Northern Paper Wasps (Polistes fuscatus) are a common wasp species in North America. They can be identified by their long, cylindrical bodies that can range from 2 to 3 cm in length. These wasps are predominantly dark brown, but their bodies often feature a variety of yellow, orange, or even reddish markings that vary greatly among individuals. A distinct characteristic is their slender, almost thread-like waist (the part connecting the thorax and abdomen), unlike the more bulbous waist of a honeybee or a bumblebee.
Like other wasp species, they have two pairs of wings, the hind pair smaller than the front pair. The wings are folded longitudinally when at rest. They also possess antennae that have a significant bend midway, a characteristic common to paper wasps.
Northern Paper Wasps are named for the paper-like material used to construct their nests. These nests, made from chewed wood pulp and saliva, are usually found under eaves, in attics, or in trees and have an umbrella-like shape with open cells that can be seen from beneath.
Behavior and Lifecycle
These wasps are social insects and live in colonies. A nest is initiated in the spring by a single queen, who raises the first group of workers. Once these workers mature, they take over the role of expanding the nest, foraging for food, and caring for the young while the queen focuses on laying eggs. In late summer and fall, new queens and males are produced. These new queens will mate and then hibernate to start new colonies the next year.
Northern Paper Wasps are predators and feed on a variety of insects, which they chew into a pulp for feeding their larvae. Adults primarily feed on nectar.
Despite their beneficial role in pest control, Northern Paper Wasps are often seen as pests themselves due to their nests’ proximity to human habitation and their stinging defense.
If extermination is necessary, it is generally best to call a wasp control professional due to the potential danger involved. However, if you decide to handle it yourself, the following techniques can be applied:
- Insecticide Spray: A variety of wasp sprays are available commercially. These can be sprayed directly into the nest entrance, ideally during cooler times of day or night when the wasps are less active.
- Dusts: Insecticidal dusts are slower-acting but can be highly effective, especially for hidden or hard-to-reach nests.
- Traps: Wasp traps are available that lure wasps in and prevent them from escaping. However, these are more effective as preventive measures rather than dealing with an existing nest.
Professional Pest Control: For large nests, or if you are allergic to wasp stings, hiring a professional pest control service is the safest option.
Always remember to wear protective clothing if attempting to handle wasp nests yourself.
While these wasps can sting, they are not usually aggressive unless their nest is threatened. They may become more defensive during late summer and fall when the colony is at its peak size.
Northern Paper Wasps are larger, have a slimmer waist, and their nests have open cells, whereas Yellowjackets are smaller, have a wider waist, and their nests have a covering with a single entrance hole. The behavior is also different: paper wasps are generally less aggressive unless their nest is threatened.
Regular checks and maintenance of your home’s exterior can help prevent wasps from establishing nests. Seal cracks and crevices, repair window screens, and close off areas under eaves where wasps might like to nest. Using wasp traps in early spring may also help by catching queens before they can start a new colony.