Invasive stinging wasp found for first time in Edmonton

Stung by a wasp this summer? It might not be the spiteful yellowjacket.

The first European paper wasp was found Monday in Edmonton, an invasive species already common in Medicine Hat and evidently moving north.

Matthias Buck, assistant curator for invertebrate zoology at the Royal Alberta Museum, caught the European paper wasp with a net during his lunch break Monday and officially added it to the museum collection. It delivers a sting at least as painful as the yellowjacket’s, and likes to build nests under the eaves of houses.

Buck said the paper wasp looks similar to the yellow-and-black-striped yellowjacket already common in Edmonton, but has longer legs that dangle as it flies.

“You notice the legs immediately,” he said, looking at his find later in the lab, where he mounted it on a pin. The latin name is polistes dominula. It’s also more slender and has orange, rather than black, antennae.

“It is breaking news. It’s the first finding of a paper wasp in Edmonton,” said Buck, laughing.

Wasps are his specialty. He corrected himself later to say one other paper wasp was found here sometime before 1947, but it was a native variety, a northern paper wasp that must have been blown off course. The northern paper wasp has never established a presence here, preferring a warmer climate at least 200 kilometres south in the Red Deer River valley.


Just down the hall in the old museum building, Buck and his team are learning to raise native paper wasps for a live exhibit in the new facility downtown. They feed the adults honey and provide silk worms for the larvae, with construction paper for the adults to use for their nests. The worker wasps strip the fibres, combining it with saliva to make the interconnected cells for the nest. It looks like a honeycomb, but made with paper instead of wax.

Edmonton residents dealing with a nest near their home can recognize a paper wasp nest because it’s flat, not shaped like a ball like those of the yellowjacket, Buck said. Also, the paper wasp doesn’t protect the nest with an outer layer of paper like the yellowjacket does, so with the paper wasp, you can see each cell and larvae as it grows.

With both wasps, only the young queens live through the winter. The queens mate in the fall, then emerge from their hiding places in the spring and start the nest on their own. The first worker wasps feed the next brood and grow the nest. At about this time each summer, the queen will lay eggs for a new generation of young queens before winter kills the rest.

Wasps get a bad rap for invading picnics and backyard BBQs, but actually only a couple of species will scavenge hamburger, said Buck. Paper wasps stick to hunting insects, mainly caterpillars, to feed their young. They’ll leave your picnic alone and only sting if threatened.

If you are stung, expect some local swelling that could last a couple of days, he said. Anyone who gets general swelling, nausea or hives is likely allergic and should seek medical help.