Dolichovespula media

wasps attack customer
This nests of median wasps attacked a customer.

The Median Wasp – More About The UK’s “Super Wasp“.

During the 1980s the median wasp was branded as the UK’s “Super Wasp”. The wasps’ size and dark appearance made it a distinctive insect predator. Does it deserve this label, well YES!

They are an aggressive species with a prominent sting, measured extending 3mm from the abdomen. This allows it to deliver a painful sting causing skin lesions to develop.

Once the nest is disturbed, wasps quickly flood out onto the outside. We describe these nests as grenades! Wasps on the outside might seem settled, but venture too close and they attack faster than you can turn and run.

median wasp seven 7 thorax
Median Wasps flood out of a disturbed nest.

Most social wasps attack directly towards you. D. media flies up into the air, checks you out, then descend at speed, attacking from the side and above.

Median wasps are often larger than our native common wasp and grow to 15-20mm. In the UK, only the Asian and European Hornets are larger.

Median Wasps construct oval or spherical nests in shrubs, trees and hedges. Nests will almost always prove to be almost invisible, hidden deep within vegetation. Colouration varies from graphite to pale grey.

dolichovespula media nest tree
This Median Wasp (Dolichovespula media) nest was spotted in a garden in Bristol

Wasp colonies are often disturbed by a gardener cutting back vegetation. Pruning usually stops in a big hurry. Wasps attack at great speed, pursuing the threat for some distance.

Key features of the Median wasp include:

Adult wasps are almost black, making them easily recognisable. Their orange legs appear similar to that of the European Hornet Vespa crabro.

Like hornets, these are large wasps, and although we do see variations in size, the average is around 20mm in length.

The vertical or median black stripe in the centre of its face gave this wasp its name. The abdomen has very thick black stripes with narrow yellow, sometimes reddish stripes.

The image below shows how distinctive the dark bands can be. Contrast that with the image above and the abdomen is distinctively less dark. Variations in wasp marking are common.

median wasp dark bands abdomen
Median Wasps with distinctive dark abdominal banding

Median wasps have a number seven on either side of their thorax. Take a closer look at the images above, and these distinctive markings are clear to see.

Colonies have quickly spread across the southern half of the country where it is now common in the south-west. It’s likely this species has been in the UK for over 50 years, however opinion is divided.

Median Wasp Vs European Hornet

european hornet queen bristol
European Hornet Queen on Nest

The European Hornet is 20-30% larger than the Median wasp. European hornets prefer to nest inside trees or other suitable voids, similar to the German wasp (Vespula germanica). Median wasps prefer to nest outside. Hornet nests often resemble upside-down buckets. Median wasps nests have a small entrance towards the base of the nest. Hornets have 500-1500 hornets in a nest. Median wasps have 1000-2000 wasps in a nest. Both are classed as paper wasps.

Median Wasps: A Case Study

We received a call from an elderly couple in Bristol. The customer reported an attack by large wasps in their garden.

I listened as the customer explained the attack on her husband. He received multiple stings on his head, neck, and face.

The lady described how her husband was mowing the grass. The garden was long and straight so she had unobstructed views and could see him making good progress.

“I was in the kitchen and looked up to see my husband dancing in the garden.”

Unfortunately for him, the fence he hit with the mower was covered in ivy, concealing a large wasp nest.

Within seconds he was surrounded and his poor mobility meant he was unable to escape the wasps.

The customers’ husband was taken to the doctors and was fortunate not to be more seriously stung.

References

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