Paper Wasps seem nearly identical to yellow jackets, but they are a species all their own. Paper wasps get their name from their ability to make nests out of paper material from wood fibers. Yes, their wasp cousins do the same, but these wasps prefer a different environment. The table below can help you tell them apart.


Paper wasp

Yellow jacket


Type of Nest

Open, umbrella-shaped paper comb

Enclosed paper comb

Enclosed paper comb

Nest Location

Suspended from eaves and other protected locations

Usually subterranean (underground), sometimes suspended

Often on trees or shrubs, sometimes eaves

Size of Colony

Usually less than 100

More than 100

More than 100

Feeding Habits

Preys on live insects

Scavenges dead insects, sugars

Preys on live insects


Where do Paper Wasps make their home?
These umbrella-like nests are created in protected spaces and most likely places too high to reach unless on a ladder. Also, paper wasps live in small colonies of 100 or less; another difference between the species.

What Paper Wasps eat?
The good news is they won’t be disturbing your picnic! The paper wasp, unlike the yellow jacket which enjoys sweets and proteins, preys on live insects such as flies, caterpillars, as well as beetle larvae which is fed to their young. This diet can be beneficial to gardeners, as they keep pests from eating plants. However, the females have the ability to sting; a reason to keep paper wasps away.

Are paper wasp stings dangerous to my health?
Paper wasps can be easily aggravated and attack if you even walk toward their nest in a close proximity; therefore staying away from nests is your best bet. Unlike bees, the paper wasp can easily remove its stinger from your body for multiple attacks. Over 500,000 people are sent to the emergency room each year from stinging insects.

  • “Normal” symptoms from a sting include redness, swelling and itching at the site, which can last a few hours up to a week. Depending on the area, swelling may spread and fatigue (exhaustion) may occur.
  • An allergic reaction is caused by an antibody some people produce, called IgE, which tries to combat the venom, but causes the allergic reaction in future stings. Mild symptoms in an allergic reaction to a sting can include flushed skin and hives. An anaphylactic reaction is when the sting causes difficulty in breathing, circulatory issues and low blood pressure which can lead to cardiac arrest (heart stops beating) or death. This severe reaction is possible for anyone, even those who have been stung before.
  • A toxic reaction stems from the venom itself, opposed to a defense from our own immune system. Reactions to this may include dizziness, headache, fainting, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions. Toxic reactions are more likely to cause an allergic reaction in the victim in future stings.
  • Delayed reactions are possible, with symptoms such as inflammation of kidneys, brain, nerves or blood vessels. Serum sickness can occur 7 to 10 days after the sting; symptoms include fatigue, fever, rash, itching, joint pain and swollen lymph nodes.

**Take care to avoid wasps if at all possible; even those never stung before can have a fatal reaction.**