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Most paper wasps measure about 2 cm (0.75 in) long and are black, brown, or reddish in color with yellow markings. Paper wasps will defend their nest if attacked. Adults forage for nectar, their source of energy, and for caterpillars to feed the larvae (young). They are natural enemies of many garden insect pests. A widespread North American species is the golden paper wasp.
The nests of most species are suspended from a single, central stalk and have the shape of an upside-down umbrella. Some tropical species make nests that hang in a vertical sheet of cells. Plant and wood fibers are collected by the wasps, mixed with saliva, and chewed into a papier-mâché-like material that is formed into the thin cells of the nest. The nests are constructed in protected places, such as under the eaves of buildings or in dense vegetation. Normally a colony of several to several dozen paper wasps inhabit the nest.