Paper wasps get their name from the paperlike material that they construct their nests with. They are also known as umbrella wasps based on the shape of their nests. In urban situations, these usually non-aggressive stinging insects are a nuisance pest. A variety of species can be found nationwide.
Paper wasps are semi-social, existing in small colonies but without a true worker caste. Overwintering inseminated queens begin building nests in the spring. These founding queens are often joined by other inseminated females which assist in nest building and maintenance.
Nests consist of a single layer of paper mache comb with the cells opening downward. This comb is suspended from a branch or sheltered structural surface or suspended by a paper stalk. Nests are small to moderate in size, containing 150 to 250 cells by autumn.
Paper wasps hang their comb nests from twigs and branches of trees and shrubs, which can cause concern when ornamental shrubs and hedges are trimmed, or fruit is being picked from trees. If a nest is contacted, there is high probability that person doing the trimming or fruit picking will get stung. Paper wasps also attach their comb nests from porch ceilings, the top member of window and door frames, soffits, eaves, attic rafters, deck floor joists and railings, and similar protected and recessed surfaces.
CONTROL AND PREVENTION
Before trimming shrubs or picking fruit, check the plant for paper wasp nests and call for professional help with removal before proceeding. Active nests should be avoided until they have been professionally treated. Inactive nests can be removed. They may enter living and work spaces of buildings through skylight casings, fireplaces, drop ceiling panels, utility penetrations, recessed canister light fixtures and ventilation duct penetrations. These and similar potential entry points should be checked and excluded, if possible, to prevent accidental contact with wasps on sunny days in winter and early spring. If the entry points cannot be found, a Plunkett’s technician will assist in the investigation and remediation process.
Adults measure 3/4 to 1 inch long. Depending on the species the body may be colored in combinations of black, yellow, brown and orange. The wings are dusky-colored. These wasps have a long legged appearance.
Paper wasps are beneficial insects, helping to control many other types of pests, like spiders. If their nest is located near human activity, control is warranted. It is essential that the adults be contacted and killed using a liquid residual or pyrethroid aerosol insecticide or they will quickly rebuild. Nests may not be removed from structural surfaces on the day of treatment by the technician in order to allow maximum exposure to insecticide.