Pest type: Stinging insects
Beneficial role: Feeds on caterpillars
A single paper comb without a wrapping but usually built in a protected location, such as under the overhang of a structure.
Appearance: Some have yellow/black colors, others are tones of brown and orange.
These wasps have legs that dangle when they fly.
Behavior: Paper wasps often warn intruders who get too close to the nest by flying into them without stinging. When disturbed they can deliver a painful sting.
How do I know it's a paper wasp?
As part of the Polistes genus of wasps, paper wasps can vary in appearance but are generally black or brown with yellow or brown striping. They are not fuzzy like bees, and can be recognized by their obvious ‘waist’, a narrow or extended petiole between thorax and abdomen and their long legs. This makes them appear more delicate than bees and yellow jackets.
- Some have yellow/black colors, others are tones of brown and orange.
- These wasps have legs that dangle when they fly.
European Paper Wasp
European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula, ¾-7/8 inch (19-22mm). The most common (yet non-native) paper wasp in the Northeast, often seen coming and going from their umbrella shaped nests under the eaves of your home. With similar coloring to yellow jackets, they can be confused with their more aggressive counterparts unless you take a closer look. European paper wasps have long legs, long tapered abdomens and orange-tipped antennae.
Northern Paper Wasp
Northern Paper Wasp, Polistes fuscatus, ¾ inch, (19-22mm). Northern paper wasps are not as common because the European paper wasp has taken over most of their habitat. They have the same body shape, but are dark brown with lighter brown or coppery brown or yellow markings. Their colony habits are the same.
Paper Wasp Behavior
Wasps build open gray, papery nests out of saliva mixed with chewed wood or paper litter. The fiber (cellulose) paste is used to construct walls and cells for raising a brood. Nests vary in size and location, but are started by overwintering mated queens in early spring. Once the queen has raised a few workers, they take on the task of building and feeding while the queen focuses on egg-laying. Paper wasp queens are known to invade and take over nests of other queens. Only female wasps have stingers because a stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg-layer). Male wasps are among the last raised in a nest, and only function to mate with the new queens.
Paper wasp nests
Unlike yellowjackets, paper wasps build open “umbrella” nests without an envelope or covering and that consist of a single layer (comb) of egg cells. Nests are often found on the underside of eaves or overhangs that protect the nest from rain. Because nests are also built inside voids such as metal pipes used in fencing, or the underside of unused equipment, they are often overlooked until an active nest is disturbed.
Polistes wasps forage for nectar and soft-bodied insects, therefore reducing the number of caterpillars.
Paper wasps often warn intruders who get too close to the nest by flying into them without stinging. When disturbed they can deliver a painful sting. It is important to understand that wasps have a role in the environment and most stinging incidents occur during accidental or ill-advised interaction. Many ‘bee sting’ incidents are caused by wasps. Wasps and many bees can sting repeatedly, while honey bees leave the stinger in the flesh. Reactions to venom vary, so be prepared. Integrated pest management for wasps helps reduce the chance of interaction, protecting both this important insect, and you and those around you.