Damage: These wasps are aggressive and will defend their nest if provoked. They deliver a painful sting. Their nests do not cause structural damage to buildings.
Benefits: These insects are voracious predators of several residential and agricultural pests. They are especially valuable near vegetable gardens, where they provide natural and free control of herbivorous caterpillars.
Management: If the wasps are present in an area where they will not bother people, it is best to leave them. They will be gone after the first frost; and, in the meantime, they will reduce the populations of local pest species. They do not present a danger unless the nest is disturbed, and they will not return to the same nesting site the following year.
If control is necessary, use an approved "Wasp & Hornet" spray that propels a stream of insecticide 15-25 feet. Treatment is most effective in the evening when the majority of the insects are on the nest. Be sure to dress appropriately. Wear eye protection, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and boots, and secure your sleeves and pant legs. Establish an unobstructed escape route and be ready to move quickly away from the area in case any of the insects fly towards you. Stand a safe distance from the nest and slowly approach while spraying with a sweeping motion (follow specific directions of the insecticide). If you require illumination, use a flashlight covered with red cellophane for a light - wasps cannot see red. You may need to repeat the treatment on two or three consecutive evenings. You may want to call in a professional, as there is a risk of being stung.
Sting: If a paper wasp approaches you, slowly raise your hands to your face and walk away. Remain calm! Avoid swatting at the wasp or running, as quick movements may elicit an attack. If possible, avoid the use of scented perfumes and soaps, and wear gray, white or tan to reduce the chances of a wasp approaching you. Unlike the honey bee, paper wasps have a smooth stinger and can sting more than once. If you are stung, cooling the area with ice may be soothing.
Remember! Insect stings can elicit a life-threatening, allergic reaction in some individuals. Check with your physician to determine what symptoms require a visit to the emergency room. Never attempt any control measure if you have a known allergy to insect stings.
Further sources: Turillazzi, S. and M.J.West-Eberhard. 2002. Natural History and Evolution of Paper Wasps. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K., 416 pages.
Prepared by: Kathryn Gardner, Carolyn Klass, and Nicholas Calderone
Date Prepared: July 2004