Gardening for Wildlife forum: Paper wasps (Polistes sp.)

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whereami
Jun 26, 2016 8:52 AM CST
Hello.

We have a paper wasp nest on our front door. When it first started, we were able to go in and out without a problem...we'd open and close the door softly and the wasps remained on the nest...no problem. This morning, the number of workers suddenly swelled to 10 and when I went out, a wasp flew onto my glasses. I brushed it off and was not stung BUT I felt this behaviour was a little more aggressive than it has been. We have decided to stop using the front door for awhile. I understand that at "the end of the season" the nest is generally abandonned. The queen dies and the males and new queens leave to overwinter and to start their own nests next summer. Could someone tell me what "the end of the season" is in terms of dates. Is this Sept or are we talking when the temps drop...I know it can differ based on location...I am currently in the western NC Mtns. Probably most people would destroy the nest but we try to accomodate Smiling
Name: June
Rosemont, Ont. (Zone 4a)
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JuneOntario
Jun 26, 2016 2:36 PM CST
I think that the onset of frosty weather signals the end for paper wasp nests. Before that happens, cooling temperatures make the wasps drowsy and more aggressive. Your front door is kind of a risky place to let wasps nest, as a visitor to your house might be unaware of the nest and be severely stung. However, it is your door, and you get to decide whether the nest stays or goes.

whereami
Jun 26, 2016 4:04 PM CST
Thank-you for your input, June. I tried to read up on paper wasp behaviour because I do have 3 kids and though we don't get too many visitors I prefer not to temp fate. If we can leave the wasps alone for the season without incident we will avoid using the front door. Most online sources, with the exception of pest control companies, seemed to imply that the wasps will defend and possibly sting if disturbed but that they generally aren't aggressive. Is this incorrect info? Also, if cold weather makes the wasps drowsy and insects do tend to get slower in activity and metabolism with colder weather, why do they become aggressive?

I know very little about wasp behaviour so my questions are just from a need to learn. Sometimes people think when I ask questions that I am trying to be contentious...I'm just very curious *Blush*

Little update for those who might be in a similar predicament: After a bit of research, I found that it is not a good idea to use the term "paper wasp" or even the genus Polistes without including the species name. Many people include yellow jackets and white/bald faced hornets in this group. If I had a bald faced hornet nest on my door the nest would be gone in an instant! Don't mind them high up in trees but those things will hunt you down! There is apparently, even within the same genus, a huge difference in temperament among the Polistes sp. The species we have on the front door is Polistes exclamans. According to most sources this species is "gentle and docile" and unaggressive but will defend if threatened. So, we have chosen to barricade the path to the front door and reroute any traffic away from that area! I learned also the these wasps eat ticks...good enough reason in my book to leave it alone!
[Last edited by whereami - Jun 27, 2016 5:04 AM (+)]
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Name: Cheryl
Brownstown, Pennsylvania (Zone 6a)
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nativeplantlover
Jun 27, 2016 7:19 AM CST
Hi Whereami,
Thanks for answering my question about the false goatsbeard on the Plant ID forum.I happen to feel the same way you do about some wasps-digger wasps, paper wasps etc- live a peaceful co-existence as much as possible. Most people have bee and wasp paranoia and grab the spray immediately without even IDing. I grow a lot of bone set spotted bee balm and gotten very close to them to photograph and have never been stung. A nest is a little trickier. I think you're doing the right thing though. Here's a pic of the critter I think you're describing:

Thumb of 2016-06-27/nativeplantlover/46e0c0

"My work is loving the world. Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness. Here the clam deep in the speckled sand. Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me Keep my mind on what matters, which is my work which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished." — Mary Oliver, from Messenger

whereami
Jun 27, 2016 10:16 AM CST
Nativeplantlover: You're very welcome! and Wow! I actually got one right Smiling

So happy to have found someone else who wasn't reaching for the spray Hurray! I try to rescue joe pye's and bonesets when I see them...very rare...due to ever growing deer population...both awesome insect magnets!

From the little research I did on the wasps, and I am no expert, but I think we have different species....I think yours is Polistes fuscatus and mine is P. exclamans. There's a bit more red in mine.
Thumb of 2016-06-27/whereami/5bb454

Name: Cheryl
Brownstown, Pennsylvania (Zone 6a)
Native Plants and Wildflowers Organic Gardener Region: Pennsylvania Bee Lover Butterflies Dragonflies
Hummingbirder Frogs and Toads Birds Spiders! Cat Lover Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge)
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nativeplantlover
Jun 27, 2016 8:14 PM CST
Thanks for sharing the pic and also IDing these little guys- Yours are so pretty! For some reason their coloring and patterns remind me of Southwestern Indian pottery. I've had hornets hatch from a few old nests I had hung from the ceiling and even they were kinda dopey acting. I put on gloves, grabbed a big wad of paper towels to catch them and tossed them outside. My neighbor freaked out when he was cutting shrubs and a small hornet nest dropped to the ground. We used his longer- handled trimmer and dragged the branch behind the shed and away from people without incident. Only time a wasp got me was when it was trapped in my car. I rolled down the window to shoo it out, but it nabbed me right in the armpit-OUCH! It's aggression that sets them off. You seem to enjoy your wasps too, we had to show my granddaughter and neighbor's kids that Cicada Killers and Carpenter bee males were just buzzing us to defend their territory, They can't even sting, it's just an interesting part of nature and not something to automatically fear! -right?
We're lucky with no deer in the immediate area and so can grow all the Eupatorium wanted... nodding Here's two lovelies from last summer:

Thumb of 2016-06-28/nativeplantlover/10ee69

"My work is loving the world. Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness. Here the clam deep in the speckled sand. Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me Keep my mind on what matters, which is my work which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished." — Mary Oliver, from Messenger
Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
Plant Identifier Garden Sages
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stone
Jun 28, 2016 4:18 PM CST
I had those exact wasps working security for me a few years ago... (Nest right next to door).
Was very disappointed when they failed to return.
seems like they were through by August.

Re: aggression...
at my house... they are a great benefit in the garden... I've even worked right next to nests and never noticed till later...
But...(last summer), I did have a nest on a bush next to the house that I forgot about one day as I was pulling blackberry briars... a wasp reminded me...

When stung... I find that a clove of elephant garlic sliced in half and salted... placed on the sting works pretty well.

whereami
Jun 29, 2016 6:17 AM CST
Nativeplantlover: Beautiful picture! I LOVE Eup's!!!! My husband, well he's given up on my ever regaining sanity, can't understand why I am so happy over a bit of mud with a Joe Pye that has actually managed to flower, escaping the jaws of a hungry deer. Little does he know I intend to populate the whole bit of mud with joe pyes, Jewel weeds and other fairly aggressive "weedy" natives....I want to see some pollinators :)!!!

The wasps do look like pottery....never thought of that! I have been tracked and stung very hard by a bald/white faced hornet so I do know that some of these insects can be extremely aggressive if there is a nest in the vicinity. The carpenter's pose a bit of a problem for us...we live in a log home and I explained to my husband that they tend to be territorial so we might get a few holes but at the same time the bees that make these holes will keep other carpenter bees away (in theory). Not sure that this theory is correct...either that or a bees territory is 5cm long Rolling my eyes. ....we have LOTS of bee holes....but worse than this...the woodpeckers! Woodpeckers will come to the house and drill around the bee holes to get the bees out....THOSE holes are rather large! The way I see it is, the house isn't going to collapse and I think the holes add something to it....

Not sure if this is true, but I was told that carpenter's (particularly males) approach people closely because their eyesight is limited and they will try to investigate anything that moves.

Stone: When you say they didn't return do you mean you haven't seen any new nests made by this species? This probably is not true of all wasp/bee like insects but I've heard that with hornets, in particular, they will not build another nest in the vicinity of an existing nest whether that nest is active or not...apparently you can actually buy artificial hornet nests to deter hornets building nests around your house. Just wondering if the wasp is the same?
Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
Plant Identifier Garden Sages
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stone
Jul 1, 2016 10:50 AM CST
In my experience, wasps don't return to old nests... But... I've seen them build new nests within feet of previous season's nests... So... attempting to discourage them with fake nests probably won't work as well as you might hope.
To answer your question.... I'm not seeing nests next to the door... But... My house does seem to be an attractive place to build wasp nests... And.... I usually see plenty of the burrowing wasps and hornets dragging spiders and stuff under the house.

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