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Paper Wasps

Summary: Paper wasps sound fairly harmless. I mean, paper can't hurt you, so a paper wasp is like a paper tiger. All bark and no bite. So, are paper wasps dangerous or safe? I'll tell you if you read on.

Paper wasps sound pretty harmless. I mean, paper can't hurt you. So, is a paper wasp like a paper tiger? All bark and no bite. I'll tell you if you read on. Do you like how I am building the suspense here? That's my Howie Mandel impression from Deal or No Deal.

Paper wasp is the common name for several species of wasps that build their nests using pieces of wood mixed with their saliva. The wasps have narrow waists and black wings. They are brown or reddish brown in color. They males have curly antennae and yellow faces.

credit: NC State Cooperative Extension

The appearance of paper wasp nests is what gives paper wasps their name. The hives are grey or brown and shaped like an umbrella, so the wasps are also sometimes called umbrella wasps. The hives look like they were made from paper.  The hexagonal combs where the wasps lay their eggs are left open. The larvae develop in the chamber with their heads sticking out of the combs. The uncovered combs can help you tell that you are dealing with paper wasps because hornets and Yellowjackets seal off the combs in their hives.

About twenty to thirty adults will inhabit a paper wasp nest during the summer. During the winter the nest is abandoned and all the wasps die except for the queen who finds a secure niche in which to endure the cold weather.

The nest hangs usually hang from tree branches, but they are also found on eaves of houses, rafters inside attics, windowsills, or porch ceilings. This is when they can become a problem for humans. Paper wasps are not as aggressive as hornets or Yellowjackets, but they deliver a painful sting when provoked. So much for the “all bark” idea.

To remove a paper wasp nest from a location that presents a danger to passerbys, you might have to kill the wasps first. If no one is around and the nest is not too high up, you can knock it down with a stream of high-pressure water. Do this at a safe distance and have an escape route to somewhere indoors because this will definitely make the wasps angry. After a day or two they will leave the grounded nest and find a place to build another. Hopefully, they will choose a less public place.

If the water hose method does not fit your style you might try an aerosol spray like Wasp Freeze or Wasp Stopper. These products shoot a foam jet of pesticides and immobilize the wasps almost as soon as they are hit. Still, you should only attempts this at night when the wasps are resting in the nest and less likely to sting you. Aiming carefully, shoot the spray at the guard wasps on the outside of the nest. They will fall to the ground almost immediately. Then spray the entrance hole of the nest where the wasps come and go. This will be a small hole on the underside of the hive. Spraying into the entrance will kill the rest of the wasps inside and the larvae will die from lack of care from the workers. After spraying the nest carefully and thoroughly wait a day or two to make sure there are no more wasps around the nest. Then, remove and dispose of the nest.

So, now you know. Paper wasps can be dangerous. Do not attempt to remove a wasp nest if you are allergic to any kind of arthropod sting or bite. If you aren't allergic but still don't want to risk getting stung, call a pest control professional and have them do it for you. They have the right equipment and protective clothing. The cost is well worth it.

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