Wasps are probably scraping near the bottom of everyone’s list of favorite animals. They buzz around, sting people, and what’s up with those dangling legs? Even though there’s no love lost between humans and wasps, have you ever stopped to wonder what sounds and noises wasps make and why they make them?
Wasps make a variety of noises to communicate with other wasps and their surrounding environment. Some noises you may hear coming from a wasp’s nest include tapping, popping, and purring. Individually, you may hear wasps making noises while flying such as wing fanning, stridulations, and buzzing.
Who knew wasps were so talkative? Let’s check out some noises wasps make, and figure out what they mean.
1. Wasps Make Tapping Noises When Building Their Nests
All wasps belong to one of two categories: social or solitary. Social wasps are those that you see congregating around barbeques and garbage cans. They are also the ones building enormous nests beneath eaves or in trees.
The nests of social wasps can contain hundreds or even thousands of individuals in some cases. But when they start out, you will barely even notice them, and you certainly will not hear them.
Solitary wasps typically live in the ground or in small nests. Their numbers are much lower, ranging from one individual to a few dozen.
The social wasps are the ones you will want to watch out for. Social wasps are more aggressive than solitary wasps and they will defend their nests by stinging repeatedly. Unlike bees, wasps do not embed their stingers and can sting to their little heart’s content. Yay for us.
According to an article in the Journal of Insect Behavior, the construction of wasp nests involves three distinct groups of wasps:
- Pulp foragers
- Water foragers
The success of the hive highly depends on the pulp foragers. These wasps are the ones that strip small, unnoticeable pieces of wood from your fences, doors, and siding and bring it back to the nest for the builders to use.
The builders then mix the wood with their saliva and make it into a paper mache-type material they use to add to the existing nest. They may use this to create combs or to increase the overall size of the nest.
While adding the pulp, builder wasps often make tapping noises. This comes from their mouths hitting into the spot where they’re adding the pulp or from the packing-down of the pulp.
It is easier to hear this noise when the nest is first being constructed. In just a few short weeks, the nest will buzz with hundreds of wasps, making it difficult to identify the noise.
A social wasp nest will be at maximum capacity by late summer. Try to look for this sound during spring and early summer, when nests aren’t so full.
If you find yourself with a wasp problem, there are some natural remedies you can use to deter them. Check out our article on the scents wasps hate for more information!
2. Wasp Larvae Make Popping Noises When They’re Hungry
All wasps share the same type of life cycle, starting out as an egg and eventually making it to the adult stage. The wasp lifecycle includes four stages according to the University of Minnesota:
Just as spring is fully taking the reins from winter, queen wasps will emerge and locate a respectable place to build their nest.
As soon as she can, a queen will lay eggs. During this beginning stage, the queen will do all the work of constructing the nest and taking care of the eggs.
Once the eggs hatch, the larvae will expect plenty of food so that they can pupate and emerge as adult wasps. While the larvae are wailing for food, you may hear noises that resemble popping, such as that emitted by a drop of water from a leaky faucet hitting the tub.
This popping/dripping sound is the larvae mashing their mouths, signaling to the queen (later to worker wasps) they are hungry.
According to a Swiss article published in the Journal of Insectes Sociaux (social insects), these noises range in sound from 500 Hz to 2,500 Hz.
To put it into perspective, 500 Hz is akin to a low-frequency sound like rolling thunder. 2,500 Hz is considered high frequency, such as a whistling teapot.
The same article found these noises are most often made in the morning (who can blame them for wanting breakfast?). The study found we can hear these noises in nests with or without a queen, which suggests it’s made by all wasp larvae, not just by social wasps.
3. Wasp Nests Sound Like An Electric Fan
Mid- to late-summer is when wasp nests will have the highest numbers and be buzzing like crazy. Except, wasp nests do not buzz like a bee’s nest might.
Instead, wasp nests sound similar to an oscillating fan you might have in your home. It is a constant thrumming sound rather than an adrenaline-spiking buzz noise.
This is simply because of the structure and acoustics of a wasp’s nest versus a bee’s nest, as well as the physical structure of a wasp versus a bee.
Another reason for the differing sound may be because wasp nests are typically not as large as bee nests. For example, paper wasp nests can contain as few as a dozen wasps. Yellowjackets (a type of wasp) usually have larger nests, numbering in the hundreds if not thousands.
Bee nests are the mother of all nests. They can contain up to 80,000 bees in a hive. This massive difference in numbers is probably a large factor in the noise discrepancies.
If you think you’re hearing wasps at night in your home, you can take a look at our in-depth article on the reasons why you keep getting wasps in your house.
4. Wasp Nests Can Purr
No, you read that correctly. Wasp nests can purr! It may sound strange, but it’s been proven with high-tech microphones.
Before we get into wasp nests sounding like a very content cat, let’s take a step back. When we say ‘wasp,’ we’re referring to a rather large group of insects.
With over 30,000 different species, we can’t hope to cover all of them in this article. However, let’s zero in on the three most common pest wasps we find around our homes:
- Paper wasps
Each of these three species of wasp builds its nest in different ways. Hornets build the well-known nest that hangs from trees in the open. Paper wasps build tiny combs we find under roofs and eaves.
Yellowjackets are a different story.
These nasty buggers will build large nests in the most inconvenient places. For example, in our lawns where we mow and then immediately get attacked. They also build nests inside wall voids, in attics, and undisturbed garages.
When it comes to purring nests, this noise only comes from the nest of a yellowjacket located inside a wall void such as beneath floorboards or behind your walls between studs.
The most likely reason these nests make a purring sound as opposed to an electric fan sound is because of their location. The movement of yellow jacket wings inside the nest vibrates the surrounding wood, creating a purring noise.
If you hear purring inside your home and you do not have a house cat, you may have a yellowjacket problem! You can take a look at our article on the 6 things to do if you find wasps in your house.
5. Wasps Buzz When They Fly
Now that we’ve covered all the noises made in wasp nests and by wasp colonies, let’s dive deeper into the noises an individual wasp makes.
This one was pretty obvious. Wasps make a buzzing sound when they fly. But how does this buzzing noise get generated?
Similar to bees, wasps make buzzing noises when they fly because they have two sets of wings, which flap continuously while in flight.
According to the Smithsonian Institution, the insect with the fastest wingbeat is the midge, clocking in at 62,760 beats per minute. Wasps aren’t THAT fast, but they can beat their wings about 200 some times per second.
When wasps fly, they use a method of clapping their wings together and spreading them wide open. During this commotion, they emit a buzzing sound. This sound is all too familiar at summer picnics and barbeques.
6. Male Wasps Fan Their Wings At Mates
Most animals in the animal kingdom have some type of courtship that goes on before mating. One of the most famous courtship rituals is that of the Bird of Paradise, who dances around, showing off its flashy feathers to potential mates.
Heck, even spiders have a courtship dance!
Wasps are no different and do a little ritual of their own to connect with mates. The process involves males making a very particular sound with their wings called wing fanning.
According to a journal article published in 2010, when females hear male wing fanning, they will take short flights, eliciting their own buzzing noise. This sound helps males navigate to the females, along with pheromones released from the females.
The study was done on parasitoid wasps, which are part of the wasp family that preys on other insects. It may be hard to believe, but these wasps are our friends! They help control tons of garden pests like aphids, sawflies, beetles, and caterpillars.
The adult wasps rarely eat these insects, but they implant their larvae into the insects and these larvae sort of, well, eat their way out. Yuck.
Adult parasitoid wasps feed on nectar and pollen according to the University of Maryland. They’ll also feed on honeydew, which is a substance left behind by ants.
The best news? Parasitoid wasps don’t sting! But… some of them are terrifyingly large – up to 4 inches long! Luckily, most of these somewhat friendly wasps are as small as a pencil tip.
One of our more interesting articles, check out our piece on where wasps really go and live during the day!
7. Wasps Make Noises With Their Legs To Communicate
If you live in an area with crickets or grasshoppers, then you are probably familiar with the thrumming, chirping, and buzzing of these talkative insects. Grasshoppers thrum during the day and then crickets take over the chorus at night.
These sounds are called stridulations and occur when an insect rubs one part of its body, called a scraper, against another part of the body, called the file.
The scraping of these two body parts together creates a unique sound for every insect. It can be done by rubbing the legs together, the wings, or any two body parts.
Wasps stridulate to communicate a variety of things depending on the situation and depending on the specific species.
Male wasps are usually the ones doing the chirping and twittering, but females can stridulate as well. An article in the Journal of Bioacoustics found that females have a wider and longer file, which produced lower frequency sounds than males.
Otherwise, stridulations have negligible differences between male and female wasps. Velvet ants (despite the name, it’s a type of wasp) are well known for their stridulations, as are potter wasps.
There aren’t too many studies out there that describe exactly why wasps make these noises, but there are some theories.
- Alarm: Stridulations may signal danger is nearby to other wasps. This is typically only seen in social wasps.
- Defense: When wasps feel threatened or are being attacked by a predator, they may stridulate to scare a predator off.
- Feeding Time: Stridulations might alert worker wasps the larvae need to be fed. However, the larvae do not do this, other wasps do.
Other Ways Wasps Communicate
Surprisingly, wasps have a lot to say to us, to other wasps, to prey, and predators. For how small they are, wasps are highly communicative.
Sounds certainly are not the only thing these buzzing death machines use to communicate. Let’s check out some of the other ways wasps communicate.
The worst outcome that can happen from an interaction with a wasp is to get stung. Like bee stings, wasp stings can be painful but typically subside within an hour or two.
Not all wasp species sting, but the three most common wasps (hornets, yellowjackets, and paper wasps) all sting.
Yellowjackets are the only wasp that will sting unprovoked. Even then, it’s normally only in the fall when food is becoming scarce and they are forced to feed around garbage cans.
Otherwise, stinging only happens when wasps feel trapped, threatened, or are handled. Stinging communicates to the stung victim that the wasp is not something to mess with or try to eat.
You can read more about the differences between bees and wasps here.
We touched a bit on this earlier when we talked about wing fanning. Wasps, along with a ton of other animals, use pheromones to communicate.
One way wasps use pheromones is to attract mates. This is done by the females to attract males to their location. From there, males perform their wing fan and the ritual begins.
Pheromones can also guide other wasps back to the nest. This is especially important for pulp foragers who leave the nest often in search of wood.
One wasp is enough, let alone a SWARM of them. But don’t worry, swarming isn’t always a bad thing.
Wasps will swarm for two purposes. The first is to defend their nest. This is the not-so-good scenario for whatever is nearby.
Animals like badgers, bears, starlings, and weasels all eat wasps as part of their diet. And the easiest place to find a boat-load of wasps is in their nest. When the nest is disturbed, wasps will swarm the area.
As the name suggests, swarming is when multiple wasps (sometimes hundreds) swarm around when they feel their nest is threatened. They will sting whatever is close to protect the nest.
Other insects eat wasps such as praying mantis and spiders, but these predators typically only go after individuals, not entire nests like the bold badgers and bears.
The second reason wasps will swarm is if their original nest is destroyed. When a wasp’s nest is destroyed during a storm or some other natural cause, the wasps inside the nest will swarm.
Sometimes, the wasps will swarm on trees, branches, fallen logs, or other areas. While the panicked wasps are swarming, other wasps go off in search of a new location for a nest.
As soon as they find a suitable place, the swarm will disperse and the wasps will get to work on a new nest. This type of behavior is seen in bees as well.
How To Avoid Wasps
Even though wasps are scary-looking and cause anxiety spikes in humans, they do a lot of good for the environment. They are pest controllers, pollinators, and have the unique ability to make any human bust out karate moves.
Despite their favorable qualities, most humans would like to avoid these dangly-legged insects as much as possible. There are a few things you can do to minimize the number of wasps near your home.
- Keep trash cans secure: Yellowjackets are especially fond of food scraps and spilled sweet drinks during summer picnics. Be sure to cover the trash when not in use and change it frequently during events.
Even when events are not happening, it’s important to keep your trash can lids secured from potential spills by raccoons or other nighttime critters. You can use something like Blazer Brand Strong Strap Universal Garbage Can Lid Lock to keep your lid completely secured. This will avoid providing an all-you-can-eat buffet for wasps.
- Cover food: Again, picnics are a favorite activity for wasps. If you have food laid out, be sure to cover it as soon as folks are done eating. Avoid having open containers of punch or tea. If anything spills, a fast cleanup job can help avoid wasps before they even show up.
- Take care of nests early: Once Spring rolls around, new queens emerge and begin building nests. If you notice the early construction of the nest, you can take care of it with some wasp spray before it becomes unmanageable.
It’s recommended to use a spray that has some distance. Hot Shot’s Wasp & Hornet Killer can shoot up to 27 feet, giving you plenty of distance between the angry wasps and yourself.
If you didn’t see the wasp nest early enough or it’s become unmanageable, you can always reach out to a professional to take care of it. Our nationwide pest control finder can get you in contact with an exterminator near you.
That’s A Wrap!
The sound of a buzzing wasp can put anyone on edge. But buzzing isn’t the only noise that these insects make.
To recap, the 7 sounds and noises that wasps make include:
- Tapping (when building their nest)
- Popping (when larvae are hungry)
- Electric fan (wasp nest)
- Purring (wasp nest)
- Buzzing (when flying)
- Wing fanning (males communicating with females)
- Stridulations (chirping, thrumming, twittering)
Wasps use stinging, pheromones, and swarming to communicate with the world around them as well.
All in all, MOST wasps do not bother humans and have a positive impact on the world. They control pests and help pollinate flowers. But that doesn’t mean we want them around us.
Be sure to keep your garbage neat and tidy, clean up spills, cover food, and eliminate nests early to avoid any close encounters with these little monsters!
Danci, A., Takacs, S., Schaefer, P. W., & Gries, G. (2010, July 05). Evidence for acoustic communication in the parasitoid wasp Glyptapanteles flavicoxis. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 136(2), 142-150.
Hunt, J. H., & Richard, F. J. (2013, August 17). Intracolony vibroacoustic communication in social insects. Insectes Sociaux, 60, 403-417.
Ishay, J., & Nachshen, D. (1975, June). On the nature of the sounds produced within the nest of the Wasp Paravespula germanica F. Insectes Sociaux, 22, 213-218.
Karsai, I., & Wenzel, J. W. (2000, January). Organization and Regulation of Nest Construction Behavior in Metapolybia Wasps. Journal of Insect Behavior, 13, 111-140.
Polidori, C., Ruffato, G., Borruso, L., Settanni, C., & Pavan, G. (2012, October 31). Stridulatory organ and distress call in males and females of a small velvet ant (Hymenoptera: Mutillidae). Bioacoustics, 22(2), 121-135.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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