Paper Wasp and Mud Dauber: 6 Ways to Tell Them Apart

In this blog, we look at the similarities and differences between paper wasp vs mud dauber.

Wasps have existed for 240 million years. Classified under the Hymenoptera order, they are often considered an insect variant between bees and ants, yet they are neither of them. 

Many wasp variants have similar appearances that make it difficult to identify them. It is especially harder since they are always on the move! 

Paper wasps and Mud Daubers are two such species with very similar bodies but different behavior patterns.

While both paper wasps and mud daubers belong to the Apocrita suborder, their family is different. 

Paper wasps are part of the Polistinae subfamily of the Vespidae family. The Mud Dauber belongs to the Apoidea superfamily of the Sphecidae or Crabronidae family.

What Do They Look Like?

Paper Wasp

Paper wasps can grow between ½ to ¾ of an inch and have a distinctive brownish coloration with yellow striations or markings. 

Some of them even have red bodies (especially Polistes Carolina and Polistes rubiginosus). 

These slender-bodied wasps have black wings accompanied by a pair of long antennae and legs.

Mud Dauber

Generally blackish colored, the Mud daubers adults can grow between ½ to 1 inch long, and they are usually bigger than paper wasps. 

Along with a pair of clear or dark grayish wings, these wasps have a distinctive ‘thread-waisted’ body. 

Mud daubers have a longer segment between the thorax and the abdomen, which makes it easy to set them apart from other wasps. 

Common mud daubers have a metallic blue or black body, but there are numerous species known to have yellow or greenish striations as well. 

Paper Wasp Vs. Mud Dauber
Mud Dauber

Where Are They Found?

Paper Wasp

Paper Wasps and other wasps belonging to the Vespidae family are known for using wood pulp to make their nest. 

The female wasps of this family combine wood fiber with their saliva to create a paper-like substance. 

They use this material to make hexagonal cells in open nests for the exclusive purpose of rearing their eggs and larvae. 

They usually attach the nest from the petiole of a plant or tree, which helps secure the nest. 

Once the nest is ready, the wasps secrete another chemical to help seal the anchor and prevent any ants or other predators from attacking the nest. 

Their nests are commonly found in caves, tree branches, and other dark and moist areas.

Paper Wasp Vs. Mud Dauber
Paper Wasp

Mud Daubers

Mud Dauber builds cylindrical or tubular nests using mud. Their nests are generally found hanging from walls, overhangs, cliffs, caves, barns, etc. 

They combine two to three cylindrical cell masses and attach them to overhanging areas. They cover these tubes with mud and soil to stop predators from detecting them. 

The Mud daubers’ nesting habit is unique because these insects are known for building nests in the exact location for years on end.

How Do They Make Their Nest?

Paper Wasp

The umbrella-shaped nests built by Paper wasps are composed of chewed wood pulp, combined with the wasps’ saliva. 

The pasty material formed is used to create cells or combs. These nests are unique because the saliva of the wasp makes them waterproof. 

Mud Dauber

Mud daubers prefer using clayish soil to make their nest, which is where their name comes from. They roll the clay into small balls and carry it to their nesting site. 

They shape these rolls into long tubes with sealed chambers using their saliva and mandibles. 

They then align multiple tubes (8 inches each in size) and line them side by side, and stuff each cell chamber with spiders.

These spiders are food for their larvae when the eggs hatch. Mud daubers can take anywhere between 3 hrs to 3 days to construct each nest.

Paper Wasp Vs. Mud Dauber
Mud Dauber

Are They Social or Solitary?

Paper Wasp

These wasps live in small colonies with not more than 100-200 insects. Their colonies consist of a single Queen wasp, several sterile female worker wasps, and male wasps.

Unlike other social insects, paper wasps are predominantly known for their eusocial character. Eusociality involves four main traits.

  • Adults living in groups
  • The entire colony cares for the brood.
  • Not everyone reproduces; some wasps spend their entire lives working
  • Several generations can be living together in the same nest

Mud Dauber

Mud dauber females often repeatedly rebuild their nest in the exact same location. 

However, most scientists agree that this does not classify them as social insects. 

Mud daubers are primarily solitary insects that prefer living alone instead of in colonies. 

What Do They Eat?

Paper Wasp

Adult paper wasps feed on honeydew, nectar, and other sweetened substances. They are also seen chewing caterpillars and spiders. 

However, they do not eat insects. Instead, after the eggs hatch in the nest, the larvae feed these half-chewed insects collected by worker wasps from the colony.

Paper Wasp Vs. Mud Dauber
Paper Wasp

Mud Dauber

Mud daubers are beneficial insects used as a natural pest control. They are particularly known for their love for spiders. 

They prey on arachnids and paralyze them only to carry them to their nest to feed the larvae. 

Adult mud daubers feed on nectar and other sweet substances such as honeydew.

Who is More Aggressive?

Unless provoked, most wasps prefer staying away from larger predators. However, if compared, the Paper wasp is far more aggressive than the Mud dauber. 

What makes paper wasps more dangerous is their social nature. They are known for their excruciating sting. These wasps are territorial, and it is best to avoid them. 

Mud daubers can also give a painful sting if provoked, but the sting is not as painful as a wasp.

Paper Wasp Vs. Mud Dauber
Paper Wasp

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a mud dauber sting worse than a wasp?

No, a mud dauber sting is not as painful as the sting of other wasps, such as yellow jackets. 
Some wasps tend to sting and bite at the same time, thus causing double the intensity of pain. 
All female wasps have stingers, so it is best to maintain a safe distance from them.

Why do they call them paper wasps?

The wasps are named so because of the signature nests made using a paper-like substance. 
The substance comes from combining wood fiber with their saliva. They build these nests for laying eggs. 
They scrape wood and chew it to form pulp, which they use in the making of the nest. 
Interestingly, humans seem to have learned the art of making paper from wood through these wasps.

Can mud daubers harm you?

Mud daubers are not aggressive insects. However, if they are threatened or provoked, they can sting. 
The venomous sting is primarily used to paralyze spiders and other insects, but they do not have any life-threatening consequences on humans. 
Their sting is often quite painful and its effects can last for a few hours.

How do you get rid of paper wasps?

While the easiest solution is physically breaking and destroying the wasp nest, sometimes over-the-counter insecticide chemical sprays can also be an effective solution to eradicate paper wasps. 
If the nest is bigger, it is best to hire professionals.

Don’t Break Their Nests

Be it mud daubers or paper wasps; these bugs build nests in dark and hidden corners and crevices. 

As long as they are not causing a major nuisance, these insects should be left alone with their devices. They are excellent pest controllers and are a big help to gardeners. 

Thank you for reading!

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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3 thoughts on “Paper Wasp and Mud Dauber: 6 Ways to Tell Them Apart”

  1. I live in SoCal and noticed half a dozen of them just sitting next to each other on the wooden garage door frame while one of them was building a nest. Wondered why the others weren’t building and just sitting there. Now thanks to your post I know they were eating my garage door frame and I feel much better for killing them with a white wasp killer spray they recommended me at Walmart 🙂 Took a picture that I can email you if you like.

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