SC Forestry Commission
Pest Highlight: Paper Wasps


Although paper wasps are considered beneficial insects, if you’ve been stung by one, you might think differently.  Paper wasps feed on many garden pests and may be a welcomed addition to your garden.  Unfortunately, they may also feed on the fruits in your garden, can scrape the wood from your house, and may sting when disturbed, making them a pest.

Paper wasps have a smooth stinger and can sting repeatedly, unlike honeybees.  Honeybees have a barbed stinger and can only sting once; the stinger of a honeybee is ripped out of the bees’ abdomen after the bee stings, causing the bee to die.  If a paper wasp is flying around you, do not swing at it; remain calm and walk away slowly.  If a paper wasp is inside your car or truck, don’t panic: the wasp wants out probably more that you want it out!  Pull your car over and open the doors and windows to allow the wasp to escape. 

Paper wasps are social insects.  They their chewing mouths to scrape wood into a pulp like consistency and use this pulp to make an umbrella-shaped nest.  In the winter, all wasps from a colony, except the queen, will die.  The queen will survive in a protected area and she will make a new nest in the spring.  She lays eggs in the individual cells in the nest and these eggs hatch to caterpillar-like grubs.  These grubs eat mostly insects, such as caterpillars, which are collected by the worker wasps. Eventually these grubs pupate into the adult wasps and these resulting adults are the workers of the colony.  The workers feed the next generation of developing grubs and will aid in expanding the nests.  Adult paper wasps mostly eat nectar.Wasp nest

Nests can be found in shrubs, on tree branches, under deck railings and joists, on porch ceilings, in attics, on roof overhangs, etc.  If there is a nest near your home that you would like to control, spray the nest with an aerosol spray labeled for wasp or hornet control.  Use a product that can spray 20 feet and provides a quick knockdown.  Spraying should be done at night when most of the wasps are in the nest.  Do not illuminate the nest with a flashlight as this might attract the wasps to the light.  Wear protective clothing while spraying and keep clear of the nest.  After a few days removed the old nest.  In the late fall, control is not needed as the winter temperatures will kill most wasps.

If wasps continue to nest in the same area each year, alterations may need to be made to the area.  For example, if there are wasps nesting in your attic, you will want to exclude them using a fine-mesh wire screen over any openings.  If the wasps nest on porch ceilings or a deck, paining or varnishing may discourage nesting due to the slick surface.  Pruning shrubs and trees may also be beneficial in keeping the wasps from nesting in these areas.

Insect and Disease