Paper wasps are insect
s belonging to the Order Hymenoptera
. They are related to other wasp
s, and sawflies. There are 22 species of paper wasp in North America and about 700 species worldwide. Members of the group are active during daylight hours. They return to the nest for night and are inactive until the return of light. Paper wasps are more active as the temperature rises, being lethargic on cool days to very active on hot summer days.
The nest of paper wasps is usually suspended upside down from a sturdy stem, making the nest resemble an inverted umbrella, which earns them the alternate name of umbrella wasps. This tough stem is then treated with an ant repellant secretion which aids in avoiding predation by and egg/larvae loss to ants. The nest is composed of a single tier of hexagonal shaped cells. An egg is laid by the queen in each cell, which remain open for the feeding of the young until the larvae pupate, sealing the cell. They then emerge as young adult wasps.
Paper wasps may be from 3/4 to 1 " in length. The size and coloration vary among the different species. They are characterized by two pair of dark wings which are folded along their body when not in use. Some color variants are striped, red, brown, and black paper wasps. Paper wasps also possess small heads, narrow waists, and long hind legs which trail them in flight.
Their name is derived from their practice of chewing plant fibers and wood, mixing the pulp with saliva, then constructing their nest from the resultant paperlike material. Paper wasps are semi-social insects. Their society is divided into 3 castes comprised of males, workers, and queens.
Mated queens overwinter in protected crevices, stumps, burrows, or attics. They emerge in spring to build a small nest in which they lay eggs. The young queen hunts for the small brood, defends her nest, and continues with nest expansion.
This small first generation are smaller sterile worker females. Their job is to care for the larvae and defend the nest. Paper wasps hunt other insects for the feeding of the legless, grub-like brood, partially chewing the flesh to present to the young. Prey species include caterpillars, flies, and beetle larvae. The sterile workers also join the queen in nest expansion. The nest may have as few as 10 to over 100 workers in attendance.
Later in the season males are hatched along with young non-sterile females. The sole purpose of the male paper wasp is to impregnate the young queens-to-be. Males do not possess a sting, as the sting is a modification of the ovipositor, a distinctively female feature.
Paper wasps are usually considered a beneficial species as they harvest large numbers of crop harming insects to feed their brood. This biological means of pest control helps humans in their efforts to control unwanted pest species. Unless the nest is in an area shared by humans it is suggested leaving them unmolested, letting the natural cycle remove them with the coming of winter. Nests are not reused the following year by emerging queens, who start each cycle from scratch.
Adults feed on nectar as well as insects.
Upon breeding, the future queens take cover in their protective winter hideaway, to emerge the following spring and start the cycle for another year. All members of the colony die at the onset of cold weather, with the exception of the impregnated young queens.
Nest protection is a major concern and the wasps will attack maurauders. Wasps are not as aggressive as yellow jackets or hornets in nest defense, usually only attacking when invaders get within close proximity of the nest.
The majority of paper wasp stings are a result of nest defense. Other stings can occur due to chance encounters where the wasp's space is invaded in the field. Stings can occur when a wasp simply lights upon an unwary person who then moves in a way the wasp interprets as threatening. Stings are painful and the wasps can deliver multiple stings, unlike true bees. The sting delivers venon which creates a burning/itching sensation as well as swelling of the site. Multiple stings can produce an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) in sensitive individuals who should seek immediate medical care if stung. Kits are available for field treatment of stings. Application of meat tenderizer helps to deactivate the toxin of the sting.
Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
Phylum: Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Superclass: Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class: Insecta (Insects)
Subclass: Pterygota (Winged Insects)
Order: Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees, Wasps and Sawflies)
Suborder: Apocrita (Ants, Bees and Wasps)
No Taxon: (Wasps)
Family: Vespidae (True Wasps)
Subfamily: Polistinae (Paper Wasps)