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European Paper Wasp

Polistes dominula

Identifying Characteristics

  • black with yellow stripes, spots and bands on their bodies
  • slender, long legs that dangle below the body during flight
  • narrow waist with gradual constriction
  • nests shaped like an upside-down umbrella; the cells open downwards and are not covered with a paper shell
  • nests usually built in protected spots, including cavities, especially in warm, south-facing locations
This is a photograph of a European Paper Wasp on a plant. 3 images
This is a map of British Columbia showing the spread of invasive species.
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A yellow and black invader, a threat to orchards and vineyards.

This is an illustrations of a European Paper Wasp. European Paper Wasp

The European Paper Wasp, a recent arrival to the province, is worrying cherry and grape farmers. The paper wasp is often confused with a group of native wasps, the yellowjackets (Vespula and Dolichovespula). Although they all have yellow and black stripes and build paper nests, the European Paper Wasps are more slender with longer legs. They are not as aggressive as yellowjackets and tend to sting less frequently. Like yellowjackets they build their nests in many habitats, including urban areas, so are frequently seen on back patios and in gardens. The European Paper Wasps appear in March or April. The small colonies grow, peaking in late summer, and most individuals will die with the cold fall weather.

Impact on Communities and Native Species

The European Paper Wasp feeds on nectar from flowers and other sugary liquids, making it a problem in fruit growing areas. The wasps are attracted to the ripening fruit of orchards and vineyards and injure the fruit by biting off the skin. The paper wasp also spreads bacteria, yeast and fungi that harm fruit and can be a nuisance to workers and pickers at harvest. As well, the wasp's tendency to build nests in cavities makes it a threat to native bird species that also nest in holes and bird boxes.

Invasion History

The European Paper Wasp was first reported in North America in 1978 near Boston, Massachusetts and from there has spread across most of the continent. It first appeared on Vancouver Island in 2003, possibly crossing the continent from the east or on a boat from Asia. From Vancouver Island, or other sources of introduction, the wasp has spread throughout southern British Columbia.