Wasp identification

Asked January 31, 2019, 11:17 AM EST

I was stung by a wasp from the hive shown in the attached photo, and had an allergic reaction. Therefore I am keen to identify the species. The photo is not very good because I was afraid to approach too closely, but hopefully there is sufficient detail for this purpose.


New York

4 Responses

I need some idea of the size of the wasps, where you found them - in the ground, in a wall, in a paper nest. The image is a bit blurry so it is difficult to ID.

They could be
Polistes dominula

Most wasp stings will cause some reddening of the area and some swelling. That is not necessarily an indication that you had an allergic reaction to the sting.

The sting has a variety of proteins in it and you body's immune system recognizes them as foreign so it sends histamines, general antibodies and white blood cell to the area. This will cause some swelling and pain for an hour or more and sometimes a day. Once the proteins are dealt with, everything goes back to normal. Doctors will sometimes recommend antihistamines to deal with the swelling and pain if it does no subside in a few hours.

If the symptoms start to spread away from the sting location such as an arm swells from a sting in the hand or the whole leg swells or there is difficulty breathing, then you have a serious problem that needs to get a doctor involved quickly.

More than one sting can cause more serious reactions so you need to assess the situation each time it takes place.

I get stung occasionally on a finger or the hand and the swelling will hide the veins for a few hours on the affected hand but then everything comes back to normal. If I elevate the hand, there is less swelling.


Hi Ed,

Thanks for the quick response. The nest was in my compost bin. As I pressed some dead plants down into the container, the wasps erupted from the bin and stung me several times.

I would estimate their size at about one inch or so, perhaps a bit less. These are not paper wasps (I have those too!), they are smaller than that. The nest appeared to be in the form of a disk.

I did in fact have a legitimate allergic reaction (confirmed by my doctor): precipitous drop in blood pressure, extreme dizziness, nausea, vomiting etc. No anaphylactic symptoms fortunately. This is the third time I have had a reaction, which becomes worse each time. I now carry an epipen.

i did actually have a


My guess is that they are the Vespula germanica, commonly known in the US as the german yellowjacket. They will nest almost anywhere including in the ground so your compost pile was fine with them. It probably provides an easy source of food, warmth and moisture.

I have had them in my lawn for several years. Usually only the queens overwinter but that seems to be only if the weather gets too cold for the hive to slow down. It seems from other sources I have read, that new queens have no problem returning to the hive after mating and continue the hive or at least repopulating a dead hive.

I usually discover them after running over the nest hole with my lawn mower. This Fall, I dug out part of the nest and I think a skunk to care of the rest of it. I will see if they start a new nest in the same area this spring.

Most wasps become very protective of their hive in the Fall here. If you do not have prolong freezing or snow, they are probably maintaining the nest for more than one season.

The cold here usually takes care of them and the queens must start over in the spring in my area.

Thanks Ed. I had concluded it was some kind of ground-dwelling yellowjacket as well. It gets bloody cold here, and I had this particular nest destroyed by a pest control company, so at least that nest is gone. I also disassembled the compost bin. No doubt the queens will be back in the spring searching for housing anyway ... so it goes. Life in the country!