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paper wasp

What to Know About Paper Wasps in Florida

Florida's paper wasps are nature's pest controllers, sporting slim bodies and eye-catching yellow and red marks. They craft their homes from chewed-up wood and saliva—in other words, yes, they build spit houses.

While they're great at keeping other insects in check, their nests near our spaces can be a bit of a headache.

Wondering how to live in harmony with these winged wonders without worry? Keep reading to learn how to vibe with these wasps.

Key Takeaways

  • Paper wasps in Florida can be recognized by their 'wasp waist,' folded wings at rest, distinctive coloring, open umbrella-like nests, long legs, and often orange-tipped antennae.
  • Only female paper wasps can sting, using their modified egg-laying organs for defense, while males cannot sting.
  • Despite their painful stings, paper wasps contribute to ecosystems by pollinating and controlling pest populations, such as caterpillars.
  • Managing paper wasp infestations involves regular inspections, sealing entry points, maintaining gardens, and safe removal techniques. Professional help is advised for significant infestations.

Identifying Paper Wasps

In Florida, identifying Polistinae, or paper wasps, is critical to managing them around homes and gardens.

Recognizing these stinging insects involves examining their physical characteristics and nesting habits.

Features of Paper Wasps

Paper wasps can be confused with other stinging insects and social wasps like yellowjackets and hornets. However, several features distinguish them:



Body Shape

Paper wasps have a 'wasp waist,' a slender connection between the thorax and abdomen.

Wing Structure

When at rest, their wings fold longitudinally.


They have distinctive yellow, brownish, or reddish-brown markings.


Look for open, umbrella-like structures made from a paper-like material.


They have notably long legs that dangle in flight.


Their antennae are often orange-tipped.

Common Paper Wasp Species

Florida hosts several species of wasps, commonly referred to as Polistes. Their slender bodies and distinct color patterns can help you identify these types of wasps.

Red Wasp

red wasp

Scientific name: Polistes carolina

  • Color: Reddish-brown with dark wings
  • Size: About 1 inch long
  • Markings: Yellow markings on the face

Brown Paper Wasp

brown paper wasp

Scientific name: Polistes fuscatus

  • Color: Brownish with shades of red or yellow
  • Size: 0.7 to 1 inch
  • Markings: Yellow to brown stripes on the abdomen

Paper Wasp Stings

Paper wasps are known for their ability to sting, but this defensive behavior is gender-specific.

Only female wasps, including the workers and the queen, have stingers and can sting. These stingers are modified egg-laying organs (ovipositors) that also serve as a means of defense.

On the other hand, male wasps do not have stingers and, therefore, cannot sting.

Habitat and Nesting

Sometimes called umbrella wasps, the paper wasps in Florida are known for their distinctive nest-building habits and preferences.

Preferred Locations for Nesting

Paper wasps prefer sheltered nesting sites similar to solitary wasps, like mud daubers. However, they tend to seek out the following areas to build their paper-like nests:



Under Eaves

Building eaves offer protection from rain and wind, making them a popular choice for paper wasp nests.


Certain paper wasp species prefer the seclusion and warmth of attics to build their nests.

Tree Branches

Away from ground predators, tree branches provide a stable platform for nests and easy access to food sources.


Thick shrubs can offer camouflaged sites for paper wasps to establish hives.

Diet and Predation

Here's a closer look at what they eat and how they impact their surroundings:

  • Paper wasps primarily feed on nectar and serve as pollinators.
  • They predominantly hunt caterpillars, which serve as protein-rich food for their larvae.
  • Wasps contribute to controlling the populations of pest insects like caterpillars and cicadas.
  • While not their usual prey, paper wasps will occasionally target honey bees.
  • Despite the painful stings they use to defend themselves, paper wasps benefit their ecosystem through predation and pollination.

Signs of a Paper Wasp Infestation

When you see an unusually high number of wasps or locate a wasp nest on your property, this can signal a paper wasp infestation.

Identifying Signs and Symptoms

As homeowners in Florida, you must recognize the early signs of paper wasp infestation to prevent potential run-ins with these stinging insects.

Here’s what you should be on the lookout for:



Nest Appearance

Paper wasps construct their nests from chewed wood fibers and saliva, giving the structure a papery look.

Wasp Activity

A sudden increase in wasp presence around a home often indicates an infestation nearby.

Auditory Cues

Sometimes, a faint buzzing sound inside the walls or ceiling may become audible, suggesting a concealed nest.

Managing Paper Wasp Infestations

When dealing with paper wasps in Florida, removal and prevention must be approached carefully to avoid stings and ensure a pest-free environment.

Preventing Wasps

Keeping paper wasps away may also control other arthropods and pests like termites. Routine checks and maintenance around the home:

  • Regularly inspect the exterior of your home for early signs of nests.
  • Seal cracks and crevices in siding, eaves, and rooflines where wasps may enter to build nests.
  • Keep doors and windows fitted with well-maintained screens to block entry into the home.
  • Remove food sources that may attract wasps, like open garbage cans and pet food.
  • Trim vegetation and maintain gardens to minimize nesting sites.
  • Install wasp decoys; wasps are territorial and may avoid areas they believe are already inhabited.

Is It Time to Call the Wasp Experts?

Spotting a paper wasp in Florida is as common as the sunshine. But when does one lone stinger sighting escalate to dialing in the big guns?

Well, you should consider reaching out to professional pest control services (like us, Native Pest Management) when:

  • If wasps seem to find your house cozier than you do and start building nests around it, that's a sign.
  • Persistent wasp traffic that turns your backyard into a highway isn’t something you should ignore.
  • Spotting wasps in the favorite chill-out spots or play areas isn’t just a buzzkill; it's a potential safety issue.
  • If you develop a 'wasp radar' and are constantly on edge for that telltale buzz, it’s time.