Growing up in the eastern United States, I often encountered red wasps, which are one of two species found in this region. The other is Polistes rubiginosus, but Polistes carolina is the one I’m more familiar with.
These social insects belong to the family Vespidae and are characterized by the finer ridges on their propodeum. Red wasps are part of the paper wasp subfamily Polistinae and are known for the unique nests they construct.
Their long, red to reddish-brown bodies, coupled with dark wings, make red wasps easily recognizable. I’ve seen their nests primarily in the southern U.S., including areas like Texas, Florida, and even as far north as Kansas and Illinois. Red wasps stand out for having some of the largest nests among paper wasps, which commonly grow to the size of dinner plates.
In my experience, these wasps tend to build their nests close to human-made structures, making it essential to be cautious when coming into contact with them. Female red wasps sting when provoked or to defend their nests, and this can result in an allergic reaction for some individuals. Therefore, if you see one of their impressive nests hanging nearby, it’s best to give it a wide berth.
If you’re a homeowner, there’s no denying that pests like red wasps can cause a lot of stress. Not only do they look intimidating, but they also sting viciously. As such, it’s natural to want to eliminate them as soon as possible. But before you do, it’s important to understand what you’re dealing with.
In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about red wasps, including how to identify them, prevent them, and control them effectively.
What is a Red Wasp?
Red wasps are stinging insects that are common in North America. They’re a type of paper wasp which means they build their nests from wood fibers and saliva which gives a papery appearance of their nests.
They typically have a reddish-brown coloration with yellow bands on their abdomen, and can grow up to 1.5 inches in length. Like other wasps, they have a narrow waist, two pairs of wings, and a stinger.
Red wasps are social insects, living in colonies that can contain up to several hundred individuals. Each colony has a queen, who is responsible for laying eggs and starting new colonies. The workers, which are all female, take care of the nest, gather food, and defend the colony.
They obtain their food through foraging on nectar from flowers but can also feed on live insects. Conversely, there are many predators for red paper wasps including spiders, badgers, and other arthropods.
In terms of habit, these wasps build their nests in exposed areas including inside eaves, along windows and doorframes, outbuildings, and under decks.
While at the University of Arkansas Arthropod Museum, I had found a dedicated segment on red wasps, belonging to the species Polistes carolina. This museum exhibit drew attention to the physical characteristics of these wasps, emphasizing their distinct red coloration. It also shared interesting facts about their distribution, which stretches from New York to Florida and west to Kansas and Texas.
Lifecycle of a Red Wasp
Red wasps undergo a complete metamorphosis, meaning they go through four distinct stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
In the spring, the queen emerges from hibernation and starts building the nest. She chews wood fibers and mixes them with saliva to create a papery pulp, which she uses to construct the nest. The nest starts out small and grows over time as more wasps are born and the colony expands.
The queen lays eggs, which hatch into larvae and feed on other insects the queen catches. The larvae eventually spin a cocoon, pupate, and emerge as adults. These new adults take over the care of the nest and the next generation of eggs. The lifespan of a red wasp is around one year.
In late summer or early fall, workers begin to die off and reproductive males and females begin to leave their nests to mate. After mating, males die while fertilized females find a protected place to overwinter and begin their colonies in the following spring.
Red wasps are important predators, feeding on a variety of insects including caterpillars, flies, and spiders. They can also be beneficial to gardeners and farmers by controlling pest populations.
However, their sting can be painful and dangerous for those who are allergic. If you encounter a red wasp, it’s best to give it space and avoid disturbing its nest.
How to Identify Red Wasps
Red wasps are a common sight in many parts of the United States. These wasps are known for their distinctive coloration and papery nests. They can be easily identified by their reddish-brown color, with black wings and yellow legs. The queens are slightly larger than the workers and can reach up to an inch in length.
Red wasps are often mistaken for other wasp species, such as yellow jackets, but they have some distinct differences. They’re also more aggressive than other wasp species and will defend their nests fiercely.
If you see a nest in or around your home, it’s likely a red wasp’s nest. These nests are typically found in sheltered areas, such as eaves, attics, and porches. They are made of a papery material that the wasps create by chewing wood fibers and mixing them with saliva.
Red wasps are beneficial insects that play an important role in controlling other insect populations. They feed on a variety of insects, including caterpillars, flies, and other wasps. However, if their nest is disturbed or threatened, they will not hesitate to attack. It’s important to take caution around red wasps and avoid disturbing their nests.
Signs of Red Wasp Infestation
Red wasps are a common problem for homeowners, especially during the summer months.
One of the easiest ways to tell if you have a red wasp infestation is to look for their papery nests. These nests are typically found in protected areas like eaves, rafters, and tree branches. The nests are made from chewed up wood and saliva, which creates a papery texture.
They can vary in size, but they are usually about the size of a basketball. If you see one of these nests on your property, it’s a good indication that you have a red wasp infestation.
Another sign of a red wasp infestation is the presence of a lot of wasps flying around the area. If you see more than a few wasps, it’s likely that there’s a nest nearby. Red wasps are social insects, which means that they live in large colonies. If you see a lot of wasps flying around, it’s a good indication that there’s a nest nearby.
It’s important to note that red wasps can be aggressive if they feel threatened. If you see a lot of wasps flying around, it’s best to stay away from the area.
In addition to being a nuisance, red wasps can also be dangerous for people who are allergic to their venom. If you or someone in your family has a severe allergy to wasp stings, it’s important to take extra precautions to avoid getting stung.
This might include staying indoors during peak wasp activity times, wearing protective clothing when outside, and carrying an epinephrine auto-injector in case of an emergency.
What Damage Do Red Wasps Cause?
Red wasps are a common sight in many areas of the world, and while they may seem harmless, they can cause quite a bit of damage to both humans and property.
One of the most obvious ways that red wasps can cause damage is through their stings. I know firsthand that a red wasp sting can be quite painful. The initial sensation may be a sharp pain or burning feeling at the site of the sting.
When a red wasp stings, it injects venom through its stinger into the target. The venom contains various proteins, enzymes, and other chemicals that can cause pain, itching, and swelling.
If you disturb a red wasp nest or accidentally step on one of these insects, you may be stung multiple times. These stings can be quite painful and can cause an allergic reaction in some people. In severe cases, a red wasp sting can even be life-threatening.
Common symptoms following a sting may include:
- Redness: The area around the sting might become red and swollen.
- Itching: The affected area can become very itchy within a few hours.
- Swelling: The venom may cause the skin around the sting to swell, sometimes significantly.
- Hives: In some cases, raised red patches (hives) may develop on the skin.
These symptoms can last for a few hours to several days, depending on the individual’s reaction and severity of the sting.
While most people can tolerate red wasp stings without severe consequences, some individuals may experience an allergic reaction. This can be dangerous and should not be taken lightly.
Red wasps build their nests out of wood fibers, which means that they can cause damage to wooden structures in and around your home.
If left unchecked, a red wasp nest can grow quite large and can cause significant damage to the surrounding area. Plus, red wasp nests can attract other pests, such as ants and termites, which can further damage your property.
If you have a red wasp infestation on your property, it can quickly become a serious problem. Red wasps reproduce quickly, and a small nest can turn into a large infestation in a matter of weeks.
These insects can be difficult to get rid of, and attempting to remove a nest on your own can be dangerous. If you suspect that you have a red wasp infestation, it’s best to call in a professional pest control company to handle the problem.
How to Prevent Red Wasps
Seal Cracks and Crevices
One of the best ways to prevent red wasps from setting up shop in your home is to seal all cracks and gaps around your home. This includes gaps around windows and doors, as well as any cracks or holes in your walls or foundation. Red wasps are small and can easily slip through even the tiniest of openings, so it’s important to be thorough when sealing your home.
Remove Food Source
In addition to sealing your home, you should also remove any sources of food and water that may be attracting red wasps. This includes pet food and water dishes, bird feeders, and even standing water in your yard. Red wasps are attracted to sweet and sugary foods, so it’s important to keep these items stored away or cleaned up.
Trim Trees and Bushes
Another way to prevent red wasps from taking up residence in your yard is to trim trees and bushes away from your home. Red wasps like to build their nests in protected areas, such as under eaves or in trees and bushes. By keeping these areas clear, you can make it less likely that red wasps will decide to build their nests in your yard.
Don’t Leave Food Unattended
It’s also important to be mindful of outdoor food and drink. Red wasps are attracted to the smells of food and drink, so it’s important to avoid leaving these items unattended. If you’re having a picnic or outdoor gathering, be sure to keep all food and drinks covered or stored away when not in use.
Keep Garbage Cans Sealed
You should also keep your garbage cans sealed tightly to prevent red wasps from being attracted to the smells of rotting food. Garbage cans should be emptied regularly and stored away from your home to minimize the risk of red wasps setting up shop nearby.
How to Get Rid of Red Wasps
If you have a red wasp infestation, it can be a major nuisance and even a health hazard. Red wasps are known for their aggressive behavior and painful stings, which can cause allergic reactions in some people.
Fortunately, there are several methods you can use to control them and prevent them from taking over your home or yard.
If you prefer to handle the infestation yourself, there are several methods you can use. Insecticide sprays are a common and effective way to kill red wasps. These sprays can be purchased at most hardware or home improvement stores.
It’s important to follow the instructions carefully and wear protective gear when using these sprays, as they can be toxic if ingested or inhaled.
Another method for controlling red wasps is to use traps. There are several types of traps available, including sticky traps and pheromone traps. These traps work by attracting the wasps and trapping them, preventing them from reproducing and spreading the infestation.
However, it’s important to place the traps in the right location and to dispose of them properly to prevent other animals from getting caught.
Baits are another option for controlling red wasps. These baits contain a toxic substance that the wasps ingest and then carry back to their nests, killing the entire colony.
Baits can be effective, but they can also be dangerous if not used properly. It’s important to follow the instructions carefully and to keep the baits out of reach of children and pets.
The most effective method for controlling a red wasp infestation is to call a professional pest control company. These experts have the knowledge and equipment to eliminate the infestation safely and effectively.
They can also provide you with tips for preventing future infestations and keeping your home and yard free from pests. This is especially important if you find a red wasp nest on your property and are allergic to them.
Controlling a red wasp infestation requires patience, persistence, and the right tools and knowledge. Whether you choose to call a professional pest control company or handle it yourself, it’s important to take action as soon as possible to prevent the infestation from getting worse.
With the right approach, you can eliminate the red wasps and enjoy a pest-free home and yard.
Other Wasp Guides from Planet Natural:
Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.