Paper wasps, yellowjackets, and hornets can appear every summer in temperate climates. Masters of papermaking, the queen will construct a new nest in the spring by gathering wood fibers, turning them into a papery pump, and then building a home. You may have seen the open, umbrella-shaped nests suspended from eaves or window casings on the outside of your home. These are made by paper wasps. Hornets create massive enclosed nests that hang from tree branches or other sturdy perches, while yellowjackets make enclosed nests underground. Both yellowjackets and hornets can live in colonies of well over 100 vespids, whereas paper wasps generally live in colonies of less than 100.
Seeing wasps on your property isn’t necessarily an indication of a nest. Wasps will travel to find food or materials for nest building. Once the weather starts to warm up after winter, the only surviving members of the colony – the mated queens – will emerge to choose a nest site and build a small nest to lay the first eggs. If however you see wasps regularly flying near and in sheltered areas like gutters or roof spaces, you may have a wasp nest in or near your home. Try to keep an eye on these areas as wells as wall cavities, eaves, sheds, and garages before the peak of summer in case you spot a pattern of nests leaving and returning. Smaller nests are easier to deal with if you find yourself with a nest in your home.
If your property is affected by a nest, be aware that it’s not always necessary to have a nest removed. If the nest is in a garden, or somewhere out of the way it might be best to leave the nest alone. Male paper wasps, for example, are incapable of stinging because the stinger on the females is a modified egg-laying structure (ovipositor) and it is not present in males. In addition wasps feed on insects, including caterpillar pests, and thus are considered to be beneficial insects by many gardeners. By the end of summer, most nests will eventually be abandoned. If you need to remove a nest, especially if it’s near an area that you frequent, contact a professional. Do not attempt to remove a nest by yourself. Female wasps can sting repeatedly so avoid agitating them.