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Wasps and Paper Nests-A Small Guide

Updated on July 5, 2013

Normally the sight of a Bee buzzing around nearby doesn't bother most of us, there is still the fear that the bee with randomly target a human being and sting them. While I don't have an irrational fear of Bees, I do have a healthy respect for them and try to distance myself when one is nearby, as we all do.

Recently, after the leaves of the trees died and fell to the ground and the tree's branches were exposed, I was shocked to find a huge nest in a tree just off my front deck. Not realizing it was there gave me a uneasy feeling, as though we had been in danger from the Hornets who lived there all summer. It certainly did explain why the areas around the front of the house seemed infested with the sound of buzzing insects all summer. After finding the nest and now being able to study it hanging there, just a few feet from the deck, at eye level, I became curious about Hornets, what is their purpose and why do they behave as they do.

Scientifically speaking, a Wasp is defined as being any insect of the order Hynopmetera and Suborder Apocrita, neither bee nor ant. Insects that are considered pests, especially to our agricultural businesses, has at least one of the species of Wasps that prey on it. Wasps actually maintain a natural control of their own population, called natural biocontrol. The Wasps classified as being parasitic are used by agriculture as pest control since they prey on pests and don't hurt the crops.

Behavior and Personality of the Wasp

Wasps, feared by groups at a picnic, hikers, and those of us outdoors in warm weather, are actually seen as being a benefit to the environment. Being predators, eating meats and sweets, they serve as a natural organic pest control for farms and garden by ridding it of other insects and thereby protecting the crops.

If you watch a Wasp for any length of time, you will see it methodically going from one leaf to another, looking underneath the tips of the leaves. Depending on which type of wasp it is, the wasp is searching for insect or spiders. They don't eat the victim, they actually capture it by stinging it so that the victim is paralyzed because it's nervous system is destroyed. Continue watching that one wasp and you will see it carrying the paralyzed prey back to the nest. Placing the prey next to a waiting wasp egg, it seals the cell. The Wasp's prey is kept alive like this because placing dead prey would decay before the hatching of the larva egg. Once the wasp egg hatches, the larva, in a worm like stage, finds a tasty meal waiting for it. The prey, still alive but paralyzed, is eaten by the larva. Although this sounds vicious to us as humans, this happens all the time in the life of the Wasp. It's reason for hunting it's prey is to provide provisions for it's young. Some species of Wasps are partial to spiders, even the Black Widow Spider, some look for caterpillars. This behavior is programmed in the Wasp.

The Social and the Solitary Wasp

There are two types of Wasps, the social and the solitary.

Social: Living in large numbers, the social Wasp lives in its nest until late autumn, then the nest is abandoned. The types of a social Wasp include: Yellow Jackets, Hornets, Paper Wasps, Mud Wasps, Mud Daubers, Potter Wasps, and Pollen Wasps. They exist in colonies which can number up to several thousand and build nests. In some colonies not every Wasp can reproduce, the majority of the population is made up of sterile female workers, while only the Wasp Males and the Queen can mate.

While the honey bee produces wax to create their nests, Wasps have no glands to produce the wax so they create paper pulp nests in trees, attics, holes in the ground; any place that is sheltered with easy access to outdoors. Some nests are built from mud. The paper pulp is created by gathering wood fibers, chewing it to soften and mixing it with saliva. The Wasps then creates combs with cells for raising the young. The nest is constructed first by the Queen. She attaches several cells to an initial stalk in the nest; the place where she will lay her first eggs. She continues, adding another level to the next, lays eggs and repeats. Eventually sterile female workers hatch and mature to take over the construction. Now the queen can put all her energy into the young. And during the summer months life in the hive continues with the focus being on reproduction.

Solitary: Adults live and go about their lives alone and are considered to be parasitic or predatory. Most Wasps except some of the predatory types, do not make a nest and all Adult solitary wasps are fertile. Each type of the solitary wasps builds their nests differently. For instance, Mud Daubers & Pollen Wasps made mud cells in a sheltered place, Potter Wasps build nests in the shape of a vase, from mud, and attach them to twigs of trees or walls. The majority burrow into soil or plant stems with some building no nest and taking refuge in a cavity they find. They lay a single egg in each cell and seal it. As the name implies, no interaction happens between adults and larvae.

Immediately painful, this sting swells
Immediately painful, this sting swells

Ouch that Sting hurts-Now the Wasps need to be removed

I am sure we have all noticed the difference in behavior between a Honey Bee and a Wasps. While the Honey Bees goes about it's business and doesn't bother you if you don't bother it, the Wasp is much more hot-tempered than bees. They sting in reaction to a perceived danger to themselves or their nest. They can also sting repeatedly making a single Wasp's attack seem endless.

Two personal interactions with Wasps and myself: Once, while sitting along on a wooden deck with my feet hanging over the edge, I was suddenly attacked by first one, then more Wasps, stinging me a few times before I could escape. And again, while mowing the grass I was attacked, from the ground, by what seemed like dozens but probably was only a few. That time, I escaped into the house with the Wasps buzzing at the screen door. What seemed particularly scary at the time was their relentless pursuit of me, organized and single minded was their behavior.

Caution should be taken when approaching any type of Wasp. Never kill a Hornet near a nest as a distress signal could call the entire nest to attack you. . Social Wasps, such as Hornets, can call on the whole nest to come and sting in defense. They actually raise an alarm called a Pheromone, a chemical signal, notifying the rest of the nest that they should attack and sting and defend the nest. Wearing perfume and other chemicals can be incorrectly identified by the Wasp as being Pheromone and an attack is triggered.

If a Wasp nest needs to be removed, proceed with caution. It is best done at night or early morning, when the Wasps are inactive. Better yet, hire a professional.


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    • MimiKat33 profile image

      MimiKat33 7 years ago from Northeastern NY State, USA

      We do the same here. What is amazing is that this nest existed just a couple of feet from our deck and we never saw it until now, it is huge.

    • profile image

      trick153 7 years ago

      I have found them nearby on more than one occassion as well. I don't bother them unless they start to build nests on the exterior of the house or garage. I get to them early to minimize casualties. ;)