Pine Needles and Paper Wasps

Pine needles and paper wasps were not in the weekend plans.

We were just sitting down to dinner when one of our regular Little Free Library patrons knocked on the door. She’d mentioned once before that she thought she saw yellow jackets, a more aggressive type of wasp, on the top of our Little Free Library (LFL).

I inspected the library and the surrounding areas at the time and didn’t see any activity. Perhaps they were just passing through.

Little Free Library San Jose

Little Free Library, 2018

She spotted them again this weekend, hence the knock on the door. About a dozen wasps decided to hunker down on the roof of the LFL.

paper wasp cluster

Paper wasp cluster on roof of LFL

We had an unusually windy day, but the sun was warm. They gathered in a cluster, barely moving, perhaps enjoying the sun.  One or two flew out of the birdhouse portion of the library, but I had no way of seeing inside.

Our LFL is a work of art by artist Donna Pierre. I was reluctant to dismantle the birdhouse which is artfully attached to the larger library. That said, dozens of neighbors visit the library daily. I didn’t want anyone getting stung, least of all a small child.

After a brief debate on our plan of attack (ours, not the wasps) we trudged out to the garage in search of the auguring tool. Mike usually welcomes the chance to use his power tools, but it was the end of a busy weekend, after a week-long business trip to Mexico.

I said I would do it.

Mike shouted encouragement and Chris took pictures (because I’m a blogger after all) while I donned a heavy leather jacket and gloves, drill at the ready. I wore my son’s mosquito hood from his back-packing days in case they all flew out at once.  I drilled a large round hole in the back of the birdhouse, hoping they would fly out and be on their way. Once they exited, we could put a small screen over the front, return the removed piece from the back, and then call it a day.

As the augured piece fell into the birdhouse, imagine my surprise when a stream of ants came racing out of the birdhouse and down the back of the library. It was so unexpected.


Ants swarm out of the back of the LFL

Mike produced a flashlight so we could look up into the birdhouse through the larger hole. There it was: a nest filled with grey, honeycomb-like cells, with a few ants dotting the nest. That birdhouse had to go, at least for now.

Paper wasp nest inside birdhouse of LFL

Mike pried a few supports loose and we gingerly inched what is now a nesting box, out of it’s home.

The gathered cluster of wasps sat undisturbed on the roof as I carried the nest to the back garden and hung it high in a tree.

So how do pine needles factor in the title? After all that activity I was a bundle of energy and nerves. As I mentioned, the winds were fierce, knocking pine needles from our roof and the neighbor’s tree. I raked and swept and gathered them into a pile, occasionally checking on the relocated nest. Eventually the adrenaline wore off and we called it a day.

I would like to say, “Problem solved” but the wasps are back. They’re sitting in the same spot on the library roof, even though the nest is no longer there. I’m relieved to know via my search that our wasps are the docile kind, but when I look out the window and see people flailing their arms, it’s a worry.

After researching here: The difference between a yellow jacket wasp and a paper wasp

I decided to post a couple of signs saying:

Our flying visitors are European Paper Wasps (non-aggressive) vs Yellow Jacket wasps (which are aggressive).  We relocated their nest, but a few of the adults are still hanging around.

These wasps are beneficial for the garden, which is probably why they are here.

If you’re concerned, please visit another Little Free Library in the neighborhood until they move along.

Thank you!  Alys, Little Free Library Steward

Yellow Jacket vs Paper Wasp

What, then, is the difference between a yellow jacket and a paper wasp?

When it comes to appearance, both look similar. Both are black with yellow bands. A paper wasp, however, has a longer body than a yellow jacket, which has a shorter and fatter body. If you look closely, a paper wasp also has an orange-tipped antennae while a yellow jacket does not.

A yellow jacket is more aggressive and can sting repeatedly, while a paper wasp only attacks when threatened. Both feed on garden insects, but a yellow jacket scavenges for food and even feeds on food found in the trash or on picnic tables. A paper wasp, on the other hand, feeds on pollen and nectar as well.

Moreover, a yellow jacket builds its covered nest underground or in hollows, while a paper wasp build its coverless nests in a tree, eaves or spouts.

Source: DifferenceGuru

The research I did for this post also solved a mystery. I’ve mentioned wasps in the past, and noted that they never bother me. They make paper nests in the eaves, come and go without a fuss, and of course they do wonders for the garden. Yellow jackets and paper wasps look nearly identical unless you view them up close.

What I thought was a “pass” from the yellow jackets for providing an appealing garden smorgasbord was mere smugness on my part. It turns out that our garden visitors are their more docile cousins. May it always be so.

40 thoughts on “Pine Needles and Paper Wasps

  1. On reading the title of this post I wondered why on earth you were making paper wasps – after all that’s not the usual kind of creative endeavour paper crafters turn their hands to. The pine needles I figured were part of a Christmas wreath idea perhaps. I thought that as I am currently designing my Christmas cards and so I think everyone else is too. But no, yours was a much more exciting outing than mere card designing. You were very brave and good to relocate the nest with such care and to clear out the ants who were probably intent on pilfering the eggs…. I guess you can’t blame either species for moving into that cosy little abode. It’s lucky the friendly little wasps had checked out which apartment was the least used before making their nest and hadn’t decided to live up to their names and lay their eggs in the pages of the books. I hope they figure out where you whisked their little nursery off to and relocate soon.


    • You made me smile, Pauline. I’ve been so bored blogging about my garden (been there, said that) that I’ve been posting mostly crafting posts of late. I can see how you made that early assumption.

      I’m excited to hear that you’re making Christmas cards. After your big art room cleanup, it sounds like you were motivated to jump in.

      So, here is the funny thing about the ants. I’ve read differing information as to why they were there. I also read about certain wasps feeling the ants competed for food so they pick them up and drop them a distance away. Ants, as it turns out, are also part of the same family as wasps. I plan to read more as time permits, but boy did they move fast when the back of the birdhouse came off.

      I worried about the wasps getting into the large book box, but it’s kept tightly closed so they wouldn’t have much opportunity. I’m wishing now we had put a screen over the opening of the birdhouse, but this possibility never occurred to me. I have a bug catcher for trapping spiders in the house. I’m going to go capture the stray wasps and move them to the nest. Stay tuned.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve also got these wasps nests – one in the greenhouse, one in an outside storage box and one in the stem of an unused garden parasol base. I did ask the husband to help me move the storage box further up the garden in case they bothered us in the pool area but they never have (and he never did 🙄) so I just let them be.
    Well done you for moving them on – most people, when I say I have wasp nests, tell me to get rid of them permanently.


    • I’m glad you’ve been able to leave the nests intact. Your garden thanks you I’m sure. There are a few adults on the roof of the LFL that I may scoop up and relocate as well. Isn’t nature fascinating?


  3. Wow, you are brave! I am allergic so wouldn’t have had the courage to investigate, let alone go drilling. Kudos to you for concocting such a great plan and following through so the wasps could live on!


    • Sara, that is a scary allergy. You make me glad that I moved the nest, as it would be terrible to have someone have a bad reaction. I guess you travel with an epi pen? We have a few friends with serious peanut allergies (the rush to the hospital kind) so I know how serious it can be.


  4. Your paper wasps remind me of our mud wasps. They’re up to an inch and a quarter long, very slow and unaggressive, and they build bean-shaped mud pods, building them up into large agglomerations. They love any kind of hole, and can be a problem with vents, eaves and air conditioning units. However, even they will sting. I think you’re wise to move the nest out of the danger zone, and glad you didn’t feel the need to have them exterminated.


    • Wow! I looked up your mud daubers and they have the strangest torso. They almost look like they come in two parts. I wonder what that is for? Aren’t these adaptions amazing?

      The wasps weren’t hurting anyone, just not well placed for the potential of a sting. I’ve worked in the garden my entire life, and the only time anything stung me was as a child when I stepped on one and in a car when one flew in and got trapped under my sleeve. I’m grateful for all the good they do.


  5. This has been a summer of bugs! We’ve had some sort of boring bees (boring as in making holes, not uninteresting!) in our cedar siding, a huge hive of some sort in our attic, and now there’s news of an invasive jumping worm making its way our direction from New England! You were very brave and very kind in dealing with your wasps!


  6. I agree, that’s not a safe place for wasps although mostly harmless. I have both here but the yellow jackets that make nests in the ground were what stung me a couple of summers ago. The whole swarm came after me but fortunately, only one found its target. My neighbor gets rid of all the nests because his wife is severely allergic to stings. I’m finally less afraid of going out there. You are so good to everything. I’m leaving them alone and they are leaving me alone as well this year. Just don’t pound any stakes into the ground near a nest. ;(


    • I remember that story, Marlene. I’ve never seen a nest under ground, but I read a similar story from a blogger in the mid-west. It sounded terrifying. Are there any signs above ground to look for? We have a couple of “divots” near the composter, and I’ve just been assuming rats. Now I’m having second thoughts. No digging for me!

      Liked by 1 person

      • No real signs that I noticed. I had dug out and old stump that was rotted to the roots and covered the hole but somehow, they found room for a home. The pounding in of stakes on the upper level brought them out. They felt threatened, I’m sure. Still working at filling in that vacated space. It keeps absorbing more of the dirt I put on. We had rain this morning!!!! Heading out for a walk now. 😉 Have a terrific Thursday. Love and hugs, M


        • I wonder, too, if your proximity to more forested area makes a difference. Water, too. We’re so suburban here. I loved seeing your neighborhood and all that open space. It’s a breath of fresh air. I’m so glad you got some rain. We’ve had some strong winds to push out the smog and a few cooler days. I’ll take it. Today we’re heading back into the 90’s again. I’ve enjoyed the break from the heat. As for disturbing the ground nest with a stake, I know you’re right. They’re nest took a hit and they needed to go after the perpetrator, not knowing it was a lovely gardener just making her grounds beautiful. I hope you’ve had a lovely walk.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, you are one brave and determined woman. I never mess with wasps, though I admire them periodically. Paper wasps, seem fairly easy to deal with. I hope the laggers on the library roof find their nest in the garden soon.


    • The laggers got a bit of an assist from your’s truly yesterday. I have a spider catcher that I use indoors. I methodically relocated ten wasps, one and sometimes two at a time to the relocated nest. Stay tuned.


  8. Even paper wasps are attracted to your Little Free Library! Is it the paper? Or do they instinctively know that it is a safe place, and that they will be treated with kindness by you?


  9. Fascinating and informative research, Alys! I enjoyed learning the difference between the paper wasps and yellow jackets. I am sorry you had to dismantle your birdhouse, however, but your LFL is still very distinctive and I’m sure a neighborhood pleasure. Let’s hope it’s trouble free very soon. 🙂 Lots of work, but good for you guys!


  10. Such a brave, kind way to handle this most distressing situation, dear Alys! I know how appreciative the visitors to your LFL must feel. Just one of the many reasons that so many people visit your LFL! It truly warms my heart whenever I think of the way you bring the ‘gift’ of reading to your neighborhood, Alys. Happy end-of-Summer days, sweet friend! ♡


  11. Well now ! You are the brave one 😀 LOL, I love that you McGyver’d together a terminator suite. I guess there are many types, even in Edmonton. They’ve not been a problem this year because of our extremely wet weather. (from Jun 1 to Jul 7 we had 22 days of rain) I’ve been stung more than once but luckily I don’t have any fatal reaction.
    They used to be a real bother at the lake. Once, they’d built a nest in the bottom of a giant planter. I’d drilled holes for drainage, which provided a lovely entrance for them :/ Since it was at the end of my driveway, you couldn’t walk out or in the yard without being chased by a half dozen or more. I duct taped several vacuum sections together so I was a long ways away and vacuumed them out. LOL
    It’s wild that ants are crawling all over the nest. That’s freaky. Are they still there now? I read how, if you kill a wasp, it’ll dispense fermone’s that alert other wasps. They’ll come in defense and next thing you know….lot’s of mad wasps. I don’t know what’s icker, ants or wasps? ha! xo


  12. Hi Alys. How brave of you to tackle the wasp nest! 🙂 We also have lots of paper/tree wasps around our house and in the flower beds, all looking for a cool moist spot to rest. They also groups themselves like yours into little clusters, with sometimes 5 or 6 but sometimes up to about 20. And they are so placid and not at all aggressive. It is interesting to hear you have similar creatures to us! I love the sign you have written to put on your library. Most people go into a flap when they see wasps as I know the stings can be very painful, but finding out what sort they are can relieve a lot of anxiety. Still, I hope yours move along soon!


  13. Alys, I’m happy you didn’t have the aggressive yellow jackets. A few weeks ago, one of my lawn care professionals stepped on a ground nest and was stung repeatedly. He went to the hospital as a precaution but was OK aside from the pain. I’ve had a yellow jacket get into my gardening glove and sting my hand repeatedly. It’s horrible. Your little “bird-and-bee” nest is adorable and I’m glad you hung it in a tree. I’ve heard from many people in different parts of the country that the wasps (of all varieties) seem to be out in force this year.

    I’m also happy to read that the Little Free Library is going strong and still very popular. I took several boxes of books to Goodwill recently and now I wish I’d sent them your way! I’ll try to remember to check with you next time to see if you want any of the titles before I donate them.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I didn’t know there were aggressive and non aggressive wasps. Thanks for sharing! So far, I have identified no less than six varieties of wasp here. Only one was aggressive and stung me (for no apparent reason that I could determine). I usually let them be. However, when the hornets took over the goose yard and built a huge underground array, well, I had to take action. It was us or them.


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