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    Paper Wasps: A Hidden Holiday Danger

    Tuesday, November 09, 2021 | Mid-Cities Pest Control

    A fall breeze rustles the leaves and sends gentle white clouds meandering across a bright blue sky. Jack-o-Lanterns and skeletons have vacated lawns and been replaced with corn stalks, turkeys, and decor welcoming family and friends to sit by the hearth and give thanks for the shared love and fellowship. Family recipes are perused in anticipation of Thanksgiving dinner, while those already dreaming of a white Christmas begin to hang lights along rooftops and eaves. But while the peace of the season is permeating the air, a menace may be lurking on your home, about to turn joyous holiday preparation into a trip to the emergency room: paper wasps. Though these pests are not as notorious as hornets, their sting still packs quite a punch, and unlike some ground-dwelling wasps, they like to make their nests in the exact places you are about to hang your beautiful Christmas decorations. And while being surrounded by family and friends while you decorate your home would be a magical moment, being swarmed by angry paper wasps while standing on a ladder attempting to hang lights is a recipe for disaster. So before you rush into the most magical time of the year, read on to find out what surprises may be waiting on your rooftop (sadly, they are not Santa or his reindeer), and what you can do to keep your upcoming days merry and bright.

    What do Paper Wasps Look Like?

                    There are several species of paper wasps in Texas, each with slight differences in appearance. In general, they are between 3/4 and 1 inch long with slender bodies and narrow waists. Their body color ranges from brown with yellow markings (somewhat similar to yellowjackets) to an overall reddish-brown color. They have smoky black wings and a unique stature when flying: their back legs hang down while in flight.

    Why are they called Paper Wasps?

                    Though most commonly known as paper wasps, these pests have another apt moniker: umbrella wasps. Both of these names derive from the unique nests that these wasps create; one based on the material of the nest, the other based on the shape. Paper wasps create their nests from wood fibers collected from posts (or other man-made wooden structures) and plant stems that are then chewed up and made into a paper-like substance. This substance is formed into a single tier of downward-oriented hexagonal cells suspended from the rear by a single filament, giving the appearance of an upside-down umbrella. But being made of wood and shaped like an upside-down umbrella doesn’t stop their nests from being exceptionally waterproof; this is due to the fact that their saliva (which is mixed with the wood fibers) is a highly effective waterproofing medium; enough so that it has been studied as a foundation for synthesizing alternate waterproofing methods.

    Where do Paper Wasps Live?

                    A single paper wasp nest generally houses between 20 and 75 adult wasps. These nests are often found on or around man-made structures like houses, garages, sheds, outdoor porches, or barns, and are generally built in highly protected areas, like under eaves, decks, or railings, on ceilings, window frames, or door frames, or in attics. When not on a man-made structure, they can usually be located hanging from shrubs or trees. Though wasps are generally found outdoors on their nests, this can change in late fall as fertilized queens look for highly sheltered areas to hibernate over the winter. It’s around this time of year when you will notice a lot of wasps flying around, especially high off the ground near tree tops or towers, as male and reproductive females mate. Once fertilized, the soon-to-be queens will seek out safety in high up places like peaked attics or chimneys; it’s in this search for safety that they have been known to enter homes and offices, sometimes in small groups.

    What do Paper Wasps Eat?

                    Though adult paper wasps consume sugars, such as ripe fruit, plant nectar, or honeydew (a substance excreted by aphids), they are also a significant predator of other bugs, such as caterpillars, beetle larvae, flies, and spiders. These captured bugs are fed to the paper wasp larvae, which mature over about 6 weeks in their individual cells, until the cell is capped and they pupate into an adult and emerge to join the colony (if they are a non-reproductive female worker) or to eventually help form a new colony (if they are a reproductive female or male).

    Are Paper Wasps Dangerous?

                    Paper wasps are among the relatively rare group of stinging wasps that are known to be potentially dangerous to humans. Though there are thousands of wasps that can sting, the majority are either highly unlikely to sting a human or do not carry a venom that is likely to cause a significant reaction in humans. Paper wasps are a member of the Vespidae family, which includes hornets and yellowjackets; Vespidae wasps are known to be social insects, living in and fiercely defending their colony. As such, their stinger is used primarily as a defensive tool, and when they sting they deposit a venom containing more than 30 different compounds, any of which could spark an allergic reaction in a person. Though a wasp sting is never pleasant, and almost always results in intense pain and swelling around the sting site, in some instances the sting can be extremely severe and even fatal. In the United States, insect stings are responsible for around 40 to 100 deaths annually. Generally, the deaths are due to systemic allergic reactions that can cause anaphylaxis in as little as 10 minutes. This extreme risk factor is one of the biggest reasons to always call The Bug Dude whenever wasps invade your property, and let a professional mitigate any risks these pests could be to you and your family.

    Point of Interest: only female wasps and bees are capable of stinging; this is due to the fact that the stinger is a modified egg-laying organ, which only females possess.

    How do you Prevent Paper Wasps?

    Although paper wasps rarely use the same nest year to year, once a successful nesting location has been found, it will be utilized over and over again as new nests are built annually in the spring. This habitual behavior is one reason why it’s particularly important to take preventative measures whenever possible, so you don’t have a persistent wasp invasion.

    Given that wasps are capable of flight and are small enough to hide in any number of locations in and around your home, it’s impossible to fully prevent them. However, here are a few tips to make your house less enticing for these dangerous pests:

    1. Regularly inspect secluded areas around your home (i.e. eaves, porch ceilings, etc.) for evidence of wasp nests. If a nest is found, immediately call The Bug Dude at 800-310-BUGS (2847) to have it safely treated and removed.
    2. Maintain a regular pest control service with The Bug Dude to drastically reduce other pests on your property, thereby limiting the potential food sources for paper wasp larvae.
    3. If a nest is found in an area in/on your home, look for any repair work that can be done in that area to make it less enticing for future wasps. A few examples include: sealing any voids or openings in the area, repairing window screens, or putting on a fresh coat of paint or varnish on the area to make it more difficult for wasps to attach their nests.
    4. Keep bushes, trees, and shrubs around your home well-trimmed and appropriately thinned.
    5. Immediately clean up any sugary foods left out on your porch or in your yard (i.e. open soda cans, partially eaten fruit, etc.).
    6. Make sure garbage cans are covered with secure lids to help eliminate attractive food sources.

    How do you Eliminate Paper Wasps?

                    Paper wasps are not a pest to trifle with. When their nest is disturbed they will attack the intruder en masse, and with each wasp able to sting multiple times, they can inflict considerable, potentially fatal, damage. This is why the technicians at Mid-Cities Pest Control are expertly trained with how to safely and effectively treat and remove wasp nests. With the proper knowledge, products, and equipment in hand, the technicians at The Bug Dude can quickly eliminate a wasp issue and get you back to preparing for your holiday feasts. Give The Bug Dude a call at 817-354-5350 at the first sign of a wasp issue and let our expert techs take one thing off your plate this holiday season (so you can have room for an extra helping of turkey).

    Further Reading:

    “Paper Wasps, Yellowjackets and Solitary Wasps” – Glen C. Moore and Mike E. Merchant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

    “Paper Wasps” – Eric P. Benson, Extension Entomologist/Associate Professor and Patricia A. Zungoli, Extension Entomologist/ Professor, Department of Entomology, Soils, and Plant Sciences, Clemson University.

    “Paper Wasps, Yellowjackets and Other Stinging Wasps” – Hal C. Reed, Richard Grantham, Russell Wright – Oklahoma State University Extension

    Author Bio: Alissa Breach has been gaining knowledge and experience around pest control concerns over the last 12 years while working for Mid-Cities Pest Control. She has a creative writing BA from UW-Madison and is always pursuing new and interesting writing projects.

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