Paper Wasps

Get Rid of Paper Wasps in Your Home or Business

General Information

Though still found throughout New England, the northern paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus) has been increasingly replaced by the European paper wasp (Polistes dominula) in the area. First found in Massachusetts, the European paper wasp has since been recorded in Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut.

The insect is a highly effective colonizer, due to early seasonal nest-building and the ability to eat varied food sources. Queens begin building each nest alone starting early in the spring after hibernating through the winter.

Picture of Paper Wasp
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Appearance & Identification

What Do Paper Wasps Look Like?
Frequently mistaken as a yellow jacket, the European paper wasp is yellow and black in color, while the northern paper wasp varies in color, with reddish-brown and black with yellow markings being the most frequent colorations. Ranging in length from 1 to 3 cm, paper wasps can be identified by their slender bodies and longer legs, which tend to hang beneath the body while in flight. Paper wasps have dark wings that fold lengthwise when at rest.

Habits/Habitat

A paper wasp nest is open-faced, single-layered, and shaped like an inverted umbrella. Nests are built from wood fibers gathered from various sources, such as man-made wood structures and, on occasion, live plant stems. The fibers are chewed then regurgitated into a thin paste to form a single paper-like comb.

Where Do They Build Their Nests?

Paper wasps build nests under horizontal surfaces. This leads to nests being frequently found on:

  • Artificial structures
  • Branches
  • Building eaves
  • Support beams

Paper wasps actively feed during the day while resting in the evening. A mature nest may contain up to 30 adults.

Diet

What Do Paper Wasps Eat?
Adult paper wasps are limited to a liquid diet. This is due to the areas behind the head and before the abdomen being extremely narrow.

These restrictions do not allow solid food to pass through them. Wasp larvae eat a much wider range of food captured by adult wasps such as caterpillars, flies, and beetle larvae, which once digested, provide nutrient-laden saliva to adults in the colony.

Reproduction

Paper wasps are divided into three social groups (castes): workers, males, and queens. One dominant queen, fertilized the previous fall and hibernating through the winter, initially builds each nest. Born from eggs laid singly into cells or hives within the nest, hatching larvae are fed partially chewed caterpillars and other insects.

After the first clutch of larvae mature into workers and other queens, the original queen continues to lay eggs. Workers become the primary foragers, builders, and protectors of the nest.

In late summer and early autumn, queens stop laying eggs and mated female offspring seek hibernation sites while the colony declines. Males and workers do not survive the winter.

Problems Caused by Paper Wasps

While paper wasp nests are not always obviously visible, the possibility of stings may occur. Wasp stings usually cause redness, pain, and swelling in the areas affected.

Though not deadly, those with allergic reactions to wasp venom may need further medical care if stung. Icing the area and treatment with topical ointments prove the most effective ways to care for paper wasp stings.

Signs of Infestation

Noticing an increase in swarming during the day is a good indicator that paper wasps have built a nest nearby. As paper wasps prefer to build nests on horizontal surfaces, the eaves of a home or garage, decking, and siding are ideal places to find established nests. Increases in buzzing noises concentrated in one area may also distinguish possible infestations.

People tend to find these nests during outdoor work, changing light bulbs, or cleaning gutters. Disturbing nests tend to agitate paper wasps, especially during daytime hours when the wasp is more active.

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Prevention

Different preventative measures should be taken to contain or eliminate paper wasps, if necessary. Properly screen or caulk open spaces around windows and other openings into structures around the home as well as the home itself.

If eating outdoors, do not leave food or drinks exposed for long periods of time, as this will attract wasps. If using store-bought insecticides, always check the label for dangerous ingredients and follow the directions for use section of the pesticide label explicitly. At times, it may be best to consult with a professional exterminator to best alleviate any issues with paper wasps.