Pest Profile: Red Paper Wasp (Polistes carolina)(Insecta: Hymenoptera: Vespidae)
Kristen Stevens, BCE
Paper wasps are in the family Vespidae. The red paper wasp Polistes carolina is distributed throughout the eastern and south central United States. It is an elongate, slender wasp that is usually brownish-red with yellow markings. Paper wasps build their nests from saliva and wood tissue. They range from 25-32 mm long and have black wings that range in length between 15-25 mm long. P. carolina demonstrate sexual dimorphism, which means that the males and females look different for this species. Females are a rust color with black markings around their eyes and have yellow markings on their mandibles and some leg segments. Males of this species have distinctive brown or black markings on their leg segments and yellow markings, if they have them, will vary. They carefully build delicate layers resembling paper that form the nest and comb of hexagonal brood cells. Cells are arranged so that larvae can develop head-down toward the ground. They will typically attach their nests to the eaves of houses or the hollows of trees.
These wasps are often seen as beneficial because they will pollinate crops while in search of plant nectar. Despite some beneficial qualities, they can often pose a threat to humans. They love to build their nests near humans on the edges of buildings, homes, etc. They are attracted not only to the cozy, habitable buildings but also humans themselves. They are often attracted to bright colors, such as those used in clothing, and sweet smells, such as perfumes and foods. Unlike bees, wasps do not leave behind their stinger after a single sting; they retain their stinger and can sting an innocent bystander several times. Fortunately, they are not aggressive unless they are disturbed; however, because of how closely these wasps may nest near buildings, disturbing them is easier to do. Be aware of these wasps and take as many measures to prevent attracting them as possible. Look for cracks and crevices to seal; keep food covered if outside; keep doors closed; trim back hedges; and, if there are any fruiting trees nearby, pick fruit off the tree or the ground. To avoid the red paper wasp, be on the lookout for nests, and try not to disturb them as much as possible.