Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Key Differences between German and common Wasps

German and common wasps are very similar in appearance. The dorsal markings on the abdomen have often been used to distinguish these two species in New Zealand. However, these markings are variable and are not always accurate. The marking on the side of the head and face are more reliable.

German wasps (Vespula germanica)

Common wasps (Vespula vulgaris)

Side of head
 <em>Vespula germanica</em> head side on.  <em>Vespula vulgaris</em> head side on.
A complete yellow band behind the eye. A black mark behind the eye.
 <em>Vespula germanica</em> face.  <em>Vespula vulgaris</em> face.
Black dots or a vertical black line. Anchor-shaped mark.
 <em>Vespula germanica</em> dorsal view.  <em>Vespula vulgaris</em> dorsal view.
Black dots on the abdomen, which are usually (but not always) separate from the black rings (variable). Black dots and rings on the abdomen which are usually fused (variable).
Vespulid wasp nest Vespulid wasp nest
Nest on the left: grey; fibre from sound wood. Nest on the right: brown; fibre from dead or rotten wood.

Common wasps are very efficient at harvesting honeydew have consequently displaced German wasps from honeydew beech forest. Common wasps collect honeydew at a faster rate than German wasps, and spend less time lapping honeydew (which has often fermented) from the trunk when the standing crop of honeydew is low, so that fewer of them become lethargic and less effective feeders.