European Paper Wasp


  • The European paper wasp is a generally black insect marked with yellow. They are fairly slender bodied with a distinct constriction of the body between the thorax and abdomen. 
  • European paper wasps are sometimes mistaken for Yellowjackets or hornets. Yellowjackets are the most significant stinging insects in this region.  
    • Yellowjackets are somewhat blunter and more compact bodied 
    • Paper wasps have long hind legs that trail below the insect while in flight, unlike the yellow jacket
A wasp nest with larva inside.

Joseph Berger,
A wasp nest with larva inside.

A group of wasps at a hummingbird feeder.

Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,
A group of wasps at a hummingbird feeder.

A male wasp on wood.

Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,
Male wasp on wood. 

Wasps nesting in a pipe.

Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,
European paper wasps nesting inside a metal pipe used for clothes line.

Quick Facts

  • European paper wasps do not produce nuisance problems around outdoor dining however they can sting 
  • European paper wasps have become one of the most important natural controls of many kinds of yard and garden insects
  • The European paper wasp is a social insect that produces an annual colony in a paper nest. Individual colonies are established anew each spring 
  • European paper wasps are sometimes mistaken for Yellowjackets or hornets


Distribution in Colorado

This wasp was common in Europe and was first found in North America in the 1970s in the Boston area. The first record for the species in Colorado was August, 2001 from Larimer County. Wherever it has been established, the European paper wasp has usually become a common species within a few years. European paper wasp is now considered very abundant in every urbanized county in eastern Colorado and three western Colorado counties of Mesa, Montrose, and Delta. Presently, it is not known to occur in many of the higher elevation counties, aside from Steamboat Springs.   



Life History and Habits

  • European paper wasps are social insects that produce an annual colony in a paper nest. New individual colonies are established each spring.  
  • The overwintering stage are females, which survive in protected sites around a yard. Occasionally these wasps will find shelter indoors, however, a winter encounter does not indicate the presence of an active colony  
  • The females will re-emerge in spring, with the earliest activity seen in the first half of March and seek to establish new nests  
  • Nests are constructed from paper, produced from chewed wood fibers of weathered fences, porch decks, and similar sites 
  • The nest is continuously expanded and reconstructed throughout the summer and may contain several dozen individuals by the end of summer 
  • Nests are almost always established in new locations each year  
  • Nest sites that are particularly favored: 
    • Dark cavities, including those in outdoor grills, large bells, pipes, rock cavities and hollow spaces behind walls 
    • Wood on the underside of porch decks, eaves, or other overhangs 




  • Stings 
    • Relatively non-aggressive  
    • Somewhat less likely to sting than most yellowjackets and bumble bees  
    • Stings occur almost exclusively when nests are accidentally disturbed  
  • European paper wasps rear their young on live insects. They do not produce nuisance problems around outdoor dining characteristic of scavenging species like the Western Yellowjacket  
  • On rare occasions they may feed on sweet materials and sometimes damage ripe fruit. Particularly notable on cherries and well-ripened stone fruits on the Western Slope  
  • European paper wasp as a natural control of  
    • Hornworm larvae  
    • Cabbageworm  
    • Tent caterpillars  
    • Sawfly larvae  




It is best to leave nests alone until they are abandoned at the end of the season, when it will be safe to remove them. Insecticides marketed for “wasp and hornets” can be used to destroy individual nests. If treated, it is recommended to apply in the evening, as most of the wasps have returned to the nest. Once the nest is removed it is recommended to wash the area with a jet of water to eliminate any odors. There are no traps or lures that can be used to control this species. Commercially available wasp traps are designed to attract certain kinds of Yellowjackets and contain baits that are not attractive to European Paper Wasp.


CSU Extension Fact Sheet

Download or view the CSU Extension’s PDF fact sheet for your reference.