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 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.
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.
Where Are They Found?
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.
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?
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 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.
Are They Social or Solitary?
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 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?
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.
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.
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!
Paper wasps and mud daubers can be quite similar to each other, and a lot of our readers have written to us trying to check in as to who it is that is visiting their home or garden.
Read through some of the entertaining stories of their encounters with these bugs in the letter below!
Letter 1 – Paper Wasp in the Shower
Mystery Wasp in Shower
October 3, 2009
Greetings, bug people!
Well, last week a buddy and me were just sitting around hanging out on our day off. He got up to go use the bathroom and I heard him say from around the corner, “Uh…you’ve got a wasp in the shower……it’s looking at me…”
Naturally my curiosity had me heading to the bathroom…slowly, I might add…the red wasps have been crazy down here for the last couple months and I didn’t want to risk my friend seeing a grown man cry….
So anyway, I made my way to the bathroom and this is what I saw staring through the shower curtain at us. At first my brain said “red wasp!” just from the shape, but with closer inspection (once we determined it was apparently in a pretty docile mood) that was ruled out.
It almost reminds me of some of the hornets we have down here what with the yellow coloring and all, but I’ve never seen one built so delicately. Most of the hornets we have are more the “Don’t let the cat out or it’ll get carried off.” kind of hornet. This is built more like the reds but at the same time it’s got some dirt-dobber type features.
After staring at it point-blank for a while it was obvious he wasn’t too perturbed by our presence so I snapped a few pictures with my phone through the clear curtain. We caught him (first try! Heheheh) with a couple drinking cups, and he was put out into the back yard.
Sorry the picture’s a little blurry, as I said it was taken through a clear shower curtain with a cell-phone camera…my digital is currently in Alabama with the other half of my divorce….but anyway…
It’s hard to tell but the patch on the front of the head is light yellow, as are the joints where the middle set of legs meet the thorax. Never really got a good look at the dorsal side but there appeared to be some faint striping on the abdomen. Couldn’t tell you what the rest of him looked like, what’s in the picture is what I could see. I’ll admit I ran off like a pansy when he was released. I’ve caught and released many a bug in my life and I’ve noticed a trend…no matter how calm they may be sitting around in the house, most tend to be a bit agitated upon finding themselves being transported outdoors….and people wonder why I prefer fish. I might have grown up outside but I don’t like being stung any more than anyone else.
So long story short, flying insect in my bathroom, took picture, released it, we both ran away, everybody happy.
Thanks, bug people! More to come, I’m sure! 🙂
What a nice descriptive letter you have sent us. We believe this is a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes, and your comparison to the Red Wasp is well observed as the Red Wasp, Polistes carolina, is closely related. We are reluctant to attempt an exact species identification without a dorsal view, but we will see if Eric Eaton can assist in that area.
Hey, thanks for the timely reply! I know y’all are pretty busy so I appreciate the effort! 🙂
I see what you mean about the relation to the reds. I thought it was similarly built and now I know why.
On a fairly related note, down here we have two different wasps that we call “red wasps.” There are the red-tails and the black-tails (really it’s the abdomen color that varies but hang with me here). We have both varieties in great numbers, and even though we have to combat them constantly around my grandparents’ house due to the presence of young children we like to leave them alone when we find them elsewhere because, frankly, you won’t find a better way to fight cut-worms and horn-worms in the tomato patch than good-ol’ red wasps, and with the drop in the honey-bee population in the area over the last decade they have even taken up a large part of the pollination. Unfortunately all attempts at negotiating a settlement that would benefit both parties have ended in disaster and the wasps continue their attempts to colonize everything from the tool shed to the eves outside the front door.
Aaaaand I’ve gotten slightly off-topic….so anyway, whereas the black-tailed variety will generaly leave you alone if left alone in turn the red-tails are notably more aggr essive. Yeah, sure, they’ll give the usual warning hum by rapidly vibrating their wings if you get within about ten feet of the nest, which is great…..if you happen to be another insect and can detect such frequencies of sound! I’ve also noticed that the red-tails, unlike the black-tails, will often have two to five of their brethren patrolling an area around the nest within about twenty feet. It’s like a combat-air-patrol over an aircraft carrier! They’re smarter than we give them credit for….
The nests appear to be the same building style beween the two types, but I’ve noticed the red-tails tend to keep a small nest of three to four insects with maybe a dozen chambers whereas my grandfather and I have found black-tail nests that wouldn’t fit in his hat and were absolutely covered in wasps. I don’t know if this is just a natural trait or if it’s something the reds have adapted to counter the more aggressive stance we’ve taken against their species to keep them out of the yard. Small hard to find nests tucked away in tighter areas than the black-tails so that even if we do find the nest wiping it out will only get rid of one or two insects…..again….smarter than we give credit for.
Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me just because I do my share in the seasonal battle at my grandparents’ place. Like I said, we all know that they serve a vital role out on the farm and it’s only the nests around the house that we try to control. All us youngsters are educated on them (sometimes the hard way…say, behind the right earlobe for instance….) as early as possible. We actually have a handful of nests around my own house, both red and black-tails. I’ve let them be except for an incident with a nest of reds I literally walked right under without seeing until it was too late and have in turn been allowed to wander the yard freely. I think this is largely due to the two pear trees in the yard which both produced grandly this year. The wasps, both red and black-tail, absolutely LOVE the pears. Which doesn’t really surprise me because I had a couple of those pears myself and I have to say they were about the sweetest and juiciest I’ve had in my life. I can only imagine the energy burst they would give to an insect of that size. They seemed content to let me pass so long as I didn’t disturb their partaking of the grounded fruit. I tried repeatedly to get a picture of one doing its thing on a pear that a ‘possum had already started on but as you saw with the wasp in my shower my phone’s camera requires a subject of that size to be uncomfortably close and he just wasn’t having anything to do with me and my phone. After about the third try I ended up making a break for the house.
Anyway, I think I’ve taken up more than enough of your valuable time. Like I said, I=2 0appreciate the reply and so will Grandpa. He said he’d never seen a wasp like mine and he’s been down here since 1950….and he has seen some WEEEEEIIIRRRD stuff. He told me to let him know if I found out what it was and he’ll be proud his guess of “looks like it’s kin to a red wasp” was right on the money. If it’ll ever quit raining down here I’ll try to get out to their place and get some pictures for y’all. With summer being over the pickings will be a little slim, but I know some good places to look for stuff year around out there. I have GOT to get a new digital camera so I can stop trying to use this stupid little thing on my phone!
Again, thanks for the response! I’ve got another picture I want to send in but it’s in the eight-legged category and I’ll save it for later.
Have a good one, bug people!
Comment from Eric Eaton
Wow, Kris can really write an engaging and entertaining story! Plus, it is obvious he is very well educated and appreciative of the natural world. I’d love to meet him sometime….The wasp in the nice, clear image (camera phones must’ve come a long way lately) is a male paper wasp of some kind. I know it is a male by the square, yellow face, long antennae with hooked tips, and the blunt tip of the abdomen. So, no danger of getting stung because males do not have stingers! Females have dark, triangular faces and shorter antennae. At this time of year, paper wasp colonies are on the decline. Males are left to their own devices, and females are seeking places to hibernate for the winter (though in Alabama the winter might still be a ways off, like late November or so). Thanks for inviting me to read this, Daniel, it is very encouraging to see how intelligent, curious, and conservation-minded your readership is.
Letter 2 – Paper Wasps from Australia
Location: Hawkesbury, Sydney, Australia
December 4, 2011 5:19 pm
Wondering if you can identify this wasp. Sorry the picture is not too clear, but these are aggressive wasps and they’re deep in a fairly dense garden. I didn’t want to get any closer or move the bushes around in case I provoked an attack. The nest is in a geranium bush, but quite low to the ground and is around 8-10cm across. The wasps themselves are about 2.5-3cm long. My boyfriend was gardening there and was stung on the knee when he accidentally disturbed them. The sting was extremely painful and shortly afterwards he came over very hot for a while. The sting area was painful for about 2 weeks.
We are in the Hawkesbury region, a rural area about an hour out of Sydney.
These are Paper Wasps in the genus Polistes. They are not normally aggressive, but they will defend their nest. We just finished posting another submission of Paper Wasps from Australia.
Letter 3 – Paper Wasp rescued from the Kitchen Sink!!!
Subject: ugly pictures of a pretty wasp
Location: Catoctin Mountains, Maryland
December 12, 2012 1:43 pm
I accidentally dumped some water on this wasp in the kitchen sink. I scooped it out and let it dry off for a while before it could fly again and I put it outside. It stung me once on the wrist, which itches and doesn’t really hurt. I didn’t even notice until a few minutes afterward. What kind of wasp is this? Does it have a nest to go to? It’s very sleek and pretty, with kind of an amber body and big eyes with legs that are darker toward the body than they are on the end.
The general size and shape of this wasp looks like that of a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes, but we cannot be certain since your photo lacks clarity. In general coloration, it does resemble this photo of Polistes fuscatus from BugGuide. Paper Wasps are social wasps that build a nest with a papery texture from chewed wood. In colder climates, the workers die of in the winter and only the new queens hibernate. The nest is abandoned with the onset of cold weather and in the spring, the new queen begins a new nest and a new colony. Because of you kind deed, we are tagging your post with the Bug Humanitarian Award.
Aww, yay! Thank you. Sorry for the blurry photograph! It was a time-sensitive moment that required me to settle with my low-quality cell phone for a picture. I love the work you guys do. Your website has been my homepage for about 3 years and it remains one of my favorite places on the web.
Hi again Jenny,
We are happy to hear our website gives you such pleasure.
Letter 4 – Paper Wasps from Gambia
Subject: flies, stings and lives in groups in Gambia
December 11, 2012 2:26 pm
Hi, I took this pic in an outside storeroom, in an area called Sanchaba, near Serekunda, Gambia West Africa today, 12/12/12. It flies, stings very bad and lives in a kind on honeycomb style nest in a dark and would be damp place.
Signature: ginger badjie
Your photo lacks clarity, but these appear to be Paper Wasps. Paper Wasps are generally not aggressive, but like other social wasps, they will defend their nest.
Letter 5 – Paper Wasps
Subject: What kind of wasp is this
Location: Pensacola, Florida
September 24, 2013 12:56 pm
I found a couple of wasps nests around an old building and noticed two types of wasps. One type looked normal but the other type had very long wings. What type of Wasp is this
These are Paper Wasps in the genus Polistes. They are not considered dangerous, though we have been getting numerous reports of aggressive Red Wasps recently.
Letter 6 – Paper Wasp, presumably with a skinned caterpillar
Subject: What is she eating?
Location: Andover, NJ
May 27, 2014 12:27 pm
I was trying to get some shots of this paper wasp when I realized that it (she?) was eating or carrying something. I wasn’t able to get enough magnification in the image to determine what was in the wasps mouth, although it does look a little like a grub. The wasp eventually got tired of me taking pictures and took off with whatever it was still in its jaws. I’d be very interested in what was going on here.
It would be very difficult to identify the prey in your images conclusively, however, we can make an educated guess. Paper Wasps in the genus Polistes take nectar for nourishment, however, the workers do capture insects to feed to the developing larvae in the nest. Caterpillars are a favored prey of Paper Wasps, and when they are captured, the caterpillars are often skinned and rolled into a ball for easy transportation back to the nest. We feel strongly that the prey in your images is a Caterpillar.
Thank you! What a fascinating thing to observe. I thought it might be too early for them to be feeding larvae, but I guess it’s not. Very cool.
Letter 7 – Paper Wasp from Taiwan
Subject: Yellow wasp
Location: Taitung, Taiwan
August 14, 2014 8:34 am
This wasp was very busy getting nectar from the flowers on my dads tree, so I managed to get a few shots of it. I don’t know what kind of wasp it is, whether it’s dangerous or not. Either way, I left it alone after getting the photos.
This is a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes, but we are not certain of the species. We suspect that Paper Wasps in Taiwan behave much like Paper Wasps in other parts of the world. Some species are more aggressive than others, but solitary individuals gathering nectar do not pose much of a threat to humans. Paper Wasps are social wasps that build a nest, and they will defend a nest against a potential threat, so we would strongly urge people not to disturb the nest of a Paper Wasp. According to BugGuide, which deals with North American species: “Semi-social wasps. Unlike social (eusocial) wasps, where workers are sterile females, in Polistes all females are potential breeders. (See comments below for details.) Fertilized queens overwinter in crevices or under bark. In spring they build a nest and the colony builds up over the summer. At first, only workers (sterile females) are produced. Mature colonies have up to 30 adults. A young queen is the sole survivor of the colony. (I am presuming this queen disperses to find an unrelated male on flowers in the fall.)” BugGuide also notes: “Not as aggressive as Hornets, Yellowjackets. May be considered beneficial to gardeners because of predation on herbivorous insects.
Letter 8 – Paper Wasps
Subject: Stinging flying insect.
Location: Mesa Arizona
August 18, 2014 1:26 pm
I was stung today by these lovely little guys, when I went to insect identification and clicked Arizona, I however was at a loss to find them! The nest is smaller than a baseball and they’re probably only 1 1/2 inches in length (not that I got close enough to measure) I was wondering if you could help my figure out just who’s living in my hedge bush!
These are Paper Wasps in the genus Polistes, and they are social wasps that build nests. Generally, solitary wasps are not aggressive, but social wasps will defend the nest. With that said, Paper Wasps are not as aggressive as Yellowjackets or Hornets, but they will still defend the nest. We believe your individuals are Polistes flavus based on images posted to BugGuide.
Letter 9 – Paper Wasp on Goldenrod
Subject: paper wasp and goldenrod
Location: Troy, VA
September 23, 2016 12:28 pm
I thought you might like this for your goldenroad meadow. I believe the wasp is some kind of paper wasp. The goldenrod by my house is mostly attracting wasps. I haven’t seen much else on it so far
Signature: Grace Pedalino
Letter 10 – Paper Wasp: Polistes exclamans
Polistes exclamansSubject: What kind of wasp is this?
Location: Southern California
March 19, 2017 11:09 pm
I was recently in Whittier and noticed a wasp feeding off of some old wood bench. Interested, I decided to capture a video of the wasp and realize that it’s the exact kind of wasp I was stung by years ago as a child.
Every time I’ve searched for what kind of wasp this could be I come up with an overwhelming amount of varieties of wasps that leave me with no clear indication on this type of wasp.
I’ve never seen a different type of wasp in my life but just this one. I live in Southern California so it’s definitely a native wasp. Could you tell what kind it is?
This is a social Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes. Paper Wasps construct nests from chewed wood pulp, and it is safe to surmise that this individual is gathering pulp to add to a nest. Based on this and other BugGuide images, we feel confident that this is Polistes exclamans, a species described on BugGuide as having “Dark antennae with orange tips.”
Letter 11 – Paper Wasps on Goldenrod
Subject: Late Season Paper Wasps on Goldenrod
Geographic location of the bug: Campbell, Ohio
Time: 02:22 PM EDT
Daniel has been attempting to post as many of your identification requests as possible, but he has also been enjoying the mild October in Northeast Ohio where there has still not been a major frost. The insects are still active, and the night sounds still serenade. These two Paper Wasps in the genus Polistes were nectaring from late flowering Goldenrod.