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A wasp with long legs? The extensive family of wasps (Vespidae) has a wide variety of species. You can find out what this is in this article.

In a nutshell

  • long-legged wasps belong to the subfamily Polistinae, better known as field wasps
  • A total of five paper wasp species can be found in the German-speaking countries of Europe
  • the legs hang down when flying, which makes the animals appear somewhat awkward
  • Paper wasps are peaceful wasps that only sting in extreme emergencies and rarely pose a threat

Long legs: paper wasps

If you spot a wasp that has long legs that hang down when it flies, it is a member of the subfamily Polistinae. The paper wasps look very similar to the wasps that are common in Germany and can only be recognized at first glance by their legs. Still, there are some characteristics that make the long-legged wasp stand out:

  • generally slimmer
  • abdomen drop-shaped
  • two distinctive yellow dots on the back
  • yellow header
  • Wings fold twice at rest
  • bottom third of leg orange
  • Flight looks awkward

The size of the paper wasps also varies and is slightly smaller, which makes the long legs even more noticeable:

  • Queens: 13 to 18 mm
  • Males: 12 to 16 mm
  • Workers: 12 to 15 mm

A wasp of this species lives in colonies of ten to 30, a maximum of 50 animals together. For this reason, the nests are no larger than a plate with a diameter of about ten centimeters and are not closed. If you spot a small nest with open combs that isn't built underground, chances are it's paper wasps. The animals are active from March (queens) to mid or late September (workers and males). Nests are abandoned over the winter and can therefore be removed. As with other wasps, only the queens hibernate in suitable shelters and look for a suitable site for nest building in spring.


The paper wasp occurs as a subfamily mainly in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Nevertheless, six species can be found in Central Europe, five of which you can encounter in Germany. The exact distribution can be found in the following list:

Mountain paper wasp (Polistes biglumis): southern Germany

Mountain paper wasp (Polistes biglumis), Source: Abalg, Polistes biglumis female2, Edited by Plantopedia, CC BY 3.0

Mountain paper wasp cuckoo wasp (Polistes atrimandibularis): southern Germany

Gallic paper wasp (Polistes dominula): entire German area

Source: Judy Gallagher, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula - Saanichton, British Columbia, edited by Plantopedia, CC BY 2.0

Heath paper wasp (Polistes nimpha): southern Germany to Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and Brandenburg

Source: Lucarelli, Polistes nympha, female, edited by Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Dainty paper wasp (Polistes bischoffi): southern Germany

Source: Hectonichus, Vespidae - Polistes bischoffi (male), edited by Plantopedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Of the varieties mentioned, the Gallic paper wasp is the most common. The species is also known under the names house or French paper wasp. They stay in open, warm terrain and do not shy away from urban areas. For this reason, the long-legged wasps are often found in gardens or parks.

Notice: What is unique about paper wasps is their location loyalty. If the insects have established themselves in your garden, they will in all likelihood return to the same or a nearby place for their nest in the years to come.


Compared to the German wasp (Vespula germanica) or common wasp (Vespula vulgaris), the paper wasps are pleasant companions. People can stay in close proximity to the animals without the risk of a defensive flight. Even the nest can be approached without an immediate attack. Nevertheless, it can become too much for the wasps if the following incidents accumulate:

  • tremors
  • frantic body movements
  • touches of the nest
  • crushing of the animals
Paper wasp, Polistinae

If a sting occurs, the area will burn for a period of time. There is no redness, swelling or itching. Fortunately, paper wasps don't spend as much time near sweet foods as other wasps do, which makes them far less of a nuisance. On the other hand, they are on the hunt for all kinds of pests and pests, especially mosquitoes. For this reason, they even turn out to be extremely useful for humans.

Notice: Despite the friendliness of the animals, keep enough distance so as not to provoke the insects unnecessarily. Pets and small children in particular should be observed from a safe distance.

frequently asked Questions

Where do paper wasps like to build their nests?

No matter what type of paper wasp it is, the efficient insects build their nests in a wide variety of places. A sunny spot is important, as the animals love warmth and are therefore often found in urban areas. For example, roofs, roof tiles, the inside of metal pipes or wooden boards are selected. Even objects such as watering cans or an unused bicycle are used as nesting sites. Paper wasps are not picky.

Are the wasps protected?

Like all wasps in Germany, the long-legged Polistes enjoy extensive protection. According to Section 39 Paragraph 1 No. 1 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG), it is forbidden to disturb, catch, injure or kill the insects. Likewise, the nests may not be destroyed or relocated by hand. If you violate this law, you can expect fines of up to 50,000 euros, depending on the state.

How can paper wasps be supported?

If you want to make your garden available to the peaceful contemporaries, you should design it accordingly. Plant species from the umbelliferous family (Apiaceae) such as caraway or fennel or set up wild corners. In this way you provide the insects with enough nesting space and food.

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