In this article, we will talk about everything about paper wasps.
If you notice a wasp with yellow markings, you must run in the opposite direction.
Well, wasps like yellow jackets and paper wasps are indeed known for their stinging habits. But are they both equally aggressive?
Are paper wasps useful in any way? Is it right for us to be scared of them?
This article will answer all the questions revolving around paper wasps.
What Are Paper Wasps?
Paper wasps are insects with black bodies and yellow markings. They belong to the Vespidae family of insects and are known for the unique nests they build.
They are social wasps that live in colonies. You can find them in forests and grasslands.
Also, if you notice closely, you will see that female adult paper wasps are significantly bigger than males and have a few extra spots on the body.
You can find them in various parts of North America, South America, and Canada.
You will be fascinated to know that paper wasps were called “European paper wasps” earlier as they were abundant in European agricultural regions.
These insects grow to about 3/4 to 1 inch and have slender bodies.
Paper Wasp Types
There are various types of paper wasps. Let us take a look at a few main ones:
Arabian paper wasps
Arabian paper wasps are brightly colored insects with long-yellow antennae. These have large yellow eyes, which are darker than the body.
If you look closely, you will notice three distinct black spots on the head. These insects show an average growth rate of 0.98 inches and create noise while flying.
On a warm, sunny day, you will find them around water sources. They do so to drink and carry water back to their larvae in the nest.
These nests are mostly found in cracks. You can also find them suspended from the bark of trees or on concrete walls.
These are common in the UAE and coastal areas. They are semi-social insects, and the queen is similar to the workers.
Northern paper wasps
Northern paper wasps live in a huge nest. During the summer, these nests can grow up to 6 to 8 inches wide.
You will be fascinated to know that the physical appearance of these wasps varies according to habitat.
There are around 3 species of Northern paper wasps in the United States, and they can be identified by their striped patterns.
Most paper wasps have slender waists and reddish markings and can deliver painful stings.
They, too, create umbrella-shaped nests using wood pulp and saliva.
European paper wasps
The European paper wasp is a big bog insect with yellow markings on the body.
They have a slender body shape where you can observe a clear constriction between the body and the thorax.
Due to their yellow markings and large bodies, they might look a lot like yellow jacket wasps.
However, if you notice carefully, you will observe that the European paper wasps have long hind legs, which trail below the insect’s body while taking flight.
These wasps are comparably less aggressive than yellow jackets, but they can deliver painful stings.
They also help you get rid of pests in the garden and yard.
Indian paper wasps
Indian paper wasps are fascinating social insects that live in large colonies.
However, unlike other paper wasp species, these insects live non-randomly in their nests.
Doing so helps them efficiently exchange food and reduces the chances of spreading an illness or infection.
This also prevents the infection from reaching the queen and keeps her safe and alive for a long time.
Other nesting habits are similar to the others on the list.
They, too, build umbrella-shaped nests with a paper-like mixture of saliva and wood pulp.
These are some of the common species of paper wasps.
There are many more of these fascinating little creatures scattered across the globe with equally fascinating habits and behaviors.
What Does A Paper Wasp Eat?
Various paper wasp species are omnivores and rely on plant and animal matter to complete their diets.
These insects are experts at hunting down insect larvae, aphids, and caterpillars.
The social insects are also fond of honeydew left by aphids and nectar. Paper wasp species in America are excellent at hunting caterpillars.
Due to their active pest-hunting habits, they can be considered beneficial insects.
The larvae rely on animal leftovers that adult paper wasps bring to the nest, like chewed-up aphids and caterpillars.
Where Do Paper Wasps Live?
As mentioned above, these insects live in large wasp colonies. These wasps build a unique umbrella-shaped nest with a paper-like material.
Due to their capacity to build these nests, they are also called umbrella wasps.
These nests have various hexagonal cells and are hung from tree bark. The entire structure is connected to the tree by a petiole.
Also, since they actively hunt pests like caterpillars, you can find them in pest-abundant regions. At times, you might notice them flying around flowers, collecting nectar.
How Do Paper Wasps Make Their Nests
The paper constructs the umbrella-shaped nest using a mixture of wood fiber and saliva. The mixture creates a brown material that later becomes a paper-like substance.
The nest-building process is initiated by the queen, who emerges in the spring after overwintering.
She chooses an appropriate spot to build the nest and lays the eggs.
The wasps hatched from the eggs help to further grow the colony and build the nest.
The nest is hung from a solid surface, like tree bark, wall, stone, etc.
Life Cycle of A Paper Wasp
Like most insects, paper wasps undergo the four stages of metamorphosis: eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults.
The cycle starts in the spring when the queen emerges from her long winter hibernation. The fertile queen then searches for the ideal spot to build the nest.
Once she gets the right spot, she lays eggs, and the wasps hatched from these eggs work to make the colony and the nest bigger.
The newly hatched wasps are mostly workers who build the nest, collect food, and look after the larvae. By peak summer, the queen starts laying around 200 eggs per day.
She also constantly releases pheromones to keep the colonies together.
The nest is further expanded using wood pulp and saliva to accommodate the growing population.
By late summer, the wasp population in the colony reaches its peak. This is when the queen lays eggs that produce future queens.
The eggs also produce fertile males, which will later help to create new colonies.
By the arrival of autumn, the existing queen dies, and the wasps in the colony leave the nest to chase sugary food and sweet nectar.
The potential queens move to safe hibernating spots after mating with the fertilized males.
These future queens hibernate in a warm and safe spot throughout the winter before emerging in the spring and repeating the entire process.
Also, as winter approaches, the existing members of the colony die due to the cold and lack of food sources.
The others die in the cold weather because there is no food available.
How Long Do Paper Wasps Live?
As mentioned above, most paper wasps in the colony die by the early winter due to the cold and food scarcity.
However, the new fertile queens survive this winter by hibernating throughout the cold and emerging in spring to build a new colony from scratch.
These insects can die earlier if attached to humans or their potential predators.
Do They Bite/Sting?
Yes, these insects are the sworn enemies of garden pests, but are they harmful to us?
Unfortunately, yes, these insects have stingers and can deliver painful stings.
Therefore, it is best to keep your distance from a paper wasp or a paper wasp nest.
Are They Poisonous/Venomous?
These insects are not poisonous or venomous to humans. However, the bites can trigger allergic reactions in the body.
If you get stung by a paper wasp, seek immediate medical attention.
You will notice some swelling, redness, irritation, and inflammation around the area of the sting.
Do not be careless around these insects, and always wear safety equipment before touching them.
Are They Harmful or Beneficial to Humans?
Paper wasps are both harmful and beneficial to humans. The stings can cause excruciating pain and allergies.
But they can also be an excellent tool to help you get rid of garden pests naturally without using pesticides.
What Are Paper Wasps Attracted To?
Adult paper wasps are attracted to flower beds with brightly blooming flowers to satisfy their appetite for nectar.
They are also particularly attracted to the honeydew on leaves left by aphids.
Since they hunt pests like caterpillars, they prefer to be around areas with abundant prey.
How to Get Rid of Paper Wasps?
Paper wasp infestations can be a menace to deal with. The sight of these stinging insects buzzing around your house can be too much to handle.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help you get rid of paper wasp nests.
You can remove the paper wasp nests physically.
However, you must note that this method is quite dangerous and can get you hurt.
Before approaching the nest, wear all necessary safety equipment to avoid those nasty stings.
Use a broom or stick to topple the nest. Once it hits the ground, do not approach it for a while, as the wasps will attack you.
You can also use chemical repellents to drive these insects away from your home.
However, these repellents can be harmful to children. You can avoid using chemicals and build some homemade wasp traps to eliminate these insects.
The best way to remove a paper-wasp nest without getting hurt is to call professionals.
If you are scared of dealing with these insects, it is best to leave the heavy lifting to the experts.
Interesting Facts About Paper Wasps
Here are a few fascinating facts about paper wasps that you might have missed in the article:
- Adult female paper wasps are bigger than male paper wasps. Also, only the queen survives the cold winter months; the rest of the colony dies.
- Paper wasps were earlier called “European wasps” due to their abundant populations in the agricultural lands of Europe.
- European paper wasps may look a lot like yellow jacket wasps, but the latter are more aggressive and notorious for their stinging habits.
Paper Wasp Vs Yellow Jacket
It is quite a task to differentiate between a yellow jacket and a paper wasp. Both of these insects have yellow markings, are similar in size, and live in large wasp colonies.
However, if you look closely, you will notice the paper wasps are slightly leaner and larger. Also, yellow jackets have rounded, dark wings, and paper wasps have pointed, translucent wings.
While taking flight, the long hind legs of the paper wasp go behind the body.
One of the key differences between the two is the way they build their nests.
Yellow jackets build their nest underground in a pre-existing burrow or hole. The paper wasp constructs an aerially suspended nest on tree branches, walls, and stones.
A paper wasp nest has an upside-down umbrella shape, and a yellow jacket’s nest has one opening with multiple layers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Paper Wasp Vs Mud Dauber
Paper wasps and mud daubers are both types of wasps with distinct physical characteristics and nesting habits.
Paper wasps build hexagonal nests using wood pulp, while mud daubers construct cylindrical or tubular nests using mud.
Paper wasps are eusocial and live in small colonies, while mud daubers are primarily solitary. Both wasps feed on spiders and other insects.
Are paper wasps good to have around?
Paper wasps have stingers and can deliver painful stings, so it is best to keep your distance from them and their nests.
They are not poisonous or venomous, but their bites can trigger allergic reactions.
Paper wasps can be both harmful and beneficial to humans, as their stings can cause pain and allergies, but they can also help get rid of garden pests naturally without pesticides.
Always wear safety equipment before touching them.
What is the most aggressive paper wasp?
Red paper wasps are a social species that live in colonies and build their nests from plant and wood fibers. They are considered one of the most aggressive paper wasps.
They can be aggressive, and their stings cause pain, swelling, and itchiness.
It is recommended to avoid them, but if stung, apply ice and hydrocortisone cream. Those allergic to wasp stings should seek medical care immediately.
How do you treat a paper wasp bite?
In most cases, a wasp sting can be treated at home without medical care.
To treat a local skin reaction, wash the area with soap and water, apply ice, raise the affected body part, and consider taking an antihistamine or pain reliever.
If symptoms worsen, call 911. Home remedies include applying a meat tenderizer paste, baking soda paste, or a cool, wet tea bag to the sting area for 15-20 minutes.
Paper wasps are a large family of social insects that construct fascinating umbrella-shaped nests.
The nest material looks and feels like paper and is a mixture of wood pulp and saliva.
These insects are excellent at taking down pests like caterpillars, aphids, and more.
However, they are also notorious for stinging humans and causing excruciating pain. The stings can trigger allergic reactions in the body.
Use the information given in the article to stay safe from these insects. Thank you for reading the piece.
Paper wasps are strange, beautiful, and terrifying creatures that are actually harmless!
A lot of our readers have sent emails that show various families of these wasps.
Please go through them below and enjoy the sights!
Letter 1 – Brazilian Nocturnal Wasps
unidentified wasp nest? nocturnal wasps? dear Whats That Bug, I’m an American living in the Northeast of Brazil (near Fortaleza, Ceara) and am encountering all kinds of bugs Ive never seen before- a lot which i was able to identify using your site, thx. But after looking along while trying to identify a wasps nest that is in a pitanga (brazilian cherry tree) near our back door. As pictured its an unusual looking saucer like nest and all the wasps are covering its underside. I havent been able to get too close to get a good close up of one (just too darn many and dont want to risk getting swarmed) they seem to be about an inch long or so and blackish with amber wings? the only refernece to anything similar on the web indicated they might be nocturnal wasps? any idea what these guys are and if they are dangerous . generally we have a lot of wasps here that build smaller nests , potter, mud, paper, etc. and we let them be. These are different in their numbers, the nest I guess is about 10 inches across and it looks like its holding hundreds of these guys. Our inclination is to leave them alone but we dont want swarms outside our backdoor or a growing population if they are not beneficial. Perhaps you can help us i.d them. sincerely, R. Artiles hey WTB, just thought id send an update even though you may have not even looked at my email yet or thought it of interest enough to pursue– I believe we do have a nest of a wasp which IS primarily nocturnal- i have been seeing them on the windows at night- in the day they jus sit on that nest like in the photos and although i dont have a good close up picture of one yet . i think i have i.d’d them as the genus APOICA LEPELETIER .. if i get a good photo i’ll send it and you can tell me what you think. love the site, thx. Rodney. Hi Rodney, We are sorry we didn’t get to your original letter, but it arrived during our site migration. We agree that your Nocturnal Wasps are in the genus Apoica, but we are not certain of the species. Your photo looks similar to Apoica pallens, a species that we originally posted in a letter two and a half years ago.
Letter 2 – Panamanian Social Wasps: Apoica pallens
Question re wasps/bees I wonder if you can help with this request for identification. You can reply direct to Gillian but I’d be interested in the answer too. Nice site! Best wishes, Mel Hello Dr. Robertson, My name is Gillian Little and Duncan Sinclair has recommended you to me so that I can ask your assistance in identifying the attached photos taken recently in the rain forest in Panama. My daughter and I just happened upon them while digging up ants/fungus for her research. I would be delighted if you could tell me anything about them. I certainly have never seen anything like them before. In fact, we went back a few days later to find them still in the same configuration. Many thanks, Gillian Hi Gillian and Mel, What an interesting grouping of Social Wasps. What interesting coloration and what an interesting shape. The classic wasp-waist and the elongated abdomen are distinctive. We have never seen anything quite like this before. We suspect perhaps this configuration has something to do with the formation of a new colony and the protection of the queen, but maybe not. We are eager to begin our web research to see if we can uncover any information. We got instant gratification. Just typing in “wasps Panama” and doing a google search lead us to the very first site called Photo Gallery of Eusocial Paper Wasp Genera and Research run by Sean O’Donnell which identified this as “Apoica pallens. Wasps in this genus are unique in the Neotropics because they are nocturnal. In the day, the workers cluster on the nest surface, effectively forming an envelope over the brood with their bodies.” A subsequent Google search of the name Apoica pallens turned up a paper written by O’Donnell along with tree collaborators.
Letter 3 – European Paper Wasp Nest
Paper Wasp Nestlings Location: Chicago Ridge, IL July 24, 2010 1:29 pm Hi! There’s a sweet nest of paper wasps outside my back door. I’ve been taking pics and video of their nest building and activities, and I’m quite sure they’ve laid eggs, by their behavior, but I’m not sure what the specific deets are. I see glistening drops inside the nest, tiny, seed-like, yellow-rice grain bits (eggs?), and amber-colored, shiny ooze. Whatever could these things be? I’m guessing eggs, food/nectar, pupae/larvae, but I don’t know which is which, or who is who. Can you help me out? Thanks! Krissy K. Hi Krissy, Your Paper Wasps are European Paper Wasps, Polistes dominula. According to BugGuide, it is “An introduced species from Eurasia, often mistaken for a yellow jacket. First reported in North America by G.C. Eickwort in 1978 near Boston, Massachusetts. There are reports of it replacing native species of wasps in some areas (Bob Hammon, Colorado State U.)” BugGuide also indicates: “occurs throughout Eurasia; continues to expand North American range which is currently (2006) known to include northeastern US, Florida, Ontario, British Columbia, Washington to California and east to Colorado.“ The largest of the Paper Wasps in your photos is the queen and the others are the female workers. The cells of the Paper Wasp nest are used solely for the purpose of raising young, not to store food. The “yellow ricelike bits” you see are probably hatchling larvae and the fluids are food for the larvae. BugGuide indicates: “Larvae are fed chewed-up pieces of caterpillars and other insects caught by adults. The adults, like other paper wasps, feed on nectar from flowers and other sugary liquids.” We also found a Cirrus Image page on the European Paper Wasp that contains some interesting information and opinions. Yes, thanks! I was wondering about the eggs, and droplets of goo in the nest. Which bits are the eggs? What is that goo? Nectar to feed larvae? Larvae? The eggs themselves? If you can be of any help, I’d totally appreciate it! I haven’t been able to find pictures with descriptions of what is what inside the nest. We repeat, The “yellow ricelike bits” you see are probably hatchling larvae and the fluids are food for the larvae. The food would be chewed up insects. The eggs might be too small to see easily, though the workers would not supply food to unhatched eggs, so any cells with small particles but no “goo” would be eggs.
Letter 4 – Paper Wasps and Nest in Australia
Wasp Nest. Location: Nsw, Australia, Near the coast. December 2, 2011 3:02 am Hi. I thought you might like some pictures of what we’ve always called a paper wasp nest, although I don’t know if thats what they actually are. I was very frightened that they would fly at me and start stinging me every time the flash whent off. I hope you like the pictures. Thanks. Signature: Emma Hi Emma, Thank you for braving danger to take photographs of these Paper Wasps in the genus Polistes working on constructing their nest. Paper Wasps are not normally aggressive, however, they will defend the nest. We believe, based on photos posted to the Brisbane Insect website, that your wasps might be the Common Paper Wasp or Australian Paper Wasp, Polistes humilis. There is a page dedicated to the species on the Brisbane Insect website. Hi! I think the reason they didn’t attack me is because it was a rainy day. They seemed to be sleeping, they weren’t moving much. Thanks for letting me know what they are! I’ve found three nests around the farm already, without even looking very hard.
Letter 5 – European Paper Wasp Nest in Czech Republic
Subject: Friendly wasp nesting in my balcony Location: Prague, Czech Republic July 19, 2015 9:00 am Dear Bugman, I’d like to know what kind of wasp the one pictured in the attached photos is. Unlike the “common” wasp here in Europe, who is probably the most annoying insect on this planet, these not only keep to themselves, they even look afraid of humans as they clumsily fly away when I get close. The problem is that they’ve nested underneath my balcony table. Since they always keep their distance, I managed to convince my wife to leave them alone. I hate to harm any form of life. But she’s gonna freak out when she returns from her vacation and realizes that they are spreading and building new nests under the table. Besides the identification, do you know if: – These are known to bite easily? From my observations it does not seem to be the case as I’ve bumped into the table several times and passed really close to the nests causing several of them to fly out stunned and they never attacked. – Is there a product or any other way to “convince” them to move away without harming them? They are building new nests at the moment so I guess they could do it elsewhere if only my balcony table stopped being a welcoming place for them. Thanks in advance for the identification and any tip in helping my solve this problem without harming the wasps. Kind regards, Signature: Pedro Dear Pedro, This is the nest of the European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula, a common European species. To the best of our knowledge, this is not an aggressive species, but they may sting in an effort to protect the nest. According to Animal Diversity Web: “European paper wasps live in temperate and terrestrial habitats including chaparral, forest and grassland biomes. They reside in urban, suburban, and agricultural locations. They tend to reside close to human civilization because they nest in human structures. They also live in forests and on plants where they can feed and nest. When nesting, they choose spaces created by farm machinery and recreational structures. During winter, impregnated queens reside in protected locations such as within house walls or in hollow trees. These females then create nests in these locations or nearby at the beginning of spring.” According to Penn State Entomology: “Before 1981, the European paper wasp was not recorded in North America. In its native region, P. dominula is the most abundant paper wasp in those countries around the Mediterranean. It is also found in southern Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, and eastward into China. A highly successful colonizer, this wasp has rapidly increased its distribution in the United States during the past 20 years. Before the introduction of this new species, the northern paper wasp, Polistes fuscatus , was the most frequently encountered species in and around structures in Pennsylvania.” We cannot think of a feasible means of convincing them to move when they already have an established nest.
Letter 6 – Paper Wasp Nest from Guatemala and Hornet Nest from Guatemala
Subject: Are these bees? Are they dangerous? Location: Guatemala March 2, 2016 3:38 pm Hi, I have two types of bees (?) in my back patio. One type is big in size and just starting a nest, very slowly (they seem to take forever, it has been the same size for weeks) and I only see like 4 or 5 of them (see picture 1). The other type are much smaller but they have a much bigger nest (see picture 2). My question is the ones you see on picture 1, are they dangerous? They look a bit scary. Thanks! Signature: Danielle Dear Danielle, Your first image depicts the construction of a Paper Wasp nest, most likely a member of the genus Polistes. Like other social wasps, they will defend the nest from an intruder or attacker by stinging, but they are not considered aggressive. We tried to search species from Guatemala, and we found this image on ABC Wildlife that appears to be the same as your species, but there is no name provided. Here is a similar nest from our own archives. Your other nest appears to be a Hornet Nest.
Letter 7 – Nesting Paper Wasps
Subject: Not a mud dauber? Location: Tybee Island, Ga May 23, 2017 4:23 am This nest appeared in our windowsill a few weeks ago with 3 insects now there are more though the best has not grown much. My husband thinks it is a mud dauber but I don’t agree as the nest is not made of mud, we have a lot of mud dauber that do nest on the house. Any ideas of how we should handle it? Signature: Tybee resident Dear Tybee resident, You are correct that this is not a Mud Dauber Nest. Mud Daubers are solitary wasps and a single female constructs the nest. This is a Paper Wasp nest and the wasps are in the genus Polistes, but we cannot make out the species based on your image. Though they are not considered aggressive, Paper Wasps might sting in they perceive their nest to be threatened.
Letter 8 – European Paper Wasp Nest
Subject: Inside a European Paper Wasp nest Geographic location of the bug: Tonasket, WA Date: 01/22/2018 Time: 11:00 AM EDT Your letter to the bugman: I think I can only send one picture at a time. There’s 3. At the end of the hatching season, these1/2 dozen or so had a hole chewed in the top of their egg cell. None of the earlier eggs had this done to them. Don’t know if it was the baby or their mates that did it. About 2 weeks later the wasp emerged the same way as all the rest, by chewing the cap off from the inside and flipping it back like a Pez dispenser. They were next to my garden, and I had absolutely no bugs. Not good ones or bad ones. They are also very calm. I took tons of pictures and the only time they got excited was when the wind blew my hair into their nest. They didn’t chase me very far… lol. I know they eat the good as well as the bad, but that’s just nature. My moral dilemma here, is I know they are an invasive species. Any thoughts on whether or not they should be destroyed? How you want your letter signed: Cathy This is on 8-15-17, and I’m sending it because it looks like it has moved in there. I’m really close, 3 or 4 inches and on macro. Sorry it’s still blurred. None of the wasps cared I was there. It hatched a couple of days later. Dear Cathy, Thanks for sending in your images of the activity in a European Paper Wasp Nest. According to BugGuide: “First reported in North America in 1978 near Boston, MA” and “Replacing native wasps in some areas.” According to Colorado State University Extension: “The European paper wasp has already largely replaced the native species in much of the region. Some reasons for the competitive advantage to P. dominulus over our native paper wasps include:
- Earlier establishment of colonies in the spring, which allows it a competitive advantage in collection of early season prey. Early nest establishment also avoids some bird predation, and allows the production of early season workers to hunt for prey and protect developing larvae.
- The habit of using protected nesting sites provides protection from predation. The European paper wasp utilizes small holes and voids to make nests, which are sites the native species does not exploit to the same extent.
- The native paper wasps prey on caterpillars, while the European paper wasp capture a variety of insects from several orders. The varied diet of our new invader gives it a distinct advantage over the native species.
- European paper wasps reuse nests that have been abandoned for various reasons, while our native species do not reuse nests. European paper wasps have an advantage in being able to establish colonies more quickly than the native paper wasps.“
Letter 9 – Unknown Wasp from Trinidad and Tobago
Subject: pearly abdomen Location: trinidad and tobago August 20, 2012 11:16 am this guy is just hanging out on the wall in my staircase…what is it? Signature: danielle Hi Danielle, We have been away from the office for three days and email requests have really piled up. Identifying your wasp might take considerable research and we will have to return to that task. The photo and creature are amazing looking and we want to post it as unidentified for now. Hopefully one of our readers, who does not have several hundred emails to answer and make posts of the most interesting of them, can assist with the identification. Karl identifies Nocturnal Paper Wasp Hi Daniel and Danielle: It looks like a Nocturnal Paper Wasp (Vespidae: Polistinae), probably in the genus Apoica. As far as I can tell there are three species of Apoica in T&T (A. pallens, A. gelida and A. pallida). I am not sure which one this might be but it looks very similar to A. pallens, a species that occurs throughout much of Central and South America, and the Caribbean region. Regards. Karl Thanks Karl, As always, you are awesome and your contributions are greatly appreciated.