European Paper Wasp
The European paper wasp (Polistes dominula) is the common name for an invasive wasp that arrived in the northeastern United States around 1981. This wasp is slowly spreading and forcing out native paper wasps. There are about 300 different kinds or species of paper wasps living in the world.
Interesting Paper Wasp Facts
Paper wasps do not have barbs on the end of their stinger. This means they can repeatedly sting a single individual. And when they do sting, they release a chemical odor that infuriates and alarms other wasps in the immediate area to attack and sting as well.
Paper wasps start a new nest each spring from a single queen that mated the prior fall. Only queens that mate can make it through the winter.
Paper wasp nests are often in unusal locations such as playground swing supports, in lower bushes and in small voids.
European paper wasps are superficially similar to a yellowjacket because of their black and yellow color but can be recognized by their dangling legs as they fly and their more slender body shape. This species builds its nests behind walls, in small voids, in bushes and wherever it can find a void. This is an aggressive wasp that often stings people when they approach their nest.
Paper wasps are frequent scavengers and they are often encountered during cookouts, around dumpsters and in trash receptacles. Many people are stung as they accidently get near or brush up against a hidden nest.
All paper wasps are social insects and they aggressively protect their nest by powerful stings. Nests are created new each spring by overwintering mated queens. The workers expand the nest during the spring and summer. In the fall, after the males and females mate, the males rapidly die and the females overwinter and begin a new nest the following spring. Paper wasps capture large quantities of insects. When paper wasps start their new nests in the spring, they are most vulnerable before they produce workers that can protect the nest. These nests are difficult to locate due to their small size. Once the nest is larger and workers are foraging, you can follow workers as they return to the nest. It is always a good idea to find the paper wasp nest before these wasps find you.
Preventing Paper Wasp Stings
Paper wasps can sting many times, and unlike bees that have a barbed sting, paper wasps usually do not die after stinging. Once stung, the victim is marked by an alarm odor that excites nearby wasps to repeatedly sting the hapless victim. Many are hospitalized while others experience considerable pain from the venom. People who have a history of allergies, heart problems, or known sensitivity to stings should be very careful and seek medical advice when stung.
Most people only suffer temporary pain when stung. This pain can be reduced by cooling the affected area with cold water or ice. If possible, capture the wasp for identification. The venom of wasps can be used to desensitize people who have severe sting allergies. When stung out of doors, immediately vacate the area to distance yourself from a possible wasp nest. The best policy is to prevent wasp stings. When encountering a wasp, remain calm, especially if you are driving down the highway at high speeds. Pull over, stop and open all car windows to let the wasp escape before continuing. Look carefully for nests before doing yard or outdoor work. Wear foot protection out of doors.
Do not eat tuna, chicken or other smelly foods outdoors when and where wasps are actively hunting for food. Wasps may enter soft drink containers before you lift them to your mouth since wasps are attracted to strong food odors. Wash hands and mouths of children before sending them out to play.
Wasps from several nests may be active in the same vicinity. When a single wasp finds food, it must return to the nest, share its food with the colony and then return to the food alone. Other wasps in the area may observe feeding by this individual and are then attracted to the immediate area by what scientists call social facilitation. When there are several wasps feeding, then even more wasps are attracted to the food.
There are wasp traps available that use food bait and an attractant inside of a clear container. Wasps are unable to exit the inverted cone trap as long as the container is kept upright and in the light. Effective lures for these traps are Grenadine syrup, tuna or coke. It is a good idea to place these traps along the perimeter of a picnic area before food is brought out to eat. Bring the food out just before you are ready to eat, eat quickly and clean up right away to avoid encountering numbers of these wasps. There are many stories of individuals who tried to use chemicals to control wasps and they ended up with multiple stings. Leave such heroics to professional pest control operators who should wear personal protective equipment.
It is possible to observe wasps returning from their food source to their nest. By setting out small chunks of tuna, you can watch struggling wasps slowly fly at a fast walking pace back to their nest. This technique, called making a bee line, is made even more effective if you are patient enough to keep placing the food closer and closer to the nest until it is found. It is better to find and have nests eliminated in the early summer rather than wait until their numbers are built up to maximum at the end of the season.
Wasps are an important part of nature and your best defense against being stung is to learn as much as you can about their biology and behavior.
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