The Truth About Paper Wasps In Maryland

05/14/2020


Stinging Insects   
paper wasp on a rock

It is likely that you have seen a paper wasp if you've lived in Maryland for very long. Having experienced them first hand, you probably know some things about them. You may have noticed that the brown wasps you see on your deck, porch, or balcony are not aggressive. They seem to buzz around, happily oblivious to your presence. You may have even had one land on you and you didn't get stung. If this is your experience with paper wasps, you may be tempted to think that they are harmless. But the stinging truth about paper wasps is that they aren't always docile. You've just been catching them at the right time, and in the right places. Here's what you should know about paper wasps in Maryland.

3 Reasons A Paper Wasp Might Be Docile

Insects have natural behaviors and instincts. Understanding the natural behavior patterns and instincts of a paper wasp can help you avoid getting stung. We're going to start our analysis by taking a look at three reasons a paper wasp may not want to sting you.

It is more interested in surviving the winter than stinging you:

Something interesting happens in the fall; most paper wasps die. The only wasps that make it through the winter are the female reproductives. They will be the queens of new nests in the spring. Just before the bitter cold comes, these female wasps start looking for places to hide. This behavior is called overwintering. Many female wasps will overwinter in trees, stumps, crevices, and in other sheltered places in nature, but some will find harborage in man-made structures.

When you see a wasp buzzing around your deck, porch, or balcony in the fall, it is likely to be a reproductive female wasp looking for a place to hide. If it is, you have little to worry about. She doesn't want to sting you. Her greatest concern is the preservation of her species. That is why she is mostly docile.

It is away from its nest:

Paper wasps have a nest-protection instinct. If you go near a nest that is attached to your home or is hiding inside a structure, the wasps will let you know you've crossed the line. But a wasp that is away from its nest is far more docile. Its focus is on collecting food and nest resources. If you see a paper wasp near your deck, porch, or balcony, and there is no nest nearby, that little wasp isn't likely to be aggressive.

It is not provoked:

A wasp can and will sting you if you provoke it. It is never wise to take a swing at a paper wasp. This will provoke it. It is best to move briskly out of the area where you see a wasp, and keep from swinging your arms rapidly.

Some Paper Wasps Can't Sting You

Only female wasps have the ability to sting. They do so with an egg-laying organ called an ovipositor. When they sting, they inject venom rather than lay an egg. Males don't have an ovipositor. But what you might find interesting is that males act as though they can sting you. They may land on you, cling to you and try to sting. But nothing will happen.

During the fall, paper wasps swarm together, often in high locations. The males (which can't sting) and the females (that don't want to sting) will gather in a cloud that could scare you. Fortunately, there is little chance that you'll be stung as long as you move away without swinging your arm vigorously. It is okay to move quickly, just don't make any jerking motions that could prompt the females to become aggressive in self-defense.

When To Worry About Being Stung By A Paper Wasp

Now that we've covered the ways paper wasps may be docile around you, let's turn our attention to the conditions that can make paper wasps aggressive toward you. There are really only two. That means there are more reasons for a paper wasp to not want to sting you. That is certainly good news.

Quick Movements

If you stand still in a cloud of paper wasps, you probably won't get stung, especially if the wasps aren't near their nest. But one fast movement can cause one of those wasps to release a pheromone scent, and that can turn all of those wasps against you very quickly.

Nest Protection

You should never underestimate the nest-protection instinct of a paper wasp. If you get near a location that has a nest, the wasps will release their pheromones and you will quickly be surrounded by some unhappy female wasps that are more than capable of stinging you.

The Truth About Paper Wasp Stingers

If you've heard that bees lose their stinger when they sting you, it could have you wondering whether or not this is true for wasps. Unfortunately, wasps don't have a barb on their stinger. So, unlike a bee, which would get its barb caught in your skin, a paper wasp is able to plunge its stinger into your skin several times without losing it. That means a smaller number of wasps can present a greater threat than a larger number of bees.

The Truth About Paper Wasps In Your Yard

In nature, paper wasps are beneficial. They help with pollination. While they aren't as good at it as a nice, furry bee, they still help. And when wasps come into your yard, this will help to reduce spiders and other unwanted critters. That is certainly a good reason to have them around! When you combine these two benefits with the fact that paper wasps are mostly docile, you begin to see that they are important for the ecosystem around your home. The problems begin when wasps create nests on your property. It is okay to have wasps visit. But a paper wasp nest can present a serious threat to you, your family, and your pets.

As a pest control company, it is our job to manage pest populations in a way that allows them to be a benefit; not a threat. We believe that paper wasps play a vital role in nature and in our yards. We don't think it is to anyone's advantage to spray these insects into extinction. They should be allowed to play their beneficial role. Our team focuses on early detection of nests and safe removal of nests. If there is no nest on your property, you are far less likely to be stung by a paper wasp.

The Truth About What Paper Wasps Look Like

Most people associate paper wasps with the reddish-brown wasps that have yellow legs and bands of yellow on their abdomens. These are red paper wasps. While quite common, they are far from the only type of paper wasp in North America. It is estimated that there are over 22 species here. Some species of paper wasps are yellow and black in coloration, which gets them confused with yellow jackets, which are far more aggressive stinging insects.

How to tell a paper wasp from a yellow jacket:

  • You may be able to quickly differentiate a paper wasp from a yellow jacket by looking at its waist. The waist of a yellow jacket is fat. The waist of a paper wasp is slim.

  • You may be able to tell a paper wasp from a yellow jacket even as it flies through the air. Paper wasps let their legs dangle. Yellow jackets tuck their legs up.

The Truth About Paper Wasp Nests

There are some misconceptions about paper wasps nests. It is important to understand them. Some people refer to paper wasps as umbrella wasps because of the shape their nests have when they are being created. These nests are a common sight in Maryland, and you can probably venture a guess as to where you can find a nest on your property. That's right: underneath a roofline. You may have also guessed that they build nests on the ceilings of porches. This is true as well. But there are many locations paper wasps can create nests that might surprise you.

Places you can expect to see a paper wasp nest:

  • Under a roof overhang

  • On a tree branch

  • In a shrub

  • In the rafter of a barn or attic space of a home

  • Under a window ledge

  • On the ceiling of an exterior structure, such as a porch, deck, or gazebo

  • Places you might not expect to see a paper wasp nest:  

  • In an open pipe

  • In a chimney

  • Underneath a deck, patio, or porch

  • Inside the void of an exterior wall

  • In an object sitting in the backyard

  • In a clothesline

How To Prevent Wasps From Getting Inside

Fall Preparation — When wasps attempt to get into your home during the fall, it is important that they don't find any entry points. One of the key areas to check is your soffits and eaves. But they can get in through:

  • Gaps around foundation penetrations

  • Cracks in foundation walls

  • Gaps around window and door frames

  • Damaged weatherstripping

  • Unprotected vent exhausts

  • Unprotected weep holes

  • Gaps around roof penetrations

  • Gaps behind chimney stacks

  • And more

Reduction — If you have fewer wasps near your home, it will reduce your risk of a wasp overwintering in your home during the fall and creating a nest on your property in the spring. You can reduce wasp activity by reducing stagnant water resources that wasps drink from. Reduce these sources by:

  • Removing containers that catch rainwater

  • Loosen compacted soil

  • Clean your gutters and repair any damage to your gutters, splash blocks, and downspouts

Nest Removal — Catching nests early in the spring and removing them will prevent populations of wasps from establishing themselves in your yard. Be cautious about doing this. It can be hazardous to remove a nest. The best time to remove a nest is:

  • During the day when wasps are out foraging for food or materials to build their nests

  • When the nest is just starting and there are no hexagonal chambers that are hidden from view

  • When there are no wasps crawling on the nest

The Truth About Removing Nests

While you can take a broom and brush away a little umbrella nest before it has a chance to develop fully, it is not so easy to remove a nest that is well on its way to being formed, or completely formed. As we've discussed, paper wasps have a nest-protection instinct. They'll swarm together and aggressively defend their nest. Here are a few things to consider.

It is unwise to attempt to remove a nest:

  • That is in an enclosed space

  • By hanging out a window

  • By climbing a ladder

  • By spraying toxic chemicals on it

  • By using a bat, saw, hammer, fishing pole, or some other item

  • Without proper protective gear

The Best Way To Remove A Paper Wasps Nest

Contact American Pest when you need a wasp nest removed. Our licensed professionals will take appropriate action to eliminate the nest according to all safety protocols. We can also help you prevent nests from being established on your property by doing routine inspections throughout the year. If you'd like to learn more or you have a question about paper wasps, reach out to us any time. We're here to help.






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