Red Wasps

Facts, Identification & Control

Scientific Name

Polistes carolina


This wasp species is about an inch long, red all over its body with dark, purplish-black colored wings. The red wasp is found throughout the central and eastern portions of the U.S. It is a social wasp whose nest will likely contain more than 800 individuals.

Red Wasp
Red Wasp image licensed under CC

Behavior, Diet & Habits

Female red wasps, unlike males of the species, will sting when their nest is threatened. The red wasp builds its nest in exposed locations such as the eaves of a house and on outbuildings like storage sheds.

Nest & Colony

Since red wasps are social insects, their colony contains three types of individuals: fertile queens, sterile workers, and males. Colony building begins in the spring when a mated female emerges from her protected overwintering site to find a location to build a nest. The nest is a paper-like structure made from wood and other plant materials that are chewed; mixed with the wasp’s saliva; and formed into the nest. A small stem that supports the numerous nest cells attaches the nests.

Life Cycle

The fertile queen lays an egg in each nest cell. Once the egg hatches, the resulting larvae (grub-like stage) are fed chewed body parts of other insects. Once the larvae and pupae complete their phase of the life cycle, they become adults who care for the larvae and protect the nest, allowing the fertile queen to do what she does best – lay more eggs. Red wasps are active during the day, and return to the nest at night.

Seasonal activity continues when the weather warms up, and the red wasp nest grows to house 800 or more individuals. In late summer or early fall, workers begin to die off, and reproductive males and females leave the nest to mate. After mating, the males die and the fertilized females find a protected place to overwinter. These overwintering females will begin the red wasp colony the following spring. Red wasps do not reuse nests. Adult workers and males live on nectar they collect from flowers, and sweet food wastes in garbage cans or in sweet liquid containers.

More Information

Red wasps are beneficial insects, because they capture and feed many important pest insects to their colony mates. Therefore, elimination of the colony should be done only when there is likelihood that people or pets can be stung. Mechanical removal of a nest is a technique that is effective for control and prevention of red wasp problems. If the red wasp picks a threatening nest location, remove the nest before it becomes large – the earlier in the nest building process, the better the results.

Use the water hose or a long garden tool to destroy the nest, making sure you keep as much distance between yourself and the nest as possible. Always work after dark since all colony members return to the nest at night. This helps minimize the chances of being stung and gives you a better chance to completely destroy the nest. Before attempting nest removal, plan ahead to make sure you have a good, clear path for escape just in case you need to retreat from any wasps that try to sting.

While wasp freeze or other control products are sold at garden or hardware stores, it is best to contact your pest management professional (PMP) who can more safely and effectively deal with the colony. Red wasps that get inside the home should either be carefully removed by trapping, crushing or vacuuming, but exercise caution to avoid being stung. While it can be done, the best approach is a call to your pest management professional.