Paper wasps and hornets
may become a nuisance when nesting around homes and other structures
where people live, work or play. Although considered beneficial to
agriculture, (since northern or paper wasps feed abundantly on corn
earworms, armyworms, tobacco hornworms, etc. and hornets on house flies,
blow flies, harmful caterpillars, etc.), it is their painful stinging
ability that causes alarm and fear. Nevertheless, unless the threat of
stings and nest location present a hazard, it is often best to wait for
Mother Nature to kill these annual colonies with freezing temperatures
in late November and December. Stinging workers do not survive the
winter, and the same nest usually is not reused the following year,
except by the yellow and black dominulus paper wasp, on occasion.
The northern or paper wasp is about 3/4 to 1-inch long, slender,
narrow waisted with long legs and reddish-orange to dark brown or black
in color. There are yellowish markings on the abdomen (rear body part).
Paper-like nests, shaped like tiny umbrellas, are suspended by a short
stem attached to eaves, window frames, porch ceilings, attic rafters,
etc. Each nest consists of a horizontal layer or "tier" of circular comb
of hexagonal (six-sided) cells not enclosed by a paper-like envelope.
The ends of the cells are open with the heads of the larvae exposed to
New to Ohio in 1991, the dominulus paper wasp is somewhat
smaller than our native northern paper wasp. It is black with bright,
yellow stripes and spots resembling yellowjacket wasps in color.
Baldfaced hornets are up to 3/4-inch long with black and ivory
white markings on the face, thorax (middle body part) and tip of the
abdomen. Paper-like nests are grayish-brown, inverted, pear-shaped up to
three feet tall with the nest entrance at the bottom. Each nest
consists of a number of horizontal layers, stories or "tiers" of
circular combs, one below the other completely enclosed by a paper-like
envelope as a covering. Also, the cells are not exposed to view.
Paper wasps and hornets are social insects, living in colonies
containing workers, queens and males. Colonies are annual with only
inseminated queens overwintering. Fertilized queens occur in protected
places such as houses and other structures, hollow logs, in stumps,
under bark, in leaf litter, in soil cavities, etc. Queens emerge during
the warm days of late April or early May, select a nest site and build a
small paper nest in which eggs are laid. One egg is laid in each cell.
As she adds more cells around the edge, eggs are deposited. Larvae in
the center are older with the younger larvae further out. It is the
cells at the rim of the nest which contain eggs. After eggs hatch, the
queen feeds the young larvae. When larvae are ready to pupate, cells are
covered with silk, forming little domes over the individual openings.
Larvae pupate, emerging later as small, infertile females called
"workers." By mid-June, the first adult workers emerge and assume the
tasks of nest expansion, foraging for food, caring for the queen and
larvae and defending the colony. Remember with paper wasps, the nest is
the work of a single female, has a single layer or "tier" of cells and
is not enclosed by envelopes. In hornets, the nests usually consist of a
number of stories or "tiers," one below the other and completely
enclosed by spherical walls. Each cell may be used for two or three
successive batches of brood.
Adult food consists of nectar or other sugary solutions such as
honeydew and the juices of ripe fruits. Paper wasps and hornets also
feed on bits of caterpillars or flies that are caught and partially
chewed before presenting to their young. Hornets may be seen almost any
summer day engaged in their winged pursuit of flies.
Northern or paper wasps nest in window sills, along eaves and in
open areas sheltered from the rain. It is expected that the dominulus
paper wasp will become a permanent, widespread and common resident in
Ohio. Reports indicate it is much more "alert to activity near its
nests" than our present indigenous paper wasp species.
Information provided courtesy of Ohio State University Extension