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Wasp species belonging to the Polistes genus are commonly known as “paper wasps,” and they are the most commonly controlled and most abundant group of wasps in the United States. It is believed that paper wasps get their common name from their ability to convert bits of wood into paper that they use for nest building, but this claim has been disputed by some experts. There are 22 documented paper wasp species in the US, the most common being the northern paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus). This species is also the most commonly managed stinging pest species in the country, as they can be found in most states where they frequently establish nests on the underside of eaves and within attics. However, in the northeast, a non-native paper wasp species, Polistes dominula, has surpassed the northern paper wasp as the most commonly encountered wasp species within and around homes in the region. This species is more commonly known as the “European,” or “Mediterranean paper wasp,” and it was first documented as inhabiting the US back in 1981, making it a relatively new species in the country where it is continuing to expand its habitat range.

The European paper wasp is commonly mistaken for a yellow jacket due to the yellow and black stripes adorning its body. This species was first discovered in the US when colonies were recovered in Cambridge, Massachusetts during the late 1970s. Every spring, European paper wasp queens start new colonies after having overwintered within protected locations, such as tree hollows, beneath bark, in nests, within wall voids, under siding or in attics. During the summer, nests are frequently spotted on the underside of eaves and sometimes they are discovered in hidden indoor areas. Some of the strangest areas where European paper wasp nests are commonly found include light fixtures, parking meters, bird boxes, gas grills, motor homes, boats and vehicles. European paper wasps can pose a medical threat due to their habit of nesting on and within urban and suburban structures. Nests that are spotted in high-traffic areas should be removed or treated only by trained pest control professionals.

Have you ever encountered an active wasp nest on or within your home?