The paper wasp species, Polistes dominulus and Polistes fuscatus, are the two most widespread and abundant wasp species in the US. Surprisingly, colonies of Polistes wasps outnumber those of all other social wasp species in the US combined, and this includes 16 yellow jacket species. Wasps in the Polistes genus are also known as “umbrella wasps,” but Polistes species are most often referred to as paper wasps due to the paper-like material on the exterior of their nests. Despite the commonality of this name, it is misleading, as all vespids (yellow jackets and hornets) construct their nests with a similar paper-like material, including ground-nesting yellow jackets. The name umbrella wasp derives from the umbrella shape of paper wasp nests, but this name is also questionable, as another closely related wasp genus, Mischocyttarus, build similarly shaped nests. The majority of wasp nests found on and within homes and buildings belong to paper wasps, and while these wasps are not as aggressive toward humans as yellow jackets, paper wasps will aggressively swarm toward humans and inflict numerous stings if their nests become disturbed.
Polistes dominulus and Polistes fuscatus, are more commonly known as “European” and “northern paper wasps,” respectively. These two species are particularly abundant in the northeastern states where their nests are frequently removed from both the inside and exterior walls of homes by pest control professionals. In fact, a recent nationwide survey of pest control professionals revealed that these two paper wasp species are the most commonly managed wasps in the country, putting them ahead of yellow jackets and honey bees. Both European and northern paper wasps prefer to establish nests within and on manmade structures, but European wasp nests are found in these areas more frequently than those of northern paper wasps. Garages, sheds, wall voids, beneath eaves, in ceiling rafters, and attics are the areas where paper wasp nests are found most often.
Have you ever found a wasp nest in your attic?