Anyone who has lived in the South more than a few years has seen a red wasp nest, but few people have seen a red, wasp nest. What’s going on here?
This nest was recently discovered by a Bug’s Eye View subscriber. He knew paper wasps build their nests from paper they make from wood fibers and that they collect these wood fibers from aged, exposed wood. There was a large piece of outdoor artwork on the property, made from wood pallets, painted to look like an American flag and hanging under the eaves of a storage building. The wasps were collecting some of their wood from the red stripes of the flag and the red color was being incorporated into the nest. The areas where wasps had chewed away the wood fibers from the red painted surface were obvious upon close examination. This was not the only red, wasp nest to be found on the property, several others were also discovered. Some nests contained more red than others and some were old nests from last year. No blue nests found so far.
We have several species of paper wasps here in the state. The three most common, and the local names most often used for each, are:
Guinea wasps, Polistes exclamans, small brown and yellow paper wasps that build their nests under eaves of buildings and in similar protected sites. These are sometimes mistakenly called yellowjackets, but true yellow jackets nest in the ground and are black and yellow.
Carolina paper wasps, Polistes carolina, large orange-colored wasps with black wings that prefer to nest in voids. These can be especially aggressive. They are sometimes referred to as “red wasps” in other parts of the country.
Red wasps, Polistes metricus and Polistes annularis, large paper wasps with dark red thorax and darker red to black-colored abdomens and black wings. These build nests under eaves and in similar protected sites. Their nests tend to be larger than those of Guinea wasps. These are the species that are locally called red wasps in the Deep South.
The wasps that constructed the nest in the photo were identified as red wasps, and that makes this a red, red wasp nest.
Control: Paper wasp nests are easily eliminated by spraying the nest with an aerosol wasp and hornet spray, but it is important to take appropriate precautions to avoid getting stung. Keep a can of wasp spray handy to control nests that pose a stinging hazard because they are built in the wrong place. But don’t be too hasty to kill wasp nests built in out of the way places. Paper wasps are beneficial insects. They are not good pollinators, but they are excellent predators of caterpillar pests, which they collect, chew into “caterpillar burger” and feed to their larvae.
See these two past Bug’s Eye View articles for more information on paper wasps:
Thanks to Mr. Phillip McKibben, professional agricultural consultant and amateur naturalist, for sharing this photo and the story behind it.
Blake Layton, Extension Entomology Specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service. The information given here is for educational purposes only. Always read and follow current label directions. Specific commercial products are mentioned as examples only and reference to specific products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended to other products that may also be suitable and appropriately labeled.
Mississippi State University is an equal opportunity institution.