All paper wasps (red and yellow) are vespid wasps that belong to the genus Polistes. They build nests by chewing fiber gathered from wood and other vegetation that turns it into a gray or brown paper-like material. The nests have a distinctive umbrella shape and open bottom.
There are 22 species of wasps in Texas, and paper wasps are the most commonly managed stinging pest in the U.S. Paper wasps are similar in appearance to yellow jackets, with some distinctive features setting them apart. They have slender bodies with defined, narrow waists. Red Paper Wasp is a name given to a few red to rust-brown species that are more aggressive than their yellow cousins.
Red paper wasps are considered a beneficial species because they kill caterpillars to feed their young, and also drink nectar, making them effective pollinators, but terrible neighbors.
Paper wasps are semi-social, meaning they typically live in small colonies. They prey on insects, including flies, crickets, caterpillar, and other pests. When spring arrives, red paper wasps select a nesting site, build a nest, and the queen lays eggs to establish a new colony. By late summer, there are as many as 5,000 wasps in a nest.
Red paper wasps will also build nests in dark indoor spaces, storage bins for hoses, and exterior furniture cushions, though this is less common. And some wasps build nests in the ground, making them hard to notice, and more dangerous as you can easily step on them, provoking an attack.
If you see serval red paper wasps in the area, there’s likely a nearby nest.
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They usually don’t want to sting you. Paper wasps are not aggressive unless disturbed or threatened. So if you accidentally encroach on their territory or run into a wasp nest, they will sting you to protect their colony, especially the queen. Among social wasps, red paper wasps are second to the yellow jacket in threat sensitivity. Like bees, they often attack in groups. Unlike bees, red paper wasps can sting multiple times. To avoid their stings, leave the immediate area and don’t swat at or squash them.
A red paper wasp sting hurts! It also causes swelling and redness around the affected site. Clean the sting area immediately with soap and cold water. Then apply a cool compress or a cloth with ice to reduce swelling. If the sting is on your arm or leg, consider elevating the limb.
Over the counter NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication) can reduce the pain. Hydrocortisone ointment and antihistamines often help calm the local reaction. Symptoms typically disappear in a day or two for mild reactions, but if you have a severe allergic reaction to the paper wasp sting, seek medical help immediately. Several people die every year from wasp stings, with many of these fatalities occurring in Texas. The elderly, the very young, and those with allergies to wasp venom are at the highest risk. Due to their aggressive nature, and nesting habits, the red paper wasp poses a significant threat of stings that require medical attention.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should seek emergency medical care if you experience the following:
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