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Wasps are one of the most important species of flying insects, with over 100,000 documented species around the world. Wasps are considered either social wasps, which will aggressively defend their nest, or solitary, meaning that they are loners and do not belong to any nest or large population, or predatory, meaning that they search out food sources such as other insects in which they paralyze them and lay their eggs inside. This provides a food source for the newly hatched offspring to survive.
The vast majority of wasps are solitary, and will build a "communal nest" but only to provide for its own offspring. These communal nests are like little apartments for the offspring to grow and mature in, but the adult wasps do not exhibit any of the characteristics of "social" wasps, and do not have any complex behavior patterns associated with social wasps. Most don't even sting, although their ovipositor can look menacing and convincing enough to warrant and immediate swat or dose of wasp killer.
(Actual Size - 3/4" - 1")
Paper wasps, also referred to as “umbrella wasps,” are very common as there are believed to be more than 1,000 species of them worldwide. In North America, there are over 22 species - all belonging to the Polistes genus. The paper wasp is one of the large wasp species, measuring between 3/4" and 1.0 inches long. Their bodies are slender and generally brown (but they can also be black or reddish in color), and feature yellow markings and black wings. Paper wasps get their name due to the manner in which they construct their nests.
In early spring, the queen comes out of hibernation (she is the only one survive the winter) and begins to construct the nest. She makes her nest by collecting plant and wood particles and mixing them with her saliva to form a very thin, paper-like material. She uses this material to form an open-celled nest that hangs from a single “stalk,” giving it the appearance of an upside-down umbrella.
Due to the fragile material used to make the nest, the queen will seek out a protected place before she begins construction. Her nest will most likely be found in a place that is protected from the elements such as, doorways, under a building eave, a door frame, under a tree limb, the garage, or even in dense vegetation and wood stacks. Once the nest has been made, she will begin laying her eggs. The queen will then forage for food, which is primarily nectar, caterpillars and other insects, to feed her young. As a result, paper wasps are an asset to the environment as they help with pollination while keeping the insect population down.
Once the first group of larvae (young) grows into adulthood, the queen begins to “reign” over them. These young then become the workers and assume duties such as food-gathering, nest-building and larvae-tending while the queen continues to lay eggs. If the queen dies, gets lost or meets another fate, the other females will fight and the most aggressive one will become the new queen and begin to lay eggs and dominate over the workers. In late summer or fall, the males, unmated females and the founding queen will all die. The mated females will go into hibernation for the winter and emerge in the spring to form their own colonies and start the process over.
While paper wasps can be dangerous and aggressive, the generally do not attack unless they are bothered or their nests are bothered. They will attack to protect their colony. Paper wasps attack by stinging their “prey,” and some mammals such as birds, wolves, cats and dogs can be highly susceptible to the toxins they release. Humans can also experience severe reactions, some fatal, when stung by paper wasps. This is why it is important to eliminate any paper wasp nests that you find on or near your home, garage or any other outbuilding or area you frequent.
While paper wasps do serve a purpose in nature, when they get too close to people and feel threatened, they will defend themselves by stinging whomever is threatening them. Paper wasp stings are not usually life threatening, but they can be very painful, cause itching, swelling and redness. Therefore, it is best to treat them as soon as possible.
Treating a wasp sting is not difficult and can be done from home, when the reaction is not severe. The first thing you need to do is clean the area with soap and water and remove the stinger if it is broken off (very rarely do wasps lose their stingers after an attack). Once the stinger has been removed, apply an antibiotic ointment and ice the area for 15-20 minutes every hour until the swelling has subsided. You can take ibuprofen for the pain and Benadryl to help with any itching. Meat tenderizer can also be used as a paste and applied to the sting area. This sometimes helps to reduce swelling and pain, similar to ice.
Occasionally, wasp stings cause severe reactions in the people they sting. In these cases, it’s important to recognize the warning signs quickly to ensure prompt treatment. The warning signs can include any, some or all of the following symptoms: nausea/vomiting, dizziness, swelling (throat, lips, or face), low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and a weak or racing pulse. When any of these symptoms are experienced shortly after a wasp bite, the person needs to get to the emergency room as quickly as possible.