Our family has been battling paper wasps near our gazebo and pool area all summer. Unfortunately my son Derek and my husband Mark have both been stung.
It seems a bit ironic that I am battling a pollinator during a year when pollinator protection is such a hot topic. Yes, wasps are considered pollinators because they feed on pollen and nectar from a variety of flowers. They are also beneficial predators of other insects and spiders that they feed to their larvae. Still, when nests are near human activity areas their painful, and sometimes life threatening, stings are a real threat.
There are many different types of bees and wasps in Illinois, only some of which readily sting humans. Most insect stings are from yellowjackets. Yellowjackets, hornets and paper wasps make nests of paper. Honey bees and bumblebees make nests of wax. Solitary bees and wasps nest in holes in the ground, rotten wood or natural cavities. Some wasps even make mud nests.
Paper wasps are not considered as aggressive and protective of their nests are yellowjackets but, will sting if threatened. The paper wasp builds single-layered paper nests from eaves, ceilings, or branches.
Similar to bees, paper wasps are social insects with a queen. During the winter, most paper wasps die, except new queens. Queens survive the winter by nesting in protected places such as under the bark of trees, or in cracks and crevices around structures. In the spring, queens start a new nest that looks like honeycomb. The comb, which hangs from a single filament, is usually oriented downward and consists of a single tier of hexagonal-shaped cells.
The queen deposits eggs in the comb (cells) on the underside of the nest. After the eggs hatch, the grub-like larvae are mostly fed other insects, such as caterpillars, that the worker wasps collect. Once the larvae have matured, they pupate in their cells and join the colony as an adult. Adult paper wasps mainly feed on nectar.
Dr. Philip Nixon, University of Illinois Extension Entomologist, suggests the following for controlling paper wasps. Spray outdoor, aboveground wasp nests with ready-to-use sprays. When spraying, stand well away from the colony and soak the nest thoroughly. When all wasps are dead, remove nests and destroy them. Treat wasp nests at dusk or dawn when the insects aren't as active and wear protective clothing, including a long sleeved, collared shirt, long pants, shoes, socks and a hat at a minimum. To prevent queen activity in the spring, caulk cracks and crevices in winter or early spring, but do not caulk the opening of an active nest.
Commonly sold wasp traps are usually only effective for yellowjackets and are not generally effective for other social insects such as paper wasps or hornets.
Bees and wasps are important members of the insect world and our ecosystem. Unfortunately, some do inflict painful stings if we aren't careful. If you are stung, apply a cold compress to the affected area. If a severe reaction develops, seek immediate medical attention.