Paper wasps are fascinating insects known for their unique open, grey paper nests often found under structures like porch ceilings, window sills, or overhangs. While these insects play a beneficial role by preying on pests that plague our yards and gardens, they can also pose a risk to humans due to their territorial nature and potential to sting when disturbed. As a result, it may become necessary to remove a paper wasp nest, especially if it’s situated near high-traffic areas of your home.
Safety is paramount when dealing with paper wasps, so proper precautions should be taken before attempting nest removal. Wearing protective clothing such as long sleeves, pants, and a hat can help minimize your risk of being stung. It’s also essential to choose an appropriate insecticide to eliminate the wasps before physically removing the nest. Opting for an aerosol insecticide specifically labeled for “hornets or wasps” will improve the chances of successful extermination.
Paper wasp nest removal can be a delicate process, so it’s crucial to know when and how to approach the task. For instance, treating the nest during evening hours can reduce wasp activity, making it easier to get close without alerting the insects. Remember that wasps can be attracted to light sources, so avoid using flashlights during removal. By considering the pros and cons of different insecticides and taking the necessary safety precautions, you can ensure a successful and safe paper wasp nest removal experience.
Understanding Paper Wasp Nests
Appearance and Structure
Paper wasp nests have a distinct appearance. They are:
- Made of a grey papery material
- Shaped like an umbrella
- Comprised of open hexagonal cells, resembling a honeycomb
The nests are built by a queen wasp, who creates the papery material by mixing dead wood and plant material with her saliva. A single queen will build, maintain, and lay eggs in the nest, while her offspring function as workers.
Habitat and Nesting Sites
Paper wasps tend to build their nests in specific locations:
- Under eaves and overhangs
- Window sills and porch ceilings
- Tree limbs and shrubs
- Attics of garages, barns, and sheds
- Small cavities in building walls
- Within metal gutters and poles
- Under outdoor furniture
These nesting sites are often close to human activity, but out of direct sunlight and protected from weather.
Common Species in North America
There are several common species of paper wasps in North America. Some of these include:
- Polistes exclamans (Brown paper wasp)
- Polistes fuscatus (Black paper wasp)
- Polistes carolina (Carolina paper wasp)
- Polistes dominula (European paper wasp)
Each species may vary in color, patterns, and size. To identify a specific species, it is helpful to observe the markings and behaviors of the wasps.
|Polistes exclamans||Brown||Medium||Southern and Eastern U.S. regions|
|Polistes fuscatus||Black||Medium||Northern U.S. and Canada|
|Polistes carolina||Brown/Red||Large||Southeastern U.S.|
|Polistes dominula||Black/Yellow||Small||Throughout North America|
Remember, paper wasps can be beneficial insects as they prey on other pests. However, their nests can pose a hazard if too close to human activity. Always exercise caution when dealing with paper wasp nests.
The Life Cycle of Paper Wasps
From Eggs to Adult Wasps
The life cycle of paper wasps starts with eggs. Queens lay these in their umbrella-shaped nests, made by chewing wood into a pasty pulp1. Eggs hatch into larvae, which develop into pupae and eventually transform into adult wasps2.
- Life stages: Egg → Larva → Pupa → Adult
Role of Queens, Workers, and Drones
- Queens: Reproduction
- Workers: Nest care, nursing
- Drones: Mating
Winter Survival and New Colonies
In spring, surviving queens establish new colonies and the cycle continues8.
- Fertilized queens only
- Seek shelter in protected locations
Paper Wasps vs. Similar Stinging Insects
Comparing Physical Traits
Paper wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets are all stinging insects that can be easily confused. Some key differences in their appearance:
- Paper wasps: Slender body, long legs, reddish-brown or black with yellow markings 1.
- Yellow jackets: Short, segmented body, black and bright yellow markings 2.
- Hornets (including bald-faced hornets): Larger, robust body, usually black and white or black and yellow markings 3.
Here’s a comparison table:
|Paper Wasp||Slender||1.9 – 3.2cm||Reddish-brown or black with yellow markings|
|Yellow Jacket||Short||1.2 – 1.8cm||Black and bright yellow markings|
|Hornet||Robust||2.5 – 5.5cm||Black and white or black and yellow markings|
The nesting habits of these insects differ significantly:
- Paper wasps: Build grey, open-celled paper nests in sheltered locations 4.
- Yellow jackets: Construct underground nests with a single entrance 5.
- Hornets (including bald-faced hornets): Create large, enclosed paper nests in trees, bushes, or buildings 6.
While these stinging insects can be found in various habitats, some preferences are evident:
- Paper wasps: Favor gardens and areas near human dwellings for building nests 7.
- Yellow jackets: Often occupy urban and wooded areas, nesting in cavities and holes 8.
- Hornets: Prefer high locations like trees, bushes, or building exteriors for nesting 9.
The Role of Paper Wasps in the Ecosystem
Pollination and Pest Control
Paper wasps play a significant role in the ecosystem. They contribute to the process of pollination by transferring pollen around as they visit various plants and trees for nectar. For example:
- Visiting flowers of fruit trees like apple and cherry trees, helping with their fertilization.
Additionally, they are excellent natural pest control agents, as they prey on pests such as caterpillars and flies which damage crops, gardens, and green spaces. Examples of pests they control include:
- Caterpillars that infest vegetable gardens
- Flies that damage fruits and foliage
Encouraging Beneficial Wasps in Your Garden
It’s essential to attract beneficial wasps to your garden to reap the advantages of their pollination and pest control capabilities. Some tips to encourage them include:
- Planting nectar-rich flowering plants, like wildflowers and herbs
- Avoiding the use of harsh chemical insecticides that can harm them
- Providing shallow water sources for hydration and nest materials (like wood fibers) for their ground nests
Here’s a comparison table of the pros and cons of having paper wasps in your garden:
|Improved pollination, leading to higher crop yields||Potential risk of stings if nests are disturbed|
|Natural pest control, reducing the need for chemicals||May compete with other beneficial insects|
In conclusion, paper wasps contribute positively to the ecosystem by promoting pollination and providing natural pest control in gardens. Attracting beneficial wasps can help improve the health of your garden while reducing the need for chemical pest control methods. Just remember to be cautious around their nests and wear protective clothing if necessary to prevent unwanted stings.
Dangers Associated with Paper Wasps
Severity of Stings and Allergic Reactions
Paper wasps can deliver painful stings which contain venom. When stung, some individuals may experience:
- Redness and swelling
- Localized pain
In severe cases, people who are allergic to wasp stings can experience:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the throat and face
- Anaphylactic shock
Ensure to seek medical help if severe reactions occur.
Defensive and Aggressive Behavior
Paper wasps can be both defensive and aggressive when their nest is threatened. They often attack to protect their colony.
Some common situations where paper wasps become dangerous include:
- Disturbing the nest
- Presence near their water source
- Blocking vents leading to the nest
Using insecticides or proper precautions like wearing a mask, long-sleeved shirt, and protective gear can help reduce the likelihood of stings during wasp nest removal.
DIY Paper Wasp Nest Removal
Approaching and Inspecting the Nest Area
Before beginning the removal process, carefully observe the nest area from a safe distance. Identify the active nest by noting the presence of worker wasps, usually built under porch ceilings, windows or sheltered locations. To reduce the risk of stings, approach the nest when wasps are less active, such as during the early morning or late evening.
Choosing and Implementing Removal Methods
There are several DIY methods to consider for removing paper wasp nests:
- Spray method: Apply an aerosol wasp spray from a distance of 15 to 20 feet, targeting the nest and surrounding area.
- Physical removal: Using a broom or pole, knock down the nest while wearing proper safety gear.
- Water hose: Direct a strong stream of water at the nest from a safe distance using a garden hose.
|Spray||Quick and effective||May require chemical application|
|Physical||Non-chemical method, more control over removal||Risk of stings, may require ladder|
|Water hose||Non-chemical, less direct contact with nest||May damage garden or shrub|
Safety Precautions and Protective Gear
When attempting DIY nest removal, use the following safety precautions:
- Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved collared shirt, long pants, shoes, socks, gloves, and a hat.
- Avoid standing directly under the nest during removal.
- Do not use a flashlight, as wasps may be attracted to light.
After removing the nest, dispose of it in a sealed container and clean the area to discourage future nesting. If you’re uncertain about any part of the process or facing a larger or difficult-to-reach nest, consider hiring a professional to ensure a safe and effective wasp nest removal.
When to Call a Pest Control Professional
Reasons to Seek Expert Help
- Allergic to wasp stings: If you or a family member is allergic to wasp stings, it’s crucial to contact a pest control professional for wasp nest removal.
- Hard-to-reach locations: Nests might be located in attics, building overhangs, or other difficult-to-access areas, requiring expert assistance1.
Selecting the Right Pest Control Service
When choosing a pest control service, consider the following factors:
- Experience: Look for a company with a history of successfully handling paper wasp nest removals.
- Services offered: Ensure the company specializes in wasp nest removal and not just general pest control.
- Reviews: Check customer reviews to gauge the quality of their services.
Comparison of DIY vs. Professional Wasp Nest Removal
|DIY Removal||Professional Removal|
|Might save you some money||More expensive than DIY|
|Potentially dangerous, especially for those with allergies||Safer, particularly for those with allergies|
|Requires necessary equipment and tools||Professionals come equipped with necessary tools and experience|
|Risk of incomplete removal||Assurance of effective and complete removal|
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Paper Wasp
What kind is this?
What kind of hornet/bee/whatever is this?
This is a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes.
Letter 2 – Paper Wasp Nest
European Paper Wasps on their nest
I took this picture of the paper wasps while golfing. They had decided to make their home on the underside of the railing around the mid-course restroom. Grubs are clearly visible in some of the cells of the nest.
Thanks for sending in your photo.
Hi there, I am a paper wasp researcher, currently working on introduced populations of Polistes dominulus across the US, and I found your site while doing a web search. On your site you have a couple of photos of this species. These are also P. dominulus, not yellow jackets. The first indication is the single, open-combed nest (yellowjackets enclose their multiple combs in a paper envelope), but also notice the brown antennae and slender bodies. I hope you don’t mind my unsolicited comments! The photos on your site are a great resource, and I thank you.
Letter 3 – Paper Wasp
Subject: Two different bugs
Location: Upstate SC
May 28, 2014 5:10 am
We went on a little hike in a nearby wetlands area and along our way we found two interesting bugs. One of them looks like a kind of wasp to me, the other one is completely new to me! I’m curious what they are, especially the one with the long stinger for a nose? Thanks for helping out!
Signature: Joyce H.
We have already written back that you submitted images of a Bee Fly and a Paper Wasp. We are posting your image of the Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes. It appears it might be chewing on that weathered wood to make paper pulp for the construction of its nest. Paper Wasps make nests of chewed wood pulp, creating chambers for raising young. The nest has a queen and the colony survives for a single season. Based on its coloring and markings and its resemblance to this image on BugGuide, this might be a Northern Paper Waps, Polistes fuscatus, which despite its common name, ranges as far south as Florida.
Letter 4 – Mason Wasp re-purposes Paper Wasp Nest
Subject: Mason wasp? Very cool nesting! (pics)
Location: Austin, TX
June 5, 2015 6:12 pm
Last year on my patio popped up a large paper wasp nest and family. I let em stay because they were never aggressive and far enough away. I never bothered knocking the nest down, and then one day this spring I saw something interesting. There was a wasp returning to the nest. I looked closer and saw it was packing mud in the holes…hmm? It looked really similar to a regular Texas paper wasp, but a little different.
After it left I looked closer and saw a mud packed hole and another she was working on. Inside it looked like little gray and green tree caterpillars/worms. Very cool! During the next weeks/month it made more nests, quite efficient compared to the standard mud pods we see. Also during this time I noticed that the numerous smaller and new for the season paper wasp nests died off, except for one lone wasp now. I would find dead paper wasps 1 or 2 a day on the patio, and eventually their little nests were cut down/disappeared one day.
Today I looked at it, and most of the little mud “caps” were open, and there happened to be a wasp that just emerged hanging there. Wings are small so it can’t have been out too long. Snapped some pics!
Not much of a bug nerd, but I sound like it now! Just found this really interesting and couldn’t find anything about this on the internet at all. On your site here and google, looks like a mason wasp possibly? Ever heard of this behavior?
It is our understanding that Paper Wasps do not reuse nests, and we have not heard of any mud nesting wasps using abandoned Paper Wasp nests, nor has our internet research turned up anything in our initial search. We wish you had a better image of the “recycling” Wasp. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to add some information. We will also try to contact Eric Eaton to see if he can provide any information.
Eric Eaton Confirms Mason Wasp
Phil is correct. This is a mason wasp of some kind. Many kinds of solitary bees and wasps will use pre-existing cavities as nests, including old mud dauber nests, and, at least occasionally, abandoned paper wasp nests.
Yeah it was hard to get a good angle and keep my arms perfectly still being high up. I did see one return to the nest yesterday, but it fly off before I could snap a pic. Looks like another one hatched too. Looking at more pics on google, I see some that look very similar to a kind of Mason wasp:
Letter 5 – Paper Wasp
Subject: Weird wasps?
Location: Southwest Saskatchewan , canada
October 9, 2015 1:31 pm
I had 5 of these turn up betweeny screen and window. I live in southwestern Saskatchewan, Canada. It is early October. The window is a full on southern exposure. I just want to know if these are wasps? Do they sting? Where do they come from?
Signature: Steph stuart
This is a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes and it came from another mated Paper Wasp that laid eggs. Paper Wasps are a social species that constructs a nest from chewed wood and bark and we suspect the nest may be in the eaves near the window. Paper Wasps may sting to defend the nest, but they are not typically an aggressive genus. Based on this BugGuide image, we believe your Paper Wasp is Polistes aurifer.
Thanks a lot. I’m going to have a look and see if I can find the nest. If it is under the 2nd storey eaves and they aren’t aggressive I may just leave them alone.
Letter 6 – Paper Wasp
Location: Chandler AZ
June 7, 2016 5:52 pm
curious about the 3 dots on the head.
This is a great site and I want to thank you for all your effort.
This is a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes, and we believe it most closely resembles Polistes aurifer which is pictured on BugGuide. Though the article is talking about bees, The Honey Bee Guide has a good explanation of the three simple eyes at the top of many insects’ heads: “The three other eyes are called simple eyes or ocelli. They are at the top of the bee’s head in a triangular pattern and are very small. These eyes don’t see images but can detect light, especially changes in light. The ocelli help bees escape danger because if something is swooping down to eat them, the shadow created by the predator alerts the bee that something is wrong and gives it time to fly away. The compound eyes together with the ocelli make it very hard to sneak up on a bee.” Just FYI: This will probably be our last response to an inquiry for the next week as we will be away from the office, returning on June 17.
Letter 7 – Paper Wasp Nest
Subject: Mystery Nest thing
Location: Oklahoma, USA
August 13, 2017 11:02 pm
This is up above out back doorway and I cant find it anywhere on google or anywhere! Mum thought it was a birds nest…
This appears to be the nest of a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes. The individuals in your image look very dark, leading us to believe they might be Polistes metricus which is described on BugGuide as “Very dark–abdomen is black and the thorax dark reddish-brown with black lines. Tibiae and tarsi are yellow.” Based on BugGuide data, the species is reported from Kansas. Of the genus, BugGuide notes: “Not as aggressive as Hornets or Yellowjackets. Often build nests under eaves. May be considered beneficial to gardeners (feed on herbivorous insects).”
Letter 8 – Paper Wasp
Geographic location of the bug: Adelaide Australia
Time: 03:33 AM EDT
Hi I’m just wondering if you can tell me what bug this is theres little things like this all over the outside of house
How you want your letter signed: Email
This is a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes, possibly Polistes humilis, based on this Atlas of Living Australia posting.
Letter 9 – Paper Wasp
Subject: Polistes flavus
Geographic location of the bug: Tucson, Arizona
Time: 4:27 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: P.S.
You might be interested in the attached photo of Polistes flavus “walking on water.”
Kathy is always rescuing waterlogged honeybees, but she photographed these wasps landing on the surface of the pool, taking a drink, then flying off over the house. ID has been confirmed by the folks on the Southwestern Arthropods Facebook page.
How you want your letter signed: Julian P. Donahue
Letter 10 – Paper Wasp Nest in Australia
Subject: Mud Wasps?
Geographic location of the bu: Sadleir NSW
Time: 09:27 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi the wasps in the pic are living on my clothes line can u please tell me if they are mud wasps n what kind? Also if they are aggressive how can i remove them in a manner safe for me and them?
How you want your letter signed: Yours Sincerely Lori Jenkins
This appears to be a Paper Wasp nest, probably from the genus Polistes. According to the Brisbane Insect site: “There are different species of Paper Wasps. Those wasps in genus Polistes build inverted mushroom-shaped. They build rather small paper combs nest suspended from a peduncle and not surrounded by an envelope. … They are dark brown in colour with yellow bends on dark brown abdomen. The thorax is black in colour with yellow ‘V’ markings. Their faces are yellow with large compound eyes.” Your image is rather dark and lacking detail, so we would not rule out the genus Ropalidia which is also pictured on the Brisbane Insect site. Paper Wasps are social wasps that will defend the nest against attack by stinging, and some species might be more aggressive than others, but when they do not feel the nest is threatened, they are quite docile.
Letter 11 – Paper Wasp Nest
Subject: Paper Wasps
Geographic location of the bug: Chesapeake, VA
Time: 10:01 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi Bugman!
Some resourceful paper wasps have taken advantage of the gap in the screen of our daughter’s bedroom window. She was initially afraid of them but we are using the nest as a teaching tool since they’ll likely be gone once winter hits. The nest has really grown since they moved in, and it’s so interesting to watch. She is four and loves the “bugs that make the paper”.
It’s interesting to see their antennas reach toward the window when we open the blinds, but beyond that, they don’t seem to be phased by our presence.
How you want your letter signed: S Reyman
Dear S Reyman,
Thanks for sending in your image of a Paper Wasp nest and your plan for using its development as a teaching tool. We believe these are introduced European Paper Wasps which are pictured on BugGuide.