A female paper wasp (Polistes sp.) Click to enlarge image
A female paper wasp (Polistes sp.) carries a drop of water in her mandibles to place inside an egg chamber. The evaporating water acts as an air-conditioner, cooling down the nest. If it gets very hot, the wasp fans the water drop with her wings to speed up evaporation. Image shared as part of the Up Close & Spineless 2010 - Open Category competition entry. Image: Nic van Oudtshoorn
© Nic van Oudtshoorn

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Super Family
  • Size Range
    2.2 cm


Native paper wasps are smaller than European Wasps, and lack their vivid yellow markings. They tend to only be aggressive when defending their nests, and are otherwise beneficial insects to have around the garden.


Paper wasps have a small head, with medium sized eyes and medium length antennae. The body is slender, with a very narrow waist. There are two pairs of brown-tinted wings, with the first pair larger. The abdomen has some yellow/orange bands, but is mainly black. Recently, the introduced Asian Paper Wasp (Polistes chinensis) has been reported from several inner city suburbs of Sydney. This closely related species is larger than the native Polistes and tends to have more distinctive yellow and brown bands.


Paper wasps live in urban areas, forests and woodlands, and heath.


Paper wasps are found throughout Australia.

Feeding and diet

The adult paper wasps catch caterpillars to feed the larvae, but the adults themselves feed on nectar.

Other behaviours and adaptations

The nest of the paper wasp is a series of cells shaped like an inverted cone made from saliva mixed with wood fragments. When it dries the mixture is quite paper-like, and gives these wasps their name.

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Life history cycle

Paper wasps form small colonies, and make paper nests under tree branches and the eaves of houses. The nests are shaped like inverted cones, and consist of a cluster of hexagonal cells made from wood fibre mixed with saliva. The wasp larvae are maggot-like and develop inside the papery cells of the nest.

Danger to humans

Paper wasps can deliver painful stings, but are not as aggressive as European Wasps. They normally only attack humans if their nest is disturbed. If stings are multiple, a more severe systemic reaction may occur.

In some individuals, wasp, bee and ant stings can cause an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), but this is relatively uncommon. Effective treatment is available, which involves known bee/ant/wasp sting allergy sufferers carrying a special kit when outdoors. Immunotherapy or desensitisation therapy is also available, and can reduce the severity of the allergy. Seven deaths over a twenty-year period attributed to wasp stings have been recorded in Australia, mainly among known allergy sufferers who were not carrying their preventative medicine with them.
A cold pack may be used to relieve the pain of the sting. If there is evidence of a more severe reaction or the sting victim is known to be allergic to wasp and bee venom, medical attention should be sought immediately.


  • AGFACTS Information Leaflet AE31. 1994. European and Papernest Wasps. NSW Department of Agriculture.
  • CSIRO. 1991. The Insects of Australia. CSIRO Publishing.
  • Hadlington, P. & Johnston, J. 1998. An Introduction to Australian Insects. UNSW Press: Sydney.
  • Zbrowski, P. & Storey, R.1995. A Field Guide to Insects in Australia. Reed Books: Sydney.