Discover 19 Types of Wood-Eating Wasps

If you leave your wooden furniture outdoors in the spring, chances are you will find it scratched, or it may have small holes in it. There are wasps that eat the wood in the world, so let us learn all about them today.

Do wasps eat wood? Some of them do. Surprised? We were too!

Well, technically, they don’t eat it. They use it to make their nests. Moreover, not all wasps do this.

Mud daubers specifically make their nests in the mud and have nothing to do with damaging your wooden furniture.

So which wasps eat wood, and how do they make nests out of it? Let’s find out.

19 Wasps That Eat Wood: Helpful Information

What Do Wasps Eat In The Wild?

Despite their ability to sting and paralyze prey, adult wasps only eat nectar from flowers or other naturally occurring sugary things like honeydew from aphids and other insects.

Adult wasps don’t live very long. They don’t need a lot of nutrition like protein to survive. They load up on carbs so they can fly around, going from one flower to another.

Their stingers disable prey, which they then use as live food for their larvae. They build elaborate nests with many chambers, each one for one egg and an insect or two to eat.

When the larvae come out, they munch away on what the mother has provided and then pupate to come out as adults.

But if they only eat sugary substances, why do some wasps seem to be eating wood? We answer this in the next section.

What Kind of Wasps Eat Wood?

Potter and mason wasps are typically the culprit when your external wood furniture starts getting cuts, scrapes, and little holes in them.

However, their reputation is ill-informed because these wasps don’t actually eat the wood – they are using it to make their homes.

Some of them will live inside the little holes they make in wood, while others carry the wood chips back to their nests.

These wasps are from the Vespidae family but belong to a separate subfamily (Eumeninae) as compared to many other wasps that are also part of the same family.

Other families of wasps include Sphecidae or Crabronidae, which include the commonly visible mud daubers. 

As the name suggests, mud daubers make externally visible mud nests (they look somewhat like organ pipers), laying their eggs and putting in food for when the larvae come out. 

Potter and mason wasps build their nests in mud pots, usually in a hole in the wall or a crevice between tree bark.

Another difference between potter and mason wasps and mud daubers is that while the former prefer to provision their nests with caterpillars and other insects, the latter prefers spiders.

19 Wasps That Eat Wood: Helpful Information

19 Wasps That Eat Wood (or Rather, Make Their Homes With It)

There are two main varieties of wasps under the potter and mason category: paper wasps and yellow jackets. We cover the main wasps in each of these types below.

Dark Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus)

These wood-boring wasps live in woodlands and savannas, so they have a steady supply of wood all around them to make their homes.

Also known as the northern paper wasp, they are present across North America. Dark paper wasps live in a complex social structure with a dominant queen and a well-defined hierarchy.

These wasps grow between 0.6 to 0.8 inches and are black or brown with yellow coloration. They have a constricted waist and hang their long legs below their bodies as they fly. 

File:Northern Paper Wasp - Polistes fuscatus, Meadowood Farm SRMA, Mason Neck, Virginia - 30947768803.jpg
Source: Judy GallagherCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Males of this species often have long and curled antennae. Females have stingers and can leave a painful bite.

Northern paper wasps make their homes out of paper created by chewing up wood and other vegetation to create pulp.

Red Paper Wasp (Polistes Rubiginosus)

Polistes Rubiginosus create their nests in hollow trees, buildings, or under wooden platforms. They chip away at the wood to make their homes.

These wasps are part of two sister species, the other being P. Carolina. They are found all over the Eastern United States, in states such as Maryland, northern Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Kansas, central Illinois, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Texas.

File:Paper Wasp - Polistes carolina or rubiginosus, Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest, Felda, Florida.jpg
Source: Judy GallagherCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These insects are eusocial, which means they have the highest level of complexity in their society. 

Their colonies have well-defined hierarchies, each colony can have multiple generations living in them, and the whole nest collectively looks after the young.

They are rust-colored and have several black or brown markings all over their bodies, which include a big spot around the eyes. Typically, they grow between 0.7 – 0.85 inches in size. 

Apache Paper Wasp (Polistes apachus)

The apache wasp makes its nests in wooded orchards and vineyards, and it prefers grasslands and mesquite rather than woody areas.

In some cases, they might also make nests near human habitations.

These wasps make huge nests with up to 320 cells at a time. The nest has a single layer and an umbrella-like shape, with the cells open to air at the bottom.

Unlike other wasps, their nests don’t have a wrapping of paper around them.

This wasp can be found in many states of the US and Mexico but most commonly in California.

File:Polistes apachus - drinking from puddle in Woodward County, OK, USA, photo by CalinsDad 25 Jul 2018.jpg
Source: CalinsDad, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

It is an aggressive wasp and is infamous for attacking farm labor during harvesting season. 

It usually prefers to build its nests under the eaves of buildings or in attics when living among human populations.

These wasps have dull-colored antennae and alternating yellow or black strips on their abdomen.

Fine-backed Red Paper Wasp (Polistes carolina)

This is the sister species to Polistes Rubiginosus, the coarse-backed variety, and shares many similarities with them.

P. Carolina makes its nests from wood by chewing it and adding saliva to create something very similar to paper. They also have umbrella-shaped nests with a honeycomb structure of cells inside them.

They often hide their nests in hard-to-find places, such as inside tree cavities, but sometimes can live among humans as well.

They are found mostly around the Eastern United States, from Texas to Nebraska. These wasps can grow to be 0.6 to 1 inch in length and share the same reddish-brown color as their coarse-backed sister species.

Fine-Backed Red Paper Wasp

Guinea Paper Wasp (Polistes Exclamans)

The Guinea paper wasp makes its nests by chewing wood fibers to create paper. They don’t have an outer coating of paper on the nests like many others. Each nest has a honeycomb structure and can house up to 500 cells.

These wasps can be found in many places across the US, Mexico, Jamaica, Canada, and the Bahamas. They have a eusocial society with a strong hierarchy and several well-defined stages of life.

These wasps can come in many colors, but they almost always have a bit of yellow on their bodies (but not wings).

Hunter’s Little Paper Wasp (Polistes dorsalis)

Hunter’s Little Paper Wasps are another species of paper wasps with a strong societal structure and nests made out of wooden fibers shaped into paper.

These wasps can be found all across North America and typically make their nests very near to the ground. They build nests in places that offer shelter.

The species has a characteristic v-marking on its forehead in yellow, which is present in both males and females.

There are two varieties of these wasps based on their behavior: the first one exhibits swarming behavior, and may have several foundress wasps, while the other one has individual nests and are not very social.

Golden Paper Wasp (Polistes aurifer)

The Golden paper wasp has been found in many locations across Canada, US and Mexico.

There are multiple color patterns on these wasps, depending on where they live. The wasps near the north often have a black color with yellow markings, but the southern ones are almost wholly yellow-colored. Some populations in Mexico and Southern America may also be rust-colored.

Golden paper wasps are also eusocial with a rigid societal structure. They like to make their nests in places hidden from sight. 

While they can be found almost the entire year in the south, they are only active during the spring and summer months in the north.

Ringed Paper Wasp (Polistes annularis)

These paper wasps are found in the eastern parts of the United States. They are larger than most of their cousins and usually are of red and black color. They are also known as Spaniard wasps.

This is one of the few wasps that eat other insects also, apart from feeding on nectar. They make their nests overhanging on water bodies and often make them clustered together with many nests around each other.

They also set up the nests in trees and sheltered corners or buildings. Their nests are quite large and can house as many as 500 cells.

Polistes annularis can survive winters, unlike many other wasps. It even stores honeydew and nectar in preparation for winter.

Its principal predators are ants, but birds are also known to knock off their nests. If the nest is too close to the ground, raccoons might also have a go at them.

File:Polistes annularis P1280186a.jpg
Source: xpdaCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Metric Paper Wasp (Polistes metricus)

Another wasp native to North America, it can be found in the south, easy and midwest regions of the United States.

Like many of its sister species, these wasps live in eusocial patterns with mating competition and nestmate discrimination. 

Their nests are often the site for other species of paper wasps to cohabit and are reusable across seasons.

These are intelligent wasps that decide how to fly from their nest depending on how far they have to go. If going somewhere close, they will fly straight, but if going afar, they will fly up high.

These wasps prefer to make their nests in places where they can get shelter from water and lighting. You might find some of them in barns and sheds and on the undersides of eaves in human homes.

These wasps are dark red in color with the black abdomen and red markings over their bodies.

European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula)

This is a very commonly found type of wasp. It also lives in eusocial nests and is one of the few wasps that feed on things other than nectar, namely insects like caterpillars.

In the European paper wasp colonies, only a few wasps lay eggs, while the worked wasps do not lay any eggs. Their job is only to forage for food.

A dominant queen can, however, be removed from the nest by a challenger queen.

Their ability to eat insect prey makes these wasps more versatile and can easily fit in any environment, even during a shortage of food.

These species originally came from southern Europe and North Africa, but they are also found in America, both north and south. They prefer to live in cool regions of the world, which is why northern Europe is perfect for them

Like most other paper wasps, these wasps also chip away at wood to create paper-like materials to make a nest for themselves.

19 Wasps That Eat Wood: Helpful Information

Common Aerial Yellowjacket (Dolichovespula arenaria)

Like their paper wasp friends, yellow jackets also chew wood fiber and mix it with saliva to make a paper-like substance for their nests.

You can find the common aerial yellowjackets all over the US and Canada. In the US, they live between Alaska to Arizona.

These wasps have a hierarchical structure in their nests. They have one queen bee who lays eggs, and the larvae and adult wasps who come out of these eggs become the workers.

It is the queen who creates the first small paper nest. She leads the nest and is very different from her workers both in appearance and size.

The nests are usually made very high up in trees, so these wasps are very well protected from most predators, except for birds.

Parasitic Yellowjacket (Dolichovespula adulterina/Dolichovespula arctica)

These wasps are about 0.55 inches in length (females), and 0males are about 0.45 inches. They are black, white, or pale yellow in color, and some of them have wings with shades of brown.

As the name suggests, they are parasitical in nature. They don’t build nests of their own but usurp the nests of others.

These species only produce male drones and queen wasps. When they invade the nest of another anerial yellowjacket, they coexist with the queen for some time and then kill her.

Then the worker bees of the host nest raise their larvae, and later on, the queens from those larvae overwinter and repeat the process the next year.

There are two species to which these wasps are parasites to the D. Saxonica and the D. Norwegica. 

These two species build their nests in trees (though within about 6-7 feet from the ground. They also make overhanging nests dangling from the roofs of houses. They also build their nests in trees.

File:Dolichovespula arctica.jpg
Source: iNaturalist user: raffib128, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Eastern Yellowjacket (V. maculifrons)

This species of wasp is found in the eastern part of North America. While most of the time, their nests are underground, they do build some of their nests hanging from roofs of buildings.

These wasps are quite social, with hundreds of them living in the same nest at the same time. They also help each other out in rearing the young and have a caste system among workers, along with several generations living in the same nest.

These wasps can inflict painful bites and are considered quite dangerous.

Their nests are typically huge – they can accommodate more than 10,000 to 15,000 wasps at a time. About one-third of these cells are bigger and are devoted to queens.

These nests are created out of decaying, and worn-out wood, so fresh new teak furniture is not a target for these wasps. Despite their size, the nests are actually quite fragile.

Southern Yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa)

Southern yellowjackets are social wasps with huge colonies. They live from east to central North America, and their nests have several combs in them.

These wasps are known to use pheromones to signal both danger and sexual attraction among each other. Unlike other wasps, these guys are insectivores and can eat small insects and animal cadavers.

The southern yellowjacket has a venomous and quite painful sting.

Their nests are usually made in very unique environments, such as inside a yard or under a picnic table. 

File:Vespula squamosa P1550031a.jpg
Source: xpdaCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

They use both vegetable fiber and tree bark, chewed and mixed with saliva to make their nests. Each colony of these yellowjackets may contain upto 9,000 wasps.

Western Yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica)

The Western yellowjacket is a product of North America. It loves temperate climates and cannot reproduce in cold climates, which is why you will only see these wasps during the summer and spring months.

During these times, these guys mate and reproduce quite extensively and can grow very quickly to very large numbers. 

In fact, in some places like Hawaii, these wasps are labeled as pests since they are both invasive and grow in large numbers.

These wasps make nests from wood fibers but also enclose the nest with a paper-like material and leave just a small 4-10 inch hole in it for entry at the bottom. 

These wasps also follow the established structure of a single queen with many worker wasps. When another colony tries to enter into their nests, these wasps can indulge in fierce battles.

German Yellowjacket

These yellowjackets are found mostly in Europe and North Africa, some parts of temperate Asia. However, they have also spread to America, Australia, and other places.

These wasps are often confused with paper wasps because of their paper-based nests, but they are actually yellow jackets.

Queens of these wasps are polyandrous and can mate with several males in the colony, producing lots of offspring.

These wasps can eat other insects like arthropods and spiders and can cause severe damage to the ecology of new places they are introduced to because they are very efficient predators and often take away food from others.

File:Vespula germanica 02.jpg
Source: TnV Fotografie (Vinh Tran)CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ichneumon Wasps (Ichneumonidae)

Paper Wasps and Yellow jackets are not the only species of wasps that can forage on trees for wood. The Ichneumonidae are a type of wood-burrowing wasp.

Some species of Ichneumonidae use their ovipositors to search for the larvae of their prey inside tree bark. Upon finding them, they use this needle-like ovipositor to thread the bark and place their own eggs between the larvae of the prey.

When their eggs hatch, they get readymade food for them in the form of the larvae of host wasps.

While they do not directly eat or scratch wood, they can cause a bit of damage to decaying and rotting wood.

Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata)

These wasps are also members of the Vespidae family, and while their name suggests hornets, they are technically yellowjacket wasps.

These wasps have colonies as large as 400 to 700 workers and are quite aggressive in defending their nests.

Their nests have a unique egg shape and are quite large. They have several combs and are covered by a layer of paper from wood fiber chipped off trees mixed with their saliva.

They can be found all over the United States and even in Canada. They are more commonly seen in the southeastern part of the US.

File:Dolichovespula maculata Guêpe à tâches blanches.jpg
Source: ThekidpossumCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

European Hornet (Vespa crabro)

These are the largest wasps found in Europe and are actually hornets, not wasps. They are eusocial and have a strong colony structure in which they live.

Today, these wasps are available in America as well, and their wasp nests in wood are very unique and interesting. They are made out of paper using plant and wood fiber

These guys are also stingers, but they are not very aggressive. They only attack when a predator gets too close to their nest.

These hornets are carnivorous, unlike most others on our lists. They can eat insects like moths, dragonflies, wasps, beetles, and praying mantises. However, they also like to take sugary food like fruit or honeydew.

The nests are designed with a paper comb o the inside and a paper envelope on the outside, with a small single place to enter into it.

They use branch scrapings, twigs, and anything else that can be chewed to prepare these nets. The pieces are glued together to make a very strong structure.

Their nests are usually made in dark places, and even if there is sunlight, they add the envelope outside to keep the interiors of the nest darker.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get rid of wood-eating wasps?

If wasps have invaded your outdoor furniture and left their larvae in small holes inside it, the only way to get rid of them is fumigation.
You can call for a professional to fumigate your furniture properly, leaving it overnight to dry out so that there are no harmful chemicals left on the wood when you bring it back in.

How do you keep wasps from chewing on wood?

Wood wasps are repelled by some natural home remedies, such as keeping cloves and oranges in and around the wood.
Add a bit of fabric softener to the wood to make the smell more pungent, and you will find that wood wasps will avoid your wooden furniture almost completely.

Are wood wasps harmful?

Apart from destroying wooden furniture, most wood wasps are not trying to attack humans when they are munching away on your wood.
They are simply trying to chew the wood fiber and mix it with saliva to make a paper-like substance that they can use in making their nests.
However, beware – many of the wasps we mentioned above have stingers and can leave behind painful stings. Some are even venomous.

What kind of wasp bores holes in wood?

As we answered earlier in our blog, there are two types of wood wasps that bore into wood – these are the paper wasps and the yellow jacket ones.
These wasps chip away at the wood in order to get material for their nests and use it to make beautiful hexagonal-shaped cells, and some also make an outer covering with the paper so produced.

Wrap Up

There is almost always something new and unique to learn about from wasps and other creepy crawlies. You might think they are being pests by destroying your wooden outdoor furniture, but if it’s not too much of a bother, spend some time looking at how they use that wood.

You will be amazed to see huge colonies built out of wood scrapings and the way they are able to turn wood into a paper-like material.

Thank you for reading!

Water Scorpion Wood Wasp

Pigeon Horntail

Pigeon Horntail Ovipositing

PIgeon Horntail Ovipositing

 

Pigeon Horntail

 

Authors

    by
  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts

16 thoughts on “Discover 19 Types of Wood-Eating Wasps”

  1. Howdy! as sort of a follow up to this gal, I saw her every now and again all last fall and winter of 2012 laying eggs in every dang Redwood log we had at the mill. Quite a few turned into a bridge so maybe we’ll see some impressive wasp emerging this fall. If I see them I’ll try have a camera on hand. Noting that very long ovipositor, she had to stand on her tiptoes to line it up with the log. Perhaps specifically boring into Redwoods, she has adapted to penetrate their rather thick bark.
    Best to all,
    Erik dolgushkin

    Reply
  2. hello again, as I read all the Q & A I think it is a horntail that I asked you about, what I would like to know now is would they be up in Haliburton, Ontario, Canada? thank you

    Reply
    • Hi Curious Girl. According to BugGuide, the Pigeon Horntail belongs to the family Siricidae, the Horntails, and also in that family is Urocerus gigas which is commonly called a Giant Woodwasp, even on BugGuide. Ants, Bees, Wasps, Horntails, Woodwasps and Sawflies are all classified in the same order, Hymenoptera, but there is no classification between the order and family, except suborders and superfamilies. In some cases, similar families are classified together and those classifications are given names, but they do not actually fall neatly within the taxonomic structure. According to BugGuide, Horntails, Woodwasps and Sawflies are grouped together as Symphyta and this definition is provided: “A paraphyletic grouping of more basal hymenopteran lineages, previously known as Symphyta; phylogenetic relationships summarized in(1). The families are arranged into 7 superfamilies: Tenthredinoidea, with 6 families (Argidae, Blasticotomidae, Cimbicidae, Diprionidae, Pergidae, Tenthredinidae) is by far the largest; Siricoidea with two families (Anaxyelidae, Siricidae); Pamphilioidea with two families (Megalodontesidae [=Megalodontidae, not in our area], Pamphiliidae); while the remaining four superfamilies—Cephoidea, Xiphidrioidea, Xyeloidea, and Orussoidea—each consist of a single family.” BugGuide recognizes eight distinct Sawfly Families found in North America, so not all Sawflies are found in the same family. On What’s That Bug? we have classified all Horntails, Sawflies and Woodwasps together as a subcategory under Wasps and Hornets. We would never call a Horntail by the name Sawfly, but we do refer to them as Woodwasps in a popular vernacular. Then again, our classifications are based on popular culture more than actual scientific taxonomy since both Ants and Bees are given their own classifications that does not indicate any connection to Wasps, yet Symphyta are imbedded in the Wasps and Hornets classification as a subcategory.

      Reply
  3. I am a wildland firefighter, and I know people that have been stung by what appears to be the horntail woodwasp. It is very painful and your risk of infection is pretty high because when they sting you, they are trying to lay their eggs in you and inject a liquid that is responsible for the breakdown of wood in the trees. Its not fun, and I would recommend that you steer clear of these bugs!

    Reply
  4. I killed one of these in my backyard after it hovered in front of my face intimidatingly. All I thought of was it was a giant yellow jacket that could potentially sting me or one of our kids.I feel bad after reading they’re harmless. Next time I see one ill know what I’m dealing with.

    Reply
  5. Would it be unusual to see these in Minnesota? I did see one today and I understand they are in the area. Sending a picture don’t know if he’ll actually get it or not. IMG_7238.JPG

    Reply
  6. Is it venomous? I was driving and I felt something crawling up my leg…I jumped out of the car and immediately took my jeans off. Yes cars were going by …I am sure they just thought I was a crazy lady. Yeah I was sorta crazy as it crawled up my inner thigh! We put it in a jar to study it.

    Reply
  7. So glad to have come across this article. I’m from Beverly Mass and found one yesterday in my pool. Now I’m glad I know what the heck it was

    Reply

Leave a Comment