What Do Paper Wasps Eat? Do They Eat Wood?

Did you find a paper wasp near your house and are wondering what they eat? Don’t worry; these aren’t the bugs that will attack your picnic baskets and jams and fruits. Below, we will share with you what they actually like to eat.

One of the most distinctive wasp nests you can spot is that of the paper wasps.

Whenever you see black and yellow wasps flying toward you, the best idea is to bolt in the opposite direction.

But what should you do if you find their nest in or around your house? Let us tell you a little about this species of wasp and what makes them so special.

What Do Paper Wasps Eat? Truth Revealed

What Are Paper Wasps?

Paper wasps are one of the most common wasp species in the world. The common paper wasps are black insects with yellow markings.

Some of its European varieties also have bright reddish-orange antennae.

These wasps are social insects that build colonies in their nests, similar to bees. Most of them are found in a temperate climate, which could be forests or grasslands.

Female wasps grow larger than males and have additional spots to distinguish their gender.

At one time, they were only known as European wasps because of their abundance in the agricultural areas of the continent.

At present, the wasps are found in scattered parts of North America, Canada, and parts of South America, like Chile and Argentina.

In the United States, they are mostly found on the East Coast.

Why Are They Called Paper Wasps?

Paper wasps are known mainly for their unique nests that look like they are made from paper.

These insects use fiber from wood and plant stems, mixing it with their saliva to create a brown material, which is essentially the same thing as modern-day paper.

This mixture helps them create large nests in the form of colonies where they live and lay eggs.

Paper wasp nests have open combs with cells. It looks somewhat like an umbrella, which is why these wasps are also called umbrella wasps.

It is hung from a petiole that works as a bridge between the nest with the surface structure, holding it in place.

Building the nests is an elaborate process for these social wasps. The queen bee starts the process in the spring after overwintering.

In most cases, she looks for a spot near human settlements or as parts of a tree.

She lays her first batch of eggs, which grow into larvae and then join her in the nest-making process. Soon, more and more eggs hatch and join the effort.

At its peak, a paper wasp colony can reach up to 200 wasps, some of whom are workers and drones, while a few select females are being reared for the next generation of queens.

At the onset of winter, the queen and some of these chosen females find spots to hide for the winter and become inactive.

The rest of the nest and its inhabitants slowly die due to the harsh cold weather and lack of food.

What Do Paper Wasps Eat? Truth Revealed

What Do They Eat?

Adult paper wasps are omnivores that feed on both animal and plant matter. The diet of these wasps includes insect larvae, flies, aphids, and caterpillars.

They also eat honeydew and nectar from plants.

However, the paper wasps found in America feed mainly on caterpillars and flower nectar.

These insects are considered to be beneficial insects as they feed on pests, thus protecting your plants.

What Do Their Larvae Eat?

Paper wasp larva feed on animal remains that the adult paper wasps bring them. These wasps bring chewed-up caterpillars to feed their young ones.

Once the larva grows into an adult wasp, they take over the nest-building process and are responsible for feeding the next generation.

Are They Beneficial?

Paper wasps are considered to be beneficial insects for your garden. They feed on a number of pests, like caterpillars, types of flies, and beetle larvae.

Another reason these wasps are beneficial is their role in pollination. These wasps feed on the nectar of different flowers, transferring the pollen from one plant to another in the process.

What Do Paper Wasps Eat? Truth Revealed

What Eats Paper Wasps?

Even though paper wasps are infamous as stingers, they have a number of predators in the wild.

Birds, dragonflies, beetles, spiders, moths, and praying mantes are some of the most common creatures that feed on paper wasps.

Birds are one of the most common predators of wasps. They usually go for solitary wasps, which are not aggressive and easier to hunt.

But birds are usually not selective about their prey and will catch any wasp they can find, often swooping them mid-air.

Insects like praying mantes, beetles, and dragonflies hunt wasps using different techniques. In most cases, they quietly monitor the prey, waiting for an opportunity.

When they find their chance, they attack the wasps with their jaws, avoiding the sting as best as possible.

Are Paper Wasps Dangerous?

Paper wasps can be considered dangerous since they are aggressive in nature. These social wasps are always on alert to defend their nests against any kind of threat.

The wasps also build their nests around human settlements, which can make them a threat to humans.

In most cases, the wasps will keep to themselves and hover around their nests. If you encounter one far away from its nest, they are not likely to attack if you don’t accidentally make contact with them.

Paper wasps can also become a domestic nuisance since they scrape wood from random areas and feed on the flowers and fruits of the garden.

What Do Paper Wasps Eat? Truth Revealed

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you feed a paper wasp?

The European paper wasps enjoy a meal of caterpillars, worms, and a variety of insect larvae.
The ones found in America often focus on butterflies, webworms, and oak worms.
The wasps are generally omnivores, so they feed on garden pests and nectar from flowers. They can also taste the occasional fruit for its sweetnes.

Are paper wasps good to have around?

Paper wasps usually stay around human structures, making their nests around houses and window cracks.
They can be a real nuisance if they build their nest to completion. However, they are also beneficial insects for the garden as they feed on garden pests and help in pollination.

Are paper wasps aggressive?

They can become very aggressive when they are around their nests. These social wasps create colonies of their own and will protect them at all costs.
Away from the nest, paper wasps might not be so aggressive and keep to themselves.

What are paper wasps attracted to?

Paper wasps are attracted to sweet foods like fruits and flowers that have high sugar content.
They are known to feed on pieces of apples, melons, and grapes in the wild. The wasps gather around flowers to eat and travel back to their nesting areas in the same groups.

Wrap Up

It is true that paper wasps live around humans, and they can become a real disturbance. However, they are not like yellow jackets, which would go after your sugary food and soda cans.

The best idea to save yourself from their nuisance is to remove their nests at the first sign. It will be easier to get rid of the wasps early on, and you will save yourself a lot of pain from their stings.

Thank you for reading! 

Reader Emails

Here are a few emails from our readers showing how paper wasps hunt and eat various insects, large and small, such as mantis, caterpillar and so on.

Do go through the description of the hunt!

Letter 1 – European Hornet eats Mantis

 

Predator and prey
Location:  Silver Spring, Maryland
October 2, 2010 12:34 pm
Is the predator a bee or a wasp? It the prey a katydid? Found the interactionhappening on our front sidewalk early one evening in September 2010.
Signature:  Steve

European Hornet eats Mantis

Hi Steve,
Your wasp is a Paper Wasp in the genus
Polistes, and we believe it may be Polistes metricus based on photos posted to BugGuide, and the range of the species according to BugGuide.  According to the genus information page on bugguide, Paper Wasps  “Take nectar and juice from ripe fruit. Predatory on other insects (predominantly caterpillars) to feed larvae. The prey is a bit more of a challenge.  We actually believe it to be a small Preying Mantis, possibly the Carolina Mantis, Stagmomantis carolina, which is just over two inches long according to BugGuide. The big question in our mind is whether or not the Paper Wasp killed the Mantis.  We find that hard to believe.  We believe the Mantis may have been attacked by a bird or other predator and had been partially eaten, and the opportunistic Paper Wasp stumbled upon an easy meal for the larvae in the nest.  The foraging Paper Wasps will chew and eat the insect prey and then regurgitate the partially digested meat for the larvae.

Mantis Carcass

Correction
November 13, 2011
Mistaken ID
November 13, 2011 9:23 pm
The ‘paper wasp’ eating the mantis is probably actually a European hornet, Vespa crabro.  Paper wasps are less robust and colored differently, and prefer to go after more helpless insects than mantids.  On Youtube there are at least a few videos of hornets of related species attacking healthy mantids successfully.
P.S. I love your website!  Awesome job, and keep it up…don’t listen to the trolls who can’t stand being reminded that drowning things in Raid is a cruel death.
Signature: JC

Dear JC,
Thanks so much for your correction.  We make numerous mistakes, especially in our attempts to post as many submissions as possible, and we really rely upon our readership to write back and correct our errors.

Letter 2 – Paper Wasp preys upon Caterpillar

 

Subject: Paper Wasp with Caterpillar
Location: Northeast Florida
June 29, 2012 8:40 pm
I was outside by my tomato plants when I noticed a Paper Wasp flying around one of the plants, landing for a minute or two and then flying around again. It was carrying a very small green caterpillar that looked like a young Hornworm. The wasp would bite and chew on the caterpillar, then fly around with it again. I looked up Paper Wasps and read that they kill caterpillars and take the remains back to their nests. I’m sending a few pictures I took.
Signature: Karen in FL

Paper Wasp Preys Upon Caterpillar

Hi Karen,
We apologize for the delay in getting back to you.  We planned to post your photo days ago but it got lost in the shuffle.  We believe your Paper Wasp might be
Polistes exclamans which is described on BugGuide as having:  “Dark antennae with orange tips” and it is also referred to as the Common Paper Wasp or Guinea Wasp.  We would not discount that it might be another species as Paper Wasps are sometimes difficult to identify to the species level.  It is important to note that Paper Wasps generally bring prey like Caterpillars back to the nest to feed larvae.

That’s okay about the delay, I understand how busy you are. I looked at Polistes exclamans on BugGuide and it definitely looks like my wasp. I was fascinated to see it carrying the little caterpillar around, and I wondered how I could have missed seeing these wasps carrying off caterpillars before!
Karen

Letter 3 – Paper Wasp with Prey

 

Subject: Wasp
Location: Cherry Hill NJ
July 24, 2017 3:39 pm
I believe this is a paper wasp, but I could also be wrong. I do not know what is in her mouth though. So my question is, what is that? It’s cool regardless, but is it food, or larva maybe?
Signature: Jamie

Paper Wasp with Prey

Dear Jamie,
This is indeed a Paper Wasp in the genus
Polistes.  Paper Wasps are solitary wasps and workers set out from the nest to forage for food for the larvae.  Paper Wasps frequently prey upon Caterpillars that they skin in the field, then roll the meat into a ball to more easily transport the food back to the nest.

Letter 4 – Paper Wasp with Caterpillar Prey encounters Human

 

Subject:  Wasp lands on me WITH caterpillar meal
Geographic location of the bug:  Missouri, United States
Date: 06/29/2019
Time: 12:25 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  so today one of the most cool, weird, and gross things happened to me. I was sitting outside with my bearded dragon and we were under a nice tree. I feel a plop on my arm and I look down to see what it is and my hand is already poised to gently brush off whatever bug has wandered onto me, but I see the black and yellow and my brain registers: THAT is a wasp.
I pulled out my camera as fast as I could because… this is absolutely wild, I’ve never had this happen. and I sit there as I watch this wasp crunch her caterpillar prey WHILE SITTING ON MY ARM… when I moved my arm she got spooked and flew away, leaving her dead caterpillar laying on me… which I brushed off onto the sidewalk.
I have included the caterpillar itself as well, which I’m curious to know the name of, if possible.
How you want your letter signed:  Michael

European Paper Wasp with Caterpillar prey alights on tattooed arm.

Dear Michael,
We applaud your quick reflex “inaction” to the aposomatic or warning coloration on this European Paper Wasp,
Polistes dominula, which we identified thanks to this BugGuide image.  According to the Penn State Department of Entomology: “Before 1981, the European paper wasp was not recorded in North America. In its native region, P. dominulais 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.”  That site also observes:  “Whenever new species are introduced into an environment (either intentionally or accidentally), there are unpredictable consequences. The increased risk for stings is an obvious concern. Even more troubling, it appears that this new introduction has had an adverse impact on the native species of Polistes. The apparent reduction of indigenous Polistes will undoubtedly result in a change in the faunal balance. It is unclear what the consequences will be. Some entomologists worry that the large numbers of P. dominula will adversely affect the species of desirable insects (i.e., butterflies).”  For that reason, we are tagging your submission as Invasive Exotics as well as Food Chain.  This is also the most frequently encountered Paper Wasp in our our Mount Washington, Los Angeles garden.  We believe this caterpillar is a member of the Owlet Moth family Noctuidae, which includes Cutworms.

Probably Owlet Moth Caterpillar

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.

  • 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.

5 thoughts on “What Do Paper Wasps Eat? Do They Eat Wood?”

  1. I brought four swallowtail caterpillars in and gave each a large glass vase. I put in various twigs and parsley. After 10 days, they each went to the chrysalis stage. One hatched after tw0 weeks. I went to the others and was shocked. Two were eaten from a hole in the shell, and there was a wasp in their enclosures. How does this happen? They have been indoors for over three weeks. Please, what happened?

    Reply
  2. Well, this is so strange! The caterpillars were all siblings. I loved these little guys. I have one left and keeping a close eye on him. We feel that
    the length of time for being in their chrysalis was too long. The other sibling who hatched has been about 9-10 days ago. I watched their mother lay her eggs so I hid them and had no idea how wasps would find them. Thank you for this wonderful website!! Nancy

    Reply
  3. Well, this is so strange! The caterpillars were all siblings. I loved these little guys. I have one left and keeping a close eye on him. We feel that
    the length of time for being in their chrysalis was too long. The other sibling who hatched has been about 9-10 days ago. I watched their mother lay her eggs so I hid them and had no idea how wasps would find them. Thank you for this wonderful website!! Nancy

    Reply

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