One of the most commonly observed wasps in Canada, paper wasps are named for their habit of making paper nests. This wasp is medium sized, with a small head and a slender body that is primarily black, with a few yellow strips. They only tend to be aggressive and sting when their nests are disturbed.
Paper wasps are social insects, meaning that they live in a small colony inside one nest. The nests are shaped like upside down cones, and consist of open hexagonal cells made from paper: wood fibres mixed with the wasps' saliva. The wood fibre can be collected from various locations, including dead wood, wooden structures, and plant stems. The nest is usually attached by one filament, hanging downwards from a tree branch, house eave, or available surface.
The life cycle the paper wasp is very similar to that of the yellow jacket. They live in colonies with one fertile queen, responsible for laying all the eggs. The larvae hatch and when there are enough adult workers, they take over the queen’s job of feeding the young. Paper wasps feed their larvae chewed-up insects, such as caterpillars, flies and beetle larvae.
Although the wasp larvae eat insects, the adult wasps feed on nectar from flowers. They are constantly found on flowers, and play a role in the pollination of plants.
The sterile workers help to expand the nest and guard it. By late summer the queen stops laying eggs and the colony starts to decline. By winter the females that have mated leave the dying nest to find a site in which to survive the cold months.