Meet my partner the European paper wasp. In the past I did not know the difference between paper wasps and yellow jackets. I knew I did not want yellow jackets around the property so I knocked down any wasp nests I saw.
Then I began to notice that these yellow and black wasps were not nearly as aggressive as yellow jackets. When I approached their nest they would watch me, but not attack.
I also noticed that they were always in the garden methodically searching under and between the plants. It began to dawn on me that they were in my garden for food, but not my food, they were hauling off loads of young cabbage worms and other insect pests.
European paper wasps were introduced into the United States in the 1970’s and have now spread through the northeast, midwest, and west coast as well as up into Canada. They have displaced many native wasps and appear to be here to stay.
The European paper wasp is not very aggressive. The usual conflict happens when humans encounter a paper wasp nest in an unexpected location. They will sting if you stick your hand in their nest!
I believe the benefit European paper wasps bring as a beneficial insect outweigh the possibility of getting stung. I have never been stung by a paper wasp except the time I was dismantling the greenhouse to relocate it to my property. I had knocked down their nest and had to remove some bolts right where their nest had been. I got one mild sting, and I imagine the paper wasps believed I had it coming!
I have now decided that if paper wasps build a nest in an obvious, safe location, I will leave it alone and let them clean up my garden in peace. My current thinking is that if I let paper wasps build their nest in a known location, they will be less likely to build their nests in hidden spots where my family and I might blunder into them. You can easily knock down an ill placed paper wasp nest with a jet of water from your garden hose.
To be very clear, I am not suggesting that you allow yellow jackets to take up residence near your house or garden. Yellow jackets can be very aggressive, and are unwelcome guests at the picnic. Yellow jackets can build colonies with thousands of individuals. In contrast, European paper wasp nests will have no more than about 25 individuals by the end of the season.
You can quickly spot the European paper wasp in flight because its hind legs dangle down. Paper wasps have a more elongated body compared to yellow jackets. If you get up close enough you will see that paper wasps have yellow antennae while yellow jackets have black antennae.
For more information on wasps, check out these links:
Take a close look at the wasps in your garden. Do you have yellow jackets or European paper wasps? Maybe you have native paper wasps or mud daubers. All of these insects are beneficial for garden pest control and pollination.
What kind of wasp are you seeing?
Are you comfortable having paper wasps cleaning up insect pests in your garden?