In North America alone, there are over 22 species of paper wasps. Paper wasps belong to the genus Polistes. Worldwide, there are over 200 species. These wasps measure 1.9 to 3.2 cm in length. Their narrow bodies are most commonly dark brown in color, with black wings and yellow markings. Some even appear similar to yellow jackets in coloration.
These insects are called paper wasps due to the construction of their nests. Paper wasp nests are made from plant material combined with saliva and appear to be made from paper. Their nests include numerous compartments within which wasps lay their eggs and rear their young. The nests typically do not have an outer shell with the cells of the nest visible. In fact, it somewhat resembles an umbrella and is the reason they may be called umbrella wasps. These nests are frequently found in sheltered areas, such as door frames, window sill and the eaves of houses.
Paper wasps feed on nectar and pollen, although they also hunt for insects such as caterpillars with which to nourish their colonies’ larvae. As larvae develop into adults, they assist in expanding the nest and nurturing future generations.
Paper wasps are considered beneficial because they assist in pollination by feeding on nectar, and they control pest insect populations by feeding them to their larvae. However, despite their ecological benefits, paper wasp nests should not be permitted to develop in or near the home. Stings from paper wasps are extremely painful and may produce serious reactions to people who are allergic to the venom.
Removing a paper wasp nest may be dangerous. It is advised that a pest control professional be contacted to assist in treatment of paper wasp infestations.