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Living With Beneficial Paper Wasps

You will probably know this wasp by its nest. This nest, currently to the right of our front door, was in its beginning stages in early June with two mated females (queens) building cells and laying their eggs. It’s doubled in size but the wrens prey upon Paper Wasp nests since the larvae are good food for their babies.

Paper Wasps don’t make a huge colony like Yellow Jackets whose colony’s can grow to thousands by Fall. Paper Wasps are also not aggressive like Yellow Jackets. We’ve had them building outside our doors that have a covered porch area for 17 years and have never had a problem.

Last year they began a nest at the top of the front door frame against the door, so when we opened the door, and one of the females flew into the house while the others scattered and flew about. Randal rescued the wasp indoors, while I removed the nest and placed it a couple feet away on the base of our porch light. Super glue did a great job of keeping it there. They don’t reuse their nests, so we took it down in the late Fall.

I had to giggle thinking about them returning to see the nest in a different place, but with all babies okay. My mind imagined all kinds of silly conversations they had about it. I sat on the porch bench and watched as they returned and scurried all around where it was, and then after finding it, they did a thorough inspection to find that all was well. They kept adding on cells to deposit eggs and all of us lived in happy co-existence.

Although they make many people nervous with the thought of stings, Paper Wasps are considered beneficial to agriculture, since they feed abundantly on corn earworms, armyworms, tobacco hornworms, harmful caterpillars, etc.

In the household garden, they are great pollinators as they gather nectar for their own food, and gather insects to chew up and feed to the larvae (their young). If you look closely at the second photo, you’ll notice the top queen has a green globule in it’s mouth ready to feed.

By the way, we’ve also left hornets nests under the eaves of our roof also to enjoy their benefits in our garden. They never reuse their nests, so it can be power washed down in late Fall or if it’s in an area that’s accessible, the nest is a keepsake. It’s incredible the design they make by chewing up wood and spitting it out.

Animals all need protein and wasps obtain protein by eating other insects. Hornets, for example, feed upon flies and other flying insects. Paper wasps generally eat caterpillars. A few common pest caterpillars listed in the literature are cabbage butterfly, Fall webworm and several oakworm species.

Some colonies have been reported to prey upon 2000 caterpillars. Tests have shown that enhancing Paper Wasp populations in tobacco fields reduced caterpillar populations in the crop. Thus, wasps can be real biological control for the landscape and garden. Wasps, in general, are helpful in the landscape, and Paper Wasps are one of the easiest types to manage. All one needs to do is provide nest sites.

The key is to encourage the wasps to build nests where YOU want them and away from places they might be a hazard. A simple box can be a four-sided construction and placed 4-6 feet above the ground for easy observation. An old birdhouse with the bottom removed makes a fine structure. Here’s a site with more details on this and a photo of one you might construct:

The European Paper Wasp, unlike our native Common Paper Wasp, also sometimes uses bird boxes, but is bad news. The European prefers to nest in cavities and it attacks people with much less provocation than the native Paper Wasp. It’s becoming a threat to cavity-nesting birds. Get more information on the invading European Paper Wasp here:

The benefit of getting macro photos is that when you enlarge them even further, you get a microscopic kind of look at things. I was able to get within two inches of our current resident Paper Wasps’ nest for photos.

When I downloaded them, I was very excited to see their little “babies” that are inside each cell. The body is a light beige color with the face or maybe head being the round brown part.

I hope this information will help you to enjoy something that we have been taught to fear.

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© 1999-2023 Donna L. Watkins


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