seen many aphids around here, but I know that gardeners often are fond of yellowjackets for that reason alone. Of course, maybe the reason I see no aphids is related to all my yellowjackets! Who knows.


Rusty—love your blog. Not a beekeeper…yet. Been reading and watching video and when I move back to Iowa I will be hanging out with some beekeepers so I plan on getting my first hive.

But I digress…

I saw this video a while back and thought it was an interesting design! Thought you all might want to see what this guy came up with:


Thanks, Rodney. I will take a look.

Eric Asher

We want your kittens Rusty!
I so enjoy reading your blog.
Here in Buckinghamshire in Old Blighty the wasps have destroyed two of my favourite hives even using deflecting mesh guards.
I was given a Wasp Bane and this does draw them in.
However the wasps told about the hive avoid this and keep hammering the hive.
Poor St Trinians Hive. I was exceedingly fond of my girls.



What is a Wasp Bane?


We tend to have a problem with black-faced wasps. They are very aggressive and they build huge nests. A couple of weeks ago I went out to check the hive and my girls were very agitated. Come to find out there was a wasp test built some 75 feet from the hive. I promptly took care of it. My question is, is there a way to keep the wasps from building their nest so close to the hive before it becomes a problem.



I don’t know. The best results I’ve had came from catching the queens in spring, but the ones I miss always manage to build close by.

Sue Vaughan

Thanks as ever for your blog, Rusty.

The wasps have been much less troublesome here in the UK this year compared with 2018. I heard of several robbed out colonies back then.

This is the second year of my contributing to a citizen science project, the Big Wasp Survey. We are asked to bait our traps with larger and send in whatever is caught over the 7 day period. No bees, I am glad to say, 17 wasps including 2 european hornets, numerous flies and a few moths.

I used white sugar syrup, jam and a little vinegar for the protective traps I put near my hives, when the wasps were at their most numerous in early August; very effective and no bees attracted. I’ll be putting out a sentinel trap as part of efforts to detect Asian hornet queens in the spring. They have reached the south coast after several years of spreading throughout France. Not looking forward to their arrival.



Interesting. I’m still amazed that honey bees don’t go after sugar syrup in the traps. If I put out a pie dish with rocks and sugar syrup, the bees are all over it in minutes. I wish I understood the differences.


This has been a terrible year for white-faced hornets. They are all over the place – I have seen them snatch honey bees off the side of their hives and tussle on the landing board with guard bees. When I put out the extractor to be cleaned, the hornets, hundreds – well at least fifty at a time – showed up keeping all the bees at bay. I am so glad to hear about this trap, and I will definitely give it a try.

Archie McLellan

Here (in the UK) the wasps were a problem last year. I kept traps out till they were gone and caught hundreds. This year, after a week, and a big haul of wasps, I decided the bees were managing fine with their special entrances (same principle but much smaller than yours) so I took the traps away. I was using some bell-shaped traps (bought, not made) and, like everyone else I know, used sugar syrup as bait. It’s the same stuff we feed the bees but I haven’t seen any dead bees in the traps. Either the bees keep away from the traps because they don’t want to be near so many wasps, or they don’t associate these plastic containers with a source of food.

As the situation wasn’t so bad this year, I had the luxury of wondering about the use of traps. Maybe the wasps opted for them over a fight to get some honey from the hive. Or maybe traps are a waste of time – a bit like spraying the air in front of you instead of applying midge-repellent – and we should just focus on equipping the bees to deal with the problem.

Depends on the size of the problem, I guess.

Cal (Olympia, WA)

That’s the tack I take; using anti-robbing screens to keep them out of the hives. I’ve never had so much predation from yellow jackets or hornets that I thought it was having much impact on the colonies, as long as I had a screen in place. Usually I see the yellowjackets just cruising around close to the ground in front of the hives, picking off dead or dying honey bees that are already a loss to the colony, so that’s no detriment. Although the bald-faced hornets are around, their numbers never seem overwhelming and they are more interested in the Scrophularia marilandica than the honey bees. They, too, will pick up a few honey bees but mostly those that are already a loss to the colony anyway.

I’ve switched to the UC Davis-type of anti-robbing screen this year and prefer it over previous designs that always seemed to create a restriction for the colony’s foragers. I also tried the half-tube of #8 screen horizontally placed over the entrance, with entrance reducer, and found it works well but confuses the colony’s foragers for many days. It’s advantages are that it’s cheap and quick to make and install. They adapt to other designs much faster, in my experience.

Mike Burton

I think I know the reason we are seeing more and more unusual pollinators countrywide. I have a friend whose daughter and hubby got a job working at an auto auction yard, cleaning out and washing cars that have been repossessed from other parts of the country. She said some cars sit for years before being bought and shipped in big lots. Repossession can take place anywhere, anytime, even in store parking lots. She said some cars have rotted foodstuff in the trunks or back seats. I asked her what they did with the stuff, she said it goes in dumpsters and out to the closest landfill. Knowing some pollinators are omnivores and will eat and nest anywhere there is a food source, these nests will wind up in landfills everywhere. I doubt the auction lots will add sanitizing to the price of cars so get ready for more.


I don’t have to bother with any of those traps anymore. Order up large dog flea and tick poison with friprinol in it from Do a google search. 3 years study of it in Australia and now I too am wasp free. Utube videos show how to use it. Basically you pre-bait with some nice fishy cat food or actual fish to attract them to the spot you want. Then slip the poison bait in. The utube guy uses 4 drops in fishy catfood. Whatever your local ones like the best. I use salmon. Mix it all up and put it out. Within hours all wasps are dead and so are the queens back in the nest. works like a hot damn! So happy. I don’t have wasps anymore. When the further away wasps come around just do it all over again. No more stinky bags of yeast lure stuff for me. Yay!!!!!

Gary K

Starting slow. Just hung a quart juice jug using the whole brown sugar recipe, cut back by 4. Will keep you posted. And yup, this is the serious year for the ground nesting buggers. They serve a purpose in nature, but it’s a battle at the hive this year. Truth be told, I’ve been stung more by them while visiting the hive than our bees.

Cherie Brooks

Hi Rusty and all, I’ve been controlling my YJ (Oregon) using this method (link below). I’m on year 2 now of testing this. YJ population is way down this year. Fingers crossed. But just in case, I’m going to give your brown sugar jug method a try. Thank you!


I’m sure there are several variations but for meat loving insects here is a video that shows a simple meat-over-water trap that appears to be very effective.


I use a small plastic tub with a lid, drill some 8-10 mm holes in the side. I bait the trap with jam for a week and then to fishy cat food. I add 3-4 drops of frontline (pet flea treatment in the uk) which contains fipronil. The wasps take the food back to the nest to feed the grubs and in one week no more wasps!

Ken Armes

Hi Rusty,

Good article very interesting, I’m in Ontario Canada about 50 Kms (30 miles) east of Toronto. I usually hang wasp traps near my hives as a matter of course, I have found that a tablespoon of strawberry or raspberry jam mixed in water is a truly effective method of attraction. My bees aren’t interested in the traps and I don’t think I’ve ever caught any.

I will be examining the trap catches next summer to see if I’m catching solitary bees or other beneficial species.



Be sure to let us know what you find. I’m curious.

Gary K [Olympia WA]

Bizarre follow up. Hung a quart container with the dark brown sugar at 5 foot. Nothing. Put a one gallon milk jug same mix of dark brown sugar same height right next to the quart container. Bingo. Now why gallon jug vs quart juice container beats me. Don’t care. And nope, not a single honey bee or other pollinator found so far. Thanks for the tip. About the commercial traps, relatively same experience with the provided baits, BUT certain times of year I will put crushed fresh apples, or rodents we trap, in them and that works for different yellowjackets. Still haven’t found something for bald-faced wasps.



That’s crazy, but I’m glad it worked. Mine caught plenty of bald-faced wasps. I just sent nearly 11 pounds of them back east to the lab.

Gary K [Olympia WA]

We are in the midsts of a typical fall albeit early storm set the past 2 days AND our monster ivy bush is in full flower. Normally the bees would be all over it, but have elected to stay hunkered down mostly. The yellowjackets and bald-faced wasps also love the ivy and have chosen to feed on it which for now has them well occupied and nowhere near the hive. Knock wood.

Gary K [Olympia WA]

Rusty one last comment/question. We have a massive ivy that lives quite dramatically on an old second growth cedar stump. Of course right now it is in full flower. We have always had yellow jackets and bald faced wasps on it as well as the honey bees. This year it seems the raw numbers of yellow jackets and BFW is overwhelming and the number of bees is minimal. Are the YJ and BFWs feeding on the pollen/nectar and are the bees actually avoiding the ivy on account of raw numbers? I know, anyone’s guess what’s in a bees mind right?



Yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets feed on nectar for energy. They have absolutely no use for pollen. But I suspect the bees may steer clear of them because they are vicious and can easily kill a bee and take it home to feed the kids.

Bill Chandlee

I know you will probably disapprove but: At dusk the yellowjackets go docile in their ground nests. Spray a wasp killer into the hole and heal the opening closed. End of yellowjackets at that site.

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