Where Do Wasps Go in the Winter?

Updated: May 11, 2023

Hint: You won't find them flying south.

It’s OK to admit it: When they’re hovering around like a helicopter with a big-bodied stinger, wasps intimidate even the most assured insect lover. But have you ever noticed they’re only around during warm weather? As soon as the seasons change and the temperature starts to slide, there’s hardly a wasp to be found.

So where do these stinging pests go in the winter? Do they fly south to enjoy margaritas on the beaches of Baja while I’m out here shoveling snow in the driveway?

Not quite. Wasps don’t take a vacation. Quite the opposite. Most wasps die in the winter. Other than the queen, the lifecycle of a wasp isn’t very long.

How Long Do Wasps Live?

Most wasps lead a short life. They hatch in the spring and die later in the year as fall turns to winter, according to the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach office.

The life cycle itself starts when a queen wasp emerges from hibernation in the early spring, building a small nest with chewed-up wood pulp. It lays eggs in the nest and raises the first generation of worker wasps on its own.

Once the workers emerge, they set about collecting food while the queen continues to lay eggs. That goes on until November or early winter, depending on the climate. Wasp colonies produce new males and a new queen late in their annual life cycle. The new queen then mates, setting up the life cycle of the next colony.

Do Wasps Hibernate in the Winter?

Only the queen. Workers and the old queen die in the winter. The new queen hibernates, burrowing into the ground, emerging again in the spring to build a new colony.

Different Kinds of Wasps

The term “wasps” refer to a broad category of stinging insects. They’re different from bees and ants, though can sometimes be confused with the former. The wasps you’re most familiar with are paper wasps, which build nests that resemble a mushroom cap, hanging from a short stalk inside light fixtures or under the soffit of your home.

Paper wasps are part of a group of insects that includes yellowjackets and hornets. All pack a powerful sting they’ll use if they feel their nest is threatened. That’s one reason you don’t want wasp nests too close to your house.

Are Wasps Beneficial?

Yes! Wasps feed on pests like aphids, beetles, spiders and others that can threaten crops. They feed these pre-chewed creatures to their larvae while the adults feast on nectar. Wasps can be helpful around your garden too, taking care of caterpillars that munch on your plants, according to the Cornell Extension Cooperative.

Wasps are mostly harmless, a helpful and important part of the ecosystem. However, if wasps build a nest close to your house, it’s probably best to get rid of it.

What If a Wasp Stings You?

Though it can pack a punch, for most people, getting stung by a wasp is a relatively minor inconvenience. Wash the area with soap and water and apply some anti-itch cream.

For those who may be allergic, a wasp sting can cause vomiting, hives or even a constricted airway. If you experience these symptoms after being stung, seek medical attention immediately.