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A source for information on wasps

Paper Wasp   Polistes spp



Most species are about 1 inch in length, but a few may be as small as 1/2-inch or as large as 1-1/2 inches. 


Many are reddish-brown or dark red. Some species are more orange, while others have varying bright stripes of red and yellow. 


The key to identifying paper wasps is the shape of the nest -- a round, upside-down paper comb that is attached by a single stalk to a horizontal surface in a protected location. This paper nest resembles an umbrella, lending to these wasps nickname, "umbrella wasps." The colony starts out each spring as a single queen that has overwintered in a protected site, such as beneath bark, within leaf litter or inside the walls or attics of buildings. The queen finds a suitable nesting site and constructs a small comb nest in which she raises her first brood of larvae. These larvae mature into adult workers which then begin to forage for food, care for the new young, and enlarge the nest. Paper wasps are predators and feed on insects, spiders, and caterpillars. Most paper wasp colonies number only a few dozen workers, but under the right conditions, a colony might produce more than 100 workers. In early fall, the colony produces queens which fly out to find a site to overwinter. 

In North America alone, there are over 22 species of paper wasps, in the USthe Paper Wasps belong to the genus Polistes. Worldwide, there are over 1,000 species, dispersed throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and South America. These wasps measure approximately one inch in length. Their narrow bodies are most commonly dark brown in color, with black wings and yellow markings. Australian paper wasps are made distinguishable by their black and reddish-brown coloration. They appear similar to yellow jackets. 

These insects are called paper wasps due to the construction of their nests. Paper wasp nests are made from small wood or plant fibers combined with saliva and appear to be made from paper. Their nests include numerous compartments within which wasps lay their eggs and rear their young. These nests are frequently found in sheltered areas, such as tree branches and the eaves of houses. 

A female wasp first establishes nests. Each nest is comprised of compartments, which house wasp eggs until they mature into adults. Paper wasps feed on nectar and pollen, although they also scavenge for caterpillars with which to nourish their colonies’ larvae. As larvae develop into adults, they assist in expanding the nest and nurturing future generations. 

Paper wasps are considered beneficial because they assist in pollination by feeding on nectar and they control pest insect populations by feeding them to their larvae. However, despite their ecological benefits, paper wasp nests should not be permitted to develop in or near the home. Stings from paper wasps are extremely painful and may produce allergic reactions. 

Removing a paper wasp nest may be dangerous. It is advised that a pest control professional be contacted to assist in treatment of paper wasp infestations. 

Paper wasps nest in windowsills and frames, along eaves, porch ceilings and rafters, hose reels, etc, and in open areas sheltered from the rain. Their presence is most often signaled by the appearance of a nest with workers buzzing around it. Most paper wasp nests are located in exposed areas beneath soffits, in the corners of windows, under awnings, under porches, and beneath decks. These wasps, however, will also nest within voids and other protected sites, such as gas grills, electric outlet boxes, hose reels, attics, and crawl spaces. They often enter attics through holes in the soffits, attic vent screens, and underneath shingles. Their nest appears as a round, upside-down paper-like comb like an umbrella, and is attached by a single stalk to a horizontal surface.

Medical significance:
Paper wasps have a lance-like stinger and will readily sting if they feel threatened or are provoked. If approached by a paper wasp, avoid swinging your arms since quick movement often provokes attack, which can produce a painful sting. Also avoid creating loud noises or disturbances near a nest.

If you have a known allergy to bee or wasp stings and get stung, seek medical attention immediately. Those that are hypersensitive to stinging insects should avoid being alone during the peak season of wasp season, which is usually early summer (May) through early October.

Interesting Fact:
Some queens that are unsuccessful at establishing their own nest may join another queen, submitting to her dominance and becoming a worker. Studies have shown that such individuals, called joiners, are most often sisters of the queen.

If the queen dies or is otherwise lost, the most aggressive worker takes over. This worker will then begin laying eggs and continue to dominate all those below her.


Due to their painful sting, the presence of a Paper wasp nest or nests near a home or business can be problematic. Control of these social wasps, although usually not difficult, has its element of risk in being stung. It is best to conduct control operations on nests at dusk or after dusk to avoid being stung, since most of the paper wasps will have returned to their nest.

If the use of pressurized pesticides must be done during daylight hours, the use of protective equipment, such as gloves, hat, coveralls, etc., will help prevent stings from any airborne wasps. Do not stand directly under the nest when spraying, as it will cause them to drop straight down after contact. Paper wasp nests are usually easily controlled using a wasp treatment product, then knocking down the nest. Such treatments are best done at night, although professionals can safely treat them during the day. On buildings where continuous paper wasp nest building occurs, treatment of the affected areas with a residual pest control product applied by a professional can deter most of the activity.

If no Paper wasps are present after being sprayed, the nest can usually be scraped or knocked down after a day or two, and should be discarded so the dead larvae do not attract other pests such as ants.

If you are stung, promptly applying a paste of meat tenderizer with water or vinegar to the stung area will soothe the pain. The meat tenderizer contains the enzyme papain, derived from papaya, breaks down protein, which is why it tenderizes meat. Venom contains proteins, which is probably why this remedy works  

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