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When attempting to determine how dangerous a particular venomous insect species is to humans, entomologists and other insect experts take many different aspects of a species’ behavior and distribution into account. For example, in the state of Arizona, Maricopa harvester ant venom is much more potent than southern fire ant venom, but the latter is more likely than the former to be encountered in residential homes, making southern fire ants a greater threat to humans than Maricopa harvester ants in the state. In Massachusetts, several wasp species establish nests on or within residential structures, while other equally venomous wasp species prefer to nest in rural areas.

The German yellow jacket is largely considered the most dangerous wasp species in Massachusetts, as these wasps are involved in more annual envenomation incidents than any other wasp species in the state. However, most medically significant wasp attacks occur after nests become inadvertently disturbed by humans, and northern paper wasp nests are more abundant than German yellow jacket nests in residential areas. Based on this information, dangerous northern paper wasp encounters seem more likely to occur than dangerous yellow jacket encounters.

Despite being largely unknown to the general public, northern paper wasps are relatively aggressive insects that prefer to establish nests around human habitations. Northern paper wasp attacks occur annually, and nests are often found beneath the eaves of a home, within attics, garages, sheds and barns. In addition to being dangerous to humans, dogs are attacked by northern paper wasps regularly during the summer and fall seasons, especially after they wander into barns where nests are often located.

When compared to the paper nests constructed by yellow jackets, northern paper wasp nests are more durable and better protected from the elements, as they build nests out of wood collected from trees. Because of their more durable nests, northern paper wasps do not become disturbed as easily as nesting yellow jackets. Also, northern paper wasp nests are more noticeable than yellow jacket nests located below the ground in residential yards. Below ground yellow jacket nests become disturbed easily from noise produced by lawn mowers, weed eaters, leaf blowers and other lawn maintenance machinery, but the thick walls of northern paper wasp nests block out loud outside noises. These are just a few reasons why yellow jacket attacks are more frequent than northern paper wasp attacks.

Have you ever found a wasp nest in your attic?