Paper wasps are vespid wasps that gather fibers from dead wood and plant stems, which they mix with saliva, and use to construct water-resistant nests made of gray or brown papery material. Some types of paper wasps are also sometimes called umbrella wasps, due to the distinctive design of their nests.
The nests of most true paper wasps are characterized by having open combs with cells for brood rearing, and a ‘petiole’, or constricted stalk, that anchors the nest.Paper wasps secrete a chemical which repels ants, which they spread around the base of the anchor to prevent the loss of eggs or brood.
Most social wasps of the family Vespidae make nests from paper, but some stenogastrine species, such as Liostenogaster flavolineata, use mud. A small group of eusocial crabronid wasps, of the genus Microstigmus (the only eusocial wasps outside the family Vespidae), also constructs nests out of chewed plant fibers, though the nest consistency is quite different from those of true paper wasps, due to the absence of wood fibers, and the use of silk extruded by female wasps to bind the fibers.
Nests can be found in sheltered areas, such as the eaves of a house, the branches of a tree, on the end of an open pipe, or on an old clothesline. Some species, such as Ropalidia romandi, will vary their nest architecture depending on where they build their nest.
Three species of Polistes are obligate social parasites, and have lost the ability to build their own nests, and are sometimes referred to as “cuckoo paper wasps”. They rely on the nests of their hosts to raise their brood.