This wasp, Polistes humilis, belongs to the Order Hymenoptera and Family Vespidae. They 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. They grow to 2.2 cm in length.
They are found across southern mainland Australia including southern Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and southern Western Australia.
Paper wasps are social, forming small colonies of 12 to 20 individuals. They build a nest out of grey papery material made from chewed up wood fibre and saliva. Nests are often located under eaves, pergolas or in shrubs.
The nest is cone-shaped becoming rounder as more cells are added. It has a maximum diameter of 10-12 cms with numerous hexagonal cells visible underneath, some of the cells having white caps. An egg laid in each cell hatches into a grub-like larvae. The adults feed the larvae on chewed-up caterpillars. The cells are then capped and the larvae pupate inside.
Most of the adult paper wasps die in winter, with a few hibernating to start new colonies.
These wasps will readily attack and sting anyone approaching or disturbing their nests and their sting is very painful. Generally applying a cold pack to the sting is sufficient treatment although medical treatment should be sought if symptoms become severe or the victim is known to have an allergy to stings. Nests that are out of reach are not a problem and can be left alone but nests in high traffic areas should be sprayed at night, when the wasps are at rest on the nest, using appropriate insecticides. We have a wasp nest high up under our back pergola/patio which the wasps used to return to each year but the other day I noticed spiders (I think they may be diplurids or tunnel web spiders) have built a huge nest right around the wasp nest so those wasps will have to build themselves a new home.
Phil and I have both twice been stung by paper wasps. Once I was pruning an Albany bottlebrush and the wasps had built a nest in the bush. The nest looked very much like the seed pod of the bottlebrush so I'd not noticed it being there. Out flew an irate wasp and stung me on my arm resulting in a very painful lump with a large red patch around it.
The second time I was closing our side gate and hadn't realised wasps had built a nest under the capping on the gate. I was stung on the ends of two fingers. The sting on the end of my middle finger came up in a large red lump and was very painful and rather looked like ET when he held up his finger with that glow on the end. I had the feeling I should perhaps 'phone home'.
Phil was stung when working in the front garden and it didn't cause a real problem but the second time he was on a ladder pruning some ivy on our pergola/patio unaware there was a nest up there.
Fortunately neither of us are allergic to wasp stings but each bee sting I've had over the years has been worse the the previous one so I am very wary when there are bees in our garden.
When he was in England as a young man Phil was riding his motorbike and a European wasp flew in under his helmet and stung him several times on the face. That gave him a very swollen face and it took several days for the pain and effect to wear off. Although we do have some European wasps in Western Australia they are no where near the problem they are in New Zealand or in our eastern states. I have never actually seen one in Perth thank goodness but I do remember them being a nuisance when we stopped for a picnic while in New Zealand years ago. They really are nasty beasties!! You can tell a paper wasp as when it flies it's legs hang down. The European wasp tucks its legs up when in flight.