You have them around the house and yard during
the summer and you probably kill them on sight. Most paper
wasps measure about an inch long and are black, brown, or reddish
in color with yellow markings. The most common species on Knotts
Island is the golden paper wasp. Paper wasps will defend
their nest if attacked. It's the sting of their defense that
prompts you to attack them first. There's more to them then
just a nest full of angry little stinging insects. They have
a fairly complex social system and they are actually good for your
gardens and flower beds. Take a closer look at a one of
their nests. They have a lot to get done before winter.
In the springtime, you'll most likely see a tiny little
paper nest with only two or three cells guarded by a single wasp.
This is where the whole colony starts. The nest is suspended
from a single, central stalk and has the shape of an upside-down
umbrella. Plant and wood fibers are collected by the wasps,
mixed with saliva, and chewed into a paper-mâché-like material
that is formed into the thin cells of the nest. The nests are
constructed in protected places, such as under the eaves of your
house or yard buildings, in dense bushes, or under abandoned cars
and trailers. Several to several dozen paper wasps will inhabit
The first wasp on the nest is a female who was mated
the previous summer, she was mated and then went into hibernation
for the winter. This female constructs the nest, lays eggs,
forages, and raises the first generation of offspring. She then
stops foraging, becomes the queen, and rules by dominating her
offspring of workers. A similar life cycle is found in
The first eggs begin to hatch and out come females who
will be the workers and males, who will contribute to the nest a
bit but mostly just attend the queen wasp. Males aren't very
dominant in the nest. The new workers begin building on the
nest and foraging for food. Adults forage for nectar, their
source of energy, and for caterpillars to feed the larvae.
They are natural enemies of many garden insect pests. By the
end of the summer, the nest has grown considerably and has many
wasps living on it but there is a limit to the growth of the nest.
The females are mated and are now ready to start new colonies.
They leave in the fall and find a place to hibernate for the
winter. The rest of the wasps including the founding queen
The next time you see a nest of wasps, think about
letting them stay. If they aren't living in an area that
poses a threat to you or your pets, they can help you keep the
leaf chewing crawlers out of your gardens. This will be the
last time you see them anyway. They have a lot to get done
before the end of their life cycle.