Red Paper Wasps – A Quick Guide

The red paper wasp, Polistes Canadensis, is found in North and South America. They are one of two species referred to as a red paper wasp in the United States. The other being Polistes Carolina.

How did red paper wasps get their name?

In addition to having bodies that are almost entirely a rusty red color, the red paper wasp is known for its large paper nests. Like other paper wasps, they construct nests by chewing on wood and turning it into a pulp. It is not uncommon for them to nest in the eaves of homes and other man-made structures. The nests are noticeable by the fact that they do not have an outer envelope and the combs are visible.

Is the sting of the red paper wasp painful?

They have a painful sting. According to the Schmidt insect pain index, the red paper wasp is one of the most painful stings of all wasps. Schmidt described the sting as ‘Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter after taste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.Read more about the pain index.

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What do red paper wasps prey on?

Red paper wasps target caterpillars as a food source for their larvae. One colony can prey on thousands of caterpillars in one season. Their role in reducing insect numbers is recognized as significant. Without the prolific hunting habits of species such as these other insect populations would explode.

Do red paper wasps have queens?

Like other social wasp species, the colony has a single founding queen. What makes the queen different in this species is that she is far more aggressive to the other wasps in the colony. It has been documented that sometimes confrontations can result in fatal battles within the nest. The queen has dominance over all the other wasps and the successful functioning of the colony is dependent on her control. If the queen is lost then the colony will likely disperse and dominant females may establish a new colony. The queen will lay almost all of the eggs for the colony.

Do red paper wasps fight each other?

Males compete over mating territories. The principal role of the male red paper wasp is to mate with new queens. Their sperm will produce the next colony of female wasps numbering thousands, so a lot is at stake. The competition between the wasps ensures that the strongest specimens provide their sperm for the next generation of colonies.

Are they aggressive toward other red paper wasp colonies?

Workers can forage for more than one colony. In contrast to other species, the female workers of red paper wasps may contribute to the development of neighboring colonies. As colonies within proximity were likely established by sister females the colonies are close relatives to each other. The cooperation and multiple related colonies are a defense against the high level of predation. It is estimated that up to 40% of the larvae within a colony will not survive to full development.

How do red paper wasps alert each other to danger?

When one of the wasps perceives a threat to the colony they can release an odor by releasing their venom that will stimulate other wasps to mount a defensive attack. Once this odor is released the wasps are more likely to act aggressively and sting.

Do red paper wasp nests suffer from parasites?

The tineid moth targets red paper wasp nests. They lay their eggs within the colony. When the moth larvae hatch they consume the wasp larvae and pupae. This threat explains why red paper wasps do not reuse combs for different broods. They construct new combs as a defense against infestation.