Paper Wasps


Paper wasps get their common name from the paperlike material of which they construct their nests; true also of the other vespids. It has been suggested that they be called umbrella wasps based on the shape of their nests. In the urban situation, these usually unaggressive wasps are a nuisance pest. Various species are found throughout the United States.


Adults about 5/8-3/4” (16-20 mm) long. Color brownish with yellow markings, a few species with reddish markings. Head with clypeus (upper lip) usually pointed at apex. Pronotum in lateral view almost triangular, extending to tegulae (structure at base of front wing) or nearly so. Long-legged, middle tibia with 2 apical spurs. Hind wing with small jugal lobe (lobe on rear near body). 1st abdominal segment conical, not stalklike.

Similar Groups

    1. Yellowjackets and hornets (subfamily Vespinae) with clypeus (upper lip) broadly truncate and slightly notched at apex, hind wing lacks jugal lobe (lobe on rear near body).
    2. Potter and mason wasps (subfamily Eumeninae) have middle tibia with 1 apical spur.
    3. Spider wasps (Pompilidae) have mesopleura (side of mesothorax) with a transverse suture (impressed line), hind wing with a jugal lobe.
    4. Longwaisted paper wasps, Mischocyttarus spp. (formerly in subfamily Polybiinae, now Polistinae) with 1st abdominal (=gaster) segment long, slender, and stalklike, much longer than in Polistes spp.

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Representative Species

    1. Northern paper wasps, Polistes fuscatus (Fabricius). Length about 3/4″ (20 mm); color forms, northern form dark, primarily brown and black with paler  markings, antenna not tipped with yellow, with pale brown to yellow paired longitudinal stripes on rear of thorax (propodium), southern form pale, body marked and banded with 2 yellow longitudinal stripes on propodium, with paired orange-brown oval patches on top side of 2nd gastral (“abdominal”) segment; widespread in North America.
    2. Annularis paper wasp, Polistesannularis(Linnaeus). Length about 1″ (25 mm); blackish brown with bright yellow margin on 1st abdominal segment; found in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, southeastern U.S., Texas, and South Dakota.
    3. Apache paper wasp, Polistes apachus Saussure. Length about 3/4″ (20 mm); golden brown with yellow markings, pronotum bordered with thin yellow stripe, mesonotum with 2 transverse stripes (anterior narrow, posterior broad), abdomen with alternating stripes of golden brown and yellow; found in southern California and in Texas and adjacent regions.
    4. Dominulus paper wasp, Polistes dominulus (Christ). Length about 5/8-3/4″ (15-20 mm), color pale, body marked and banded with black and yellow, top of 2nd gastral (“abdominal”) segment with paired yellow spots; found in northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and mid-western states, but expanding its range through contentinal United States.
    5. Dorsalis paper wasp, Polistes dorsalis dorsalis (Fabricius). Length about 3/4″ (17-18 mm); reddish brown with 1st abdominal segment narrowly outlined with yellow, tarsi yellow; found in southeastern United States, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.
    6. Golden paper wasp, Polistes fuscatus aurifer Saussure. Length about 5/8-3/4″ (16-20 mm); black with face and most of abdomen bright yellow; thorax with 6 narrow yellow stripes, legs mostly yellow; found in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, and Montana.


Paper wasps are semi-social, existing in small colonies but without a worker caste. Overwintering inseminated queens begin building nests in the spring. These founding queens are often joined by other inseminated queens which assist in nest building and maintenance. Such secondary queens become functional workers and relegate egg laying to the founding queen. However, should the founding/dominant queen die, one of the secondaries can assume egg laying and assure that the nest will survive.

Nests consist of a single layer of paperlike comb with the cells opening downward. This comb is supported/suspended from a branch, twig, or horizontal surface by a single long pedicel; this single, long pedicel apparently aids in the defense of the nest by predators such as ants. This comb is never enclosed by an envelope, but remains naked. A single egg is laid in each cell and the developing larva is fed primarily protein from insect prey through the open cell. The cell is capped when the larva is ready to pupate. Nests are small to moderate in size, containing up to about 150-250 cells; largest contained 320 cells and was 6×8″ (15×20 cm) in size.

Typically, nest are not reused the following season. However, the dominulus paper wasp, P. dominulus, will reuse old nests. In so doing, the nests can become quite large in size for a paper wasp.


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 like to hang their comb nests from porch ceilings, the top member of window and door frames, soffits, eaves, attic rafters, deck floor joists and railings, etc., almost any protected place imaginable including under roof shakes.

In the autumn, inseminated females seek places to over winter. They will investigate crevices and penetrations associated with vents and skylight flashing, chimneys, window and door frames, utility-line penetrations, etc. until they find a suitable place. Overwintering wasps may find their way into living spaces on sunny autumn, winter, and/or spring days, especially if there are cathedral ceilings present. Since these are inseminated females and not daughters defending a nest, they are not aggressive and stinging rarely occurs.

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Pest Control Naples

Paper wasps are beneficial insects, helping to control many insect pests. If their nest is located near human activity, control is warranted. It is essential that the adults be contacted and killed or they will quickly rebuild. For adults, use an appropriately labeled pesticide such as aerosol pyrethrins or a pyrethroid and do the application early in the morning or at night when most of the wasps will be on the nest. Then remove the nest. The continual removal of nests from the structure over the summer will greatly reduce the likelihood of paper wasps being around to enter in the autumn to over winter.

Before trimming shrubs or hedges or picking fruit, check the plant for paper wasp nests and treat and remove any found before proceeding. Be careful that the pesticide used will not harm the plant involved.

When paper wasps gather cellulose for nest expansion from wood fences and deck railings, customers may get anxious. Consider treating these surfaces with an insecticidal soap or a repellent essential-oil formulation. It may be necessary to reapply following a rain.

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