How to identify European wasps

Page last updated: Thursday, 29 February 2024 - 9:05am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Suspect European wasp sightings in Western Australia MUST BE REPORTED to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

Every year, fertilised European wasp queens are accidentally transported into our state in freight, cargo and vehicles from Eastern Australia. They must be detected and erradicated if we are to remain free of this pest.

Look for these distinctive characteristics

The European wasp has distinct behaviours among wasp species and other insects in Western Australia, which make it easier to identify.

Wasps scavenging on human food and drinks

European wasp taking tuna from a can.

Wasps scavenging on pet food

European wasps are attracted to pet food

Wasps flying in and out of a single hole in the ground
(90% of nests are hidden underground)

European wasp nest hole entrance

Wasps flying with raised legs
(all other wasps dangle their legs)

European wasp flying

Black feelers/antennae
(similar looking paper wasps have orange/yellow antennae)

European wasp has black antennae


 Did you know that...

  • European wasps are opportunistic predators and scavengers, eating dead animals, live insects, fruits, processed human and pet food (particularly meat and fish based food) and garbage. They are also attracted to sugars found in fruit and drinks.
  • European wasps make numerous trips between the location of the food source and the nest.

Similar looking insects

Because of their yellow and black stripes, several wasps, bees and flies can be mistaken for European wasps.

Seven yellow and black insects displayed next to a 50c coin for comparison
European wasp comparison photo showing other species commonly mistaken for European wasps (click to enlarge)

Native flower wasps (Families Tiphiidae and Scoliidae) are much larger. These harmless solitary wasps are beneficial pollinators. These solitary wasps only come together during the mating season.

Yellow paper wasps are bright yellow and black. Paper wasps differ being slightly longer and thinner (more wasp-like) and have orange-brown antennae. Unlike European wasps, paper wasps hover with their back legs hanging down.

Honey bees are about the same size as European wasps, but have black legs, are hairier and are dull brown-orange in colour, as opposed to bright yellow and black.

Native Bembix wasps are smaller than European wasps and their antennae are shorter and thinner and their eyes larger. In a lot of Bembix species, the eyes are a yellow-green and the body colour is closer to a lime-green yellow.

Hover flies are smaller than European wasps and they 'hover' when flying. Their antennae aren’t easily noticeable (very short and stubby) and their large eyes meet together. They have one pair of obvious wings as opposed to two pairs of the European wasp (large pair and short pair).

European wasp or yellow paper wasp?

Yellow paper wasps are easy to confuse with European wasps. They are very common and widespread in WA and are frequently seen nesting in guttering, under fence capping or attached to bushes. Paper wasps are often seen visiting flowers, ponds or water taps. Look for their distictive papery honeycomb nest, or note the colour of the antennae and the position of the legs when they fly.

European wasp and paper wasp comparison
European wasp and paper wasp comparison next to a 50 cent coin (click to enlarge)

Differences between European wasps and paper wasps


European wasp

Paper wasp


Workers: about 15mm long (size of a bee)
Queens: larger (not usually seen)

15–19mm long (longer than a bee)

Body shape

Stout body like a bee

Longer and thinner than a bee. Narrow waist


Bright yellow and black

Antennae (feelers)

All black (see picture above)

Yellow-orange (see picture above)


Legs held close to body during flight. Fly very quickly, generally do not hover

Back legs dangle down during flight. Often seen hovering around bushes, over lawns and around water sources

Food European wasps are scavengers feeding from pet food, meat or vegetable scraps, meat products, fish or dead insects Paper wasps feed on insects including caterpillars, flies, beetle larvae and nectar


Differences between European wasp and paper wasp nests

Comparison of European wasp and paper wasp nests
Comparison of European wasp and paper wasp nests and their locations (click to enlarge)

European wasp nest

Paper wasp nest


Rarely seen

Often seen. Usually above ground


Usually below ground with the entrance appearing as a hole in the ground. On rare occasions they may be found in a roof or wall cavity. It will have a busy entrance hole with many wasps entering and exiting per minute

Under fence capping or roof tiles, also under eaves and in dense shrubs. Sometimes in hollow steel piping and guttering


Large. Growing in summer to be the size of a basketball or bigger

Golf ball to crumpet sized. Rarely as big as a dinner plate


Round or football shaped with an outer covering of insulating material that looks like grey paper mache or egg carton material

Single flat layer of papery honeycomb cells. Grey-brown in colour, often with some white-capped cells

Note REPORT - Do Not Treat Follow paper wasp control instructions

Sting first aid

For information on first aid treatment of wasp stings, please visit the Australian Health Direct website or contact the Western Australian Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.


Report suspect sightings.  In Western Australia, taking photos and submitting for identification via MyPestGuide™ Reporter or email them to PaDIS is the quickest avenue for ID. Alternatively, phone 08 9368 3080 to speak with our Pest and Disease Information Service.

NOTE:  Your report should include: What you saw , where you saw it, and when it happened.

Report pest observations

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080