Brennan Basham

Brennan Basham

Late spring into mid summer is usually when the various nests of paper wasps get large enough to warrant notice. Generally built in hollow trees or on the branches of trees and shrubs in the wild, paper wasps are adept at finding sheltered places to build their nests on human structures as well.

There are several main species of social wasps that live in the United States who build above ground paper nests; paper wasps generally make exposed combs resembling an upside-down umbrella in which they raise their young, while bald-faced hornets surround their inner nest with layers of paper fibers shaped into the distinct football shape that is usually most associated with wasps. Paper wasps chew fibers off of damaged or dead wood, and mix it with saliva to create a naturally water-repellent papier maché.

These nests stay relatively small and usually consist of a few hundred individuals in the height of their growth. While they can be defensive and do not take kindly to other animals around their nest, these insects are incredible garden hunters even while they help pollinate the plants in your landscape. In the vast majority of situations, staying away from their nests and leaving them alone is a great way to receive crop protection that is natural, free and effective.

Young wasps depend on a large amount of protein in order to grow correctly. Adult wasps supply this protein to their young in the form of prey remains, which they chew up and feed to their babies in a way similar to insect-feeding birds. Paper wasp colonies are constantly hunting the caterpillars, flies, aphids, spiders and even other wasps in the area in order to feed their growing colony. This helps to keep local populations in check, which minimizes the negative effects that any garden-hungry pests might have on your plants.

As adults, wasps depend on sugar for sustenance and largely rely on the nectar found in nearby flowers. As they visit these blooms, they provide significant pollination services as well. Like some ants, paper wasps also feed on the honeydew secreted by aphids, scale bugs, and other sap suckers. Wasps have been observed herding these honeydew factories together and using them for food in times of low floral availability.

Recent studies have discovered that each species of wasp has very specific chemical coatings on the outside of their bodies and nests that help to ward off water and fungal attacks. Scientists believe that these coatings are unique to each colony, even those from wasps in the same species. It is thought that these coatings are used by wasps in order to tell which colony a wasp comes from, and they also help wasps ensure that they return to the correct nest after hunting trips.

Paper wasp nests only survive until the first frost, and young queens spend the winter underground or beneath bark or leaf piles and start a new colony in the spring. They do not reuse nests and avoid areas with established hives. Leaving old nests where they hang, or hanging up a mock nest like a stuffed paper lunch bag in areas where a nest would be undesirable usually is enough to keep new nests from establishing.

As they are very defensive of the personal space around their nest, sometimes nests must be moved in order to ensure the wellbeing of everyone involved. It is possible to relocate a nest in order to give them a chance of survival and avoiding the use of insecticides. If you find yourself in need of a paper wasp relocation, give me a call at 484-888-1180.

Brannen Basham and his wife, Jill Jacobs, operate Spriggly’s Beescaping, a business dedicated to the preservation of pollinators. Contact him at brannen.basham@gmail.com.