Paper wasps collect fibers from dead timber and plant stems, which they combine with saliva, and use to construct water-resistant nests made of gray or brown papery material. Some types are also called umbrella wasps, due to the distinctive design of their nests.
Most wasps are beneficial in their natural habitat, and are seriously important in natural biocontrol. Paper wasps feed on nectar and other insects, including caterpillars, flies, and beetle larvae. Due to the fact that they are a well-known pollinator and feed on known garden insects, paper wasps are often considered to be beneficial by careful garden enthusiasts.
The nest is founded in early spring, not long after the queens (mated females) arise from hibernation. As the nest matures, males and the next year’s queens are produced. These queens mate with males and are the only members of the nest to survive through winter. In late summer or fall, the founding queen, workers (unmated females), and males all die. The newly mated queens hibernate, typically in heaps of timber, in plants, or in holes. The following spring they arise and begin the cycle once more.
The nests of a lot of true paper wasps are defined by having open combs with cells for brood rearing, and a “petiole,” or constricted stalk, which anchors the nest. Paper wasps produce a chemical that fends off looting ants, which they spread around the base of the nest anchor to stop the loss of eggs or brood. Nests can be located in sheltered locations, such as the eaves of a home, the branches of a tree, on the end of an open pipe, or on an old clothesline.
Unlike yellow jackets and hornets, which can be very aggressive, paper wasps will typically only strike if they themselves or their nest are endangered. Since their territoriality can lead to attacks on individuals, and because their stings are quite painful and can produce a potentially fatal anaphylactic response in some people, nests in human-inhabited locations might present an unacceptable threat. The duration of the sting pain can vary anywhere from one min to half a hr.