Most Wanted: Paper Wasps


June 11, 2014

With behavior adapted to numerous manmade structures, Polistines or paper wasps, Polistes spp., can be a challenging architectural antagonist. The paper wasp is a flying foe for pest management professionals (PMPs) and occasionally a threat to public health.

Approximating hornets in color patterning, a paper wasp’s abdomen is slender, and attached to the thorax by a short petiole. The Polistine clypeus (meaning shield-below the frons, or “face,” and above the labrum) on the front of the insect’s head is pointed at the apex. The hind-wing has an anal lobe.

The paper wasp nest might be attached to a branch, eave or other architectural underhang feature. Consisting of circular combs and cells, the nest is suspended by a stem-like apparatus. Cellular ends are open with larval heads in view.

[ RELATED LINK: Dos & Don’ts: Paper Wasps ]

Paper wasps — generally docile when compared to hornets and yellowjackets — still must be approached with caution. Paper wasps can inflict multiple stings, causing potentially serious reactions in allergic individuals. If someone is stung:

  • Clean the sting site.
  • Apply ice.
  • Take an oral antihistamine for pruritus, or itching.
  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain.
  • Seek medical advice if there are any signs of an allergic reaction.
  • An Epipen might be prescribed.

The paper wasp is important as a public health issue. For PMPs, the new benchmark for paper wasp treatment is elimination through applied biology.


Dr. Mitchell, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H., B.C.E., a board-certified physician and entomologist, is principal technical specialist for PestWest Environmental, as well as PMP’s Technical Editor. He can be reached at or 515-333-8923.

About the Author

MITCHELL, D.O., DVM, PsyD, BCE, is technical director of PestWest, and a frequent contributor to PMP.

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