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Paper wasps are widely believed to be aggressive and dangerous insects that will not hesitate to inject their potent venom into humans who approach their nests. But there exists more than 300 paper wasp species that have been documented in the world, 22 of which have been found in North America, so generalizing paper wasp behavior is not necessarily a straightforward matter. While most species do, indeed, possess highly potent venom, these wasps are nowhere near as aggressive toward humans as yellow jackets and many other wasp species. Experts disagree about the number of paper wasp species that exist within the northeast United States. Some sources claim that only two species inhabit the region, while other sources claim that at least three paper wasp species can be found in the northeast. The three paper wasp species that have been documented in Massachusetts include the red paper wasp, the northern paper wasp, and the non-native European paper wasp. Although these wasps are relatively less aggressive toward humans than many other wasp species, paper wasps are still considered a significant public health threat in Massachusetts due to the potency of their venom and their habit of constructing nests on or inside of structures and highly populated outdoor regions.

One scientific survey found that a whopping 90 percent of 88 selected locations had a paper wasp nest attached to, or inside of a structure, while the remaining 10 percent were found within shrubs and other forms of vegetation near structures. Many paper wasp nests are built on the underside of structural ledges, beneath a home’s eaves and gutters, on the exterior corners of windows, on decks and patios, as well as within sheds, garages and attics. Paper wasp queens sometimes enter obscured areas within homes or buildings during the fall in order to overwinter. These protected indoor areas include vents, wall voids, and some nests are even found hanging from ceilings in larger buildings. Once the spring season arrives, the queen leaves the indoor location in order to start a new colony. Paper wasp stings can cause serious systemic symptoms even in those who are not allergic to their venom, and those who do have an allergy to paper wasp venom can experience anaphylactic shock, which can lead to death.

Have you ever found what you believed to be a paper wasp nest within your home?