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The Yellowjacket That is Really a Paper Wasp  

By Chris Williams on August 29, 2014.

I thought that yellowjackets nested in a hole in the ground but we seem to have a yellowjacket nest by our back deck under the roof overhang. The nest is a large comb with lots of yellowjackets flying in and out. Is this a normal nest site? M.B., Boston, MA

It Looks Like a Yellowjacket

European Paper Wasp mimic yellowjackets

European Paper Wasp

It’s a normal nest site for the European paper wasp, not for our common yellowjackets. The European paper wasp is a wonderful mimic that looks very much like a yellowjacket. It has black and yellow stripes like a yellowjacket, but has more of a “waist” than a yellowjacket. You can also distinguish it from a yellowjacket by its long legs and orange antennae.

The appearance of its nest gives away the fact that this wasp is actually a paper wasp, not a yellowjacket. A paper wasp’s nest is a single open comb, not covered by a paper covering, that looks like an umbrella. A yellowjacket’s nest is made up of several layered combs with a papery covering. Of course if the yellowjacket’s nest is in the ground, you can’t see all that.

It Acts Like a Yellowjacket

Besides looking like a yellowjacket, the European paper wasp has habits and behavior more like a yellowjacket than a paper wasp. It’s more aggressive than our native paper wasps and will protect the nest if you come too close. The European paper wasps nest in exposed areas like roof overhangs, but like yellowjackets, they will also nest in building voids and crevices. You can also find its nests in outdoor equipment, grills, vehicles, bird boxes, etc.

…But it’s Really a Paper Wasp Invader

The European paper wasp is a fairly recent European invader. It made its first appearance in the U.S. in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the late 1970’s. Because the northern U.S. presents a climate and habitat similar to Europe, this wasp has colonized our area quickly and successfully, displacing native paper wasps in the process.

The best control for this unusual paper wasp is to prevent spring nest building or destroy the nests early when they contain only a few workers. The wasps will be dying soon as the weather gets cooler, but first the nest will produce next year’s queens. If the wasps are interfering with your outdoor experience, give Colonial a call. We can treat and remove the nest. Unlike other paper wasps, the European paper wasp sometimes reuses its nest the following year so it’s important that the nest be removed after the wasps are killed.


Image: Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

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