Help! I’ve got Paper Wasps

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Around this time of year we field a lot of questions about paper wasps, likely because the nests get larger in the summer. The most popular nesting site for paper wasps around here is in the eaves of a house. When the nest is by a door people tend to get uneasy.

Take a chill pill
Don’t panic! Paper wasps are extremely docile and rarely sting. Most importantly, paper wasps are a beneficial insect. They eat beetle larvae, caterpillars, flies and nectar (making them pollinators). They are your friends in the garden. Right now I have a large colony living in the eave of our front porch right over my favorite chair. I’ve sat in that chair, with my head a mere four feet from my paper wasp buddies, for many hours and have never once been bothered.

Biology
Like honeybees, paper wasp are social insects. A mated queen lays eggs. But the similarity ends there. Paper wasp nests range in size between a dozen to 200 individuals. A honeybee colony can be made up of 60,000 workers or more. And honeybees only gather pollen and nectar. Paper wasps feed their young with protein (other insects).

What a paper wasp sting feels like
About the only way you can get stung by a paper wasp is to grasp one. I did this inadvertently once when I reached behind a fence. Keeping bees, I’m well aware of what a honeybee sting feels like. The paper wasp sting was, initially, sharper than a honeybee sting but the pain dissipated quickly.

Paper wasp control
If you don’t want a paper wasp colony next to a door or window it’s best to get rid of the colony early in the season. You can knock it down with a stream of water from a hose or with a long pole. Make sure you have an exit route planned! They will no longer be peaceable after you do this.

Most importantly, after you knock down the nest (a good while after, of course, after they’ve calmed down), oil the location where they were with cooking oil or furniture oil so they can’t attach a new nest in that spot. You can also buy poison at the hardware store but who’s a fan of poison!? It’s really unnecessary. If you have a bee suit you can put it on and remove the colony with a gloved hand. But the best option is to leave them in place so that they can eat all those nasty flies, beetles and caterpillars. A wasp colony makes your yard a healthier, more balanced place.

Also, as you decide what to do with the nest on your house, keep in mind the fact that the colony will dissipate come winter. They will produce a young queen who will move elsewhere, and the remaining workers will die off. In other words, if you can wait until cold weather, your wasp problem will solve itself. Then you can knock down the old nest and grease the area so they don’t revisit that spot.

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9 Comments

  1. Wait until just before dark and all the wasps will be there. You can catch them all in something and relocate. lol, yeah, like that is happening in my yard. I had a wasp fly into the lumberyard where I was standing and deliberately hit me in the elbow. It took a week for the pain and swelling to go down.

  2. I was stung on the left arm by a paper wasp about a month ago. It was very painful. Within a day my arm was huge and I went to the ER. I had cellulitis. I generally let creatures in my yard do what they want to do. After that incident, however, I have made sure that there are no wasp nests on my house.
    I am quite happy with the garden spider that has built a nest on my back porch. The other day, she caught a wasp, and I watch happily as she wrapped it up in silk. She ate it the next day.

    • You have my sympathy. I can get stung by honeybees with no ill effects, but one nip from a yellow jacket and I swell up like a watermelon and it takes weeks for all the fluid to go away completely. And cellulitis is nothing to fool with, either.

  3. I love your attitude towards these stinging insects. I have been stung by red wasps – they are aggressive and their sting is pretty painful. But I didn’t retaliate. I did take down the nest in winter though.

  4. I have heard that wasps won’t build a nest in proximity to another nest and one way to fool them is to blow some air into a lunch-sized paper bag until it’s puffy and roundish, then hang it by a string near your house/porch/whatever. Wasps think it’s a competing nest and will build elsewhere. I have never tried it, mostly due to laziness, but if anyone has, does it actually work? If so, this would be a non-lethal method of managing the location of local wasp colonies as opposed to destroying them.

    • I would have a truly bizarre display of paper bags under the eaves of my house and under the cover to my grill and under the picnic table…lots of other places. I am going to try this.

  5. we are having a major issue with these in NZ as they are decimating the monarch butterfly caterpillars. people are having to build wasp proof enclosures around the caterpillars food plants in order for them to have some chance of pupating.

  6. There is a nest on the patio of my boyfriend’s new apartment and we’ve stood out there to enjoy the view without being bothered. I think their sting feels like a shot (at least to me) but they aren’t the worse stinging bugs I’ve ever met. lol I’m sure we’ll knock down the nest eventually but it isn’t huge and they aren’t bothering us.
    Kiersten @ Autumn Country Girl

  7. They live under our porch. Since they’ve never bothered me I don’t bother them, but I never thought about how they might be assisting me in pest control. So, hey, cool. Thanks.

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