In Defense of the Paper Wasp

Paper wasp building a nest. Image: Wikimedia.

Paper wasp building a nest. Image: Wikimedia.

I really don’t like gardening advice that divides the natural world into lists of good and bad bugs. From nature’s perspective all creatures have a role, even the much despised paper wasp.

Paper Wasp Biology 101
Wasps perform important duties: some wasps eat other insects, other wasps are scavengers, acting as nature’s garbage disposers. That’s not to say that wasps don’t earn some of their bad reputation. I’ve found that, unlike honey bees, they can sting without much warning. And their sting is sharper, reminiscent of the unpleasant after-burn of cheap booze.

The wasps I see the most around our house are paper wasps (family Vespidae and probably of the genus Polistes, though there are many different kinds of paper wasps). Paper wasps like to build their small nests under the eaves of the house. Their diet consists of caterpillars, flies and beetles—anything that eats those kinds of bugs are a friend of mine. Nests consist of around 30 to 40 wasps–workers, queens and drones. They are much less aggressive than hornets and yellowjackets.

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the paper wasp
Of course, sometimes paper wasps build nests where we don’t want them. A neighbor was having her house painted a few years ago and called me over to remove a nest of paper wasps. I put on my beekeeping suit and pulled the nest off the eave of the house only to discover that you can’t move paper wasps. They just flew back immediately to where their nest had been.

Wasps don’t like scented products such as perfume, cologne, aftershave or hairspray. Come to think of it, if I were a wasp I’d sting people over this stinky stuff, particularly at the gym. But I digress.

Concluding rant
I suppose there are legitimate reasons to kill the occasional nest, but I wish more people knew the important role wasps play in our gardens.

And we really need teach everyone to tell the difference between wasps, honeybees, yellowjackets, hornets and bumblebees. You wouldn’t confuse an iPhone with and Android.

Fortunately, UC Davis has a video:

Leave a comment


  1. This is definitely food for thought. Unfortunately we just found out the paper wasp nest we’ve been looking for is inside our mailbox! These ones are going to have to go.

  2. Eliminating paper wasps takes persistence.

    Our home was unoccupied for about a year before we bought it and moved in. The wasps had become accustomed to building several nests under the gutters. When we knocked them down they would try to rebuild in the same spot. We kept a close eye and kept knocking down their new beginnings. They then tried to rebuild near but not exactly on the old spot. We continued our campaign through the season.
    The next year we saw only a few attempts to build and rebuild, which we promptly knocked down. The paper wasps seem to have given up since. We may get one attempt a year now.

  3. Interesting. So the open nest is a paper wasp and is not usually a problem. And the ariel yellow jackets like in the tree in front of our house is not usually a problem.

  4. Cheap booze never hit me in the elbow while I was standing still, minding my own business. I saw it enter the shop at a business where I was conducting business. It zoomed in the door about 50 feet away and headed straight for me and my elbow. The carpenter standing with me was as shocked as I was.

    Bumble bees terrified me in the spring when we moved here in 1977. They only come for the wisteria on all sides of the yard. Now, I just walk through swarms. But, I hear they will sting.

    In the evening, I stalk hornets and yellow jackets. I eliminate the yellow jackets but am terrified or the hornets as they live under my rock pile/garden.

    Every year, wasps build nests behind the side mirrors on my car. They ride along to wherever I am going and get out and harass me as I try to get back in my car!

    Every year, I had a front yard full of been/wasps that come to eat the grubs that come to the surface to eat my grass roots and make my yard look bald. I can walk through these wasps and have never been stung. I suppose I will give up and use bt on the grubs this year unless you have better advice. But, I do not want to kill the wasps even though there must be 5000 each year.

  5. We found a wasp nest in our attic one year, attached to the rafters. We’d seen the marks on the garden furniture where they’d been harvesting the wood to make into their nest and I have to say I was relieved that the nest had been abandoned, for whatever reason. It was an amazing structure, absolutely beautiful, but it was nice to know we weren’t going to have a house full of wasps…

    BTW, like the Dr Stranglove reference. When we played charades (at Christmas) as a child, my dad would stand up… ‘film’…’13 words’…it took a couple of years for me to realise that he could remember other film titles, but this one meant he could sit straight back down again.

  6. I enjoy the paper wasps that come and it the grubs and sawfly larvae off my rose bushes. They never sting,even though they often sit on the railing of my front porch to eat their food. I did not, however, enjoy the ones that built nests all over my grandmother’s garage and then flew in the windows of her bathroom and stung her while she showered. Apparently the water and soap drove them crazy. Those ones had their nests sprayed and removed post hasty.

  7. Oh yea, some wasp can be very helpful to mankind . A few years ago I lived in a small trailer ,down in the country, and I noticed that some wasp had built a nest under the siding by the front door . My first reaction was ,I got to get rid of them , then I thought THIS might have a useful purpose ! So in a few days ,here comes that pesky salesman , I had already told him NO I don’t want what you’re selling ! When he knocked on my door , I just kicked the wall a few times and out they came !! As he ran to his car,swatting at my lil friends, I know he had to hear me laughing !! NEVER had a another problem with him !!

    • Great way to get rid of the salesman. I’m sure these were not wasps but instead, hornets- either yellow jackets or white-faced hornets.
      Wasps would just come out, buzz around and hope the intruder will go away without having to zap him. They SPEAK SOFTLY AND CARRY A BIG STICK.


  9. I don’t use my car very often and I just discovered a paper wasp nest inside the door! I don’t want to kill them but I mean, I can’t just drive around with wasps in the car. Is there a safe way to remove them (safe for me and the wasps) or is the only solution killing them?

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