Identification, Images, & Information
For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
For the United States & Canada
Clickable Guide
Moths Butterflies Flies Caterpillars Flies Dragonflies Flies Mantids Cockroaches Bees and Wasps Walkingsticks Earwigs Ants Termites Hoppers and Kin Hoppers and Kin Beetles True Bugs Fleas Grasshoppers and Kin Ticks Spiders Scorpions Centipedes Millipedes

Upcoming Events

Photos of insects and people from the 2015 gathering in Wisconsin, July 10-12

Photos of insects and people from the 2014 gathering in Virginia, June 4-7.

Photos of insects and people from the 2013 gathering in Arizona, July 25-28

Photos of insects and people from the 2012 gathering in Alabama

Photos of insects and people from the 2011 gathering in Iowa

Photos from the 2010 Workshop in Grinnell, Iowa

Photos from the 2009 gathering in Washington


Genus Polistes

Unknown Wasp? - Polistes fuscatus - male Another Wasp? - Polistes parametricus Wasp sp. - Polistes instabilis Wasp - Polistes dominula - female Wasp - Polistes Polistes - Polistes metricus wasp - Polistes Wasp - Polistes dominula - female
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees, Wasps and Sawflies)
No Taxon (Aculeata - Ants, Bees and Stinging Wasps)
Superfamily Vespoidea (Yellowjackets and Hornets, Paper Wasps; Potter, Mason and Pollen Wasps and allies)
Family Vespidae (Yellowjackets and Hornets, Paper Wasps; Potter, Mason and Pollen Wasps)
Subfamily Polistinae (Paper Wasps)
Genus Polistes
Other Common Names
Paper Wasp, Paper Nest Wasp (any member of genus), Northern Paper Wasp, Golden Paper Wasp (both for P. fuscatus), Red Wasp (P. annularis or carolina), Common Paper Nest Wasp (P. exclamans), Texas Paper Wasp (P. apachus)
Explanation of Names
Polistes Latreille 1802
Probably from Greek polistes (πολιστης)- "founder of a city"
Arnett, p. 591, lists 18 spp. (1) lists 19 spp.
We have 19 spp. in the guide plus 2 undescribed spp.
13-25 mm
For an online key to the 11 species occurring in the northeast see the Identification Atlas of the Vespidae of the northeastern Nearctic region. (2)

Large social wasps with long legs, usually brown, yellow markings typically less extensive than yellow jackets and hornets (Vespinae). Visit flowers. Build distinctive paper nests attached to a surface by a stalk. No outer covering of cells as in the Vespinae.

Males have curly antennae and yellow faces, exception being P. annularis males, which have red faces just like females.



Color variant with no yellow lines on the scutum (much like red variant of P. aurifer)


      Red color variant



(Image to be replaced)

      Variant with yellow band on abdomen








      ♀, ♂





Much of North America.
Fields, woodlands, etc. Often build nests under eaves.
Early spring to late fall (in warm areas like Florida year-round). Only workers early in season--males are going to appear late summer to fall (earlier in the south). Females overwinter, in P. annularis also males.
Take nectar and juice from ripe fruit. Predatory on other insects (predominantly caterpillars) to feed larvae.
Life Cycle
Semi-social wasps. Unlike social (eusocial) wasps, where workers are sterile females, in Polistes all females are potential breeders. (See comments below for details.) Fertilized queens overwinter in crevices or under bark. In spring they build a nest and the colony builds up over the summer. At first, only workers (sterile females) are produced. Mature colonies have up to 30 adults. A young queen is the sole survivor of the colony. (I am presuming this queen disperses to find an unrelated male on flowers in the fall.)

In at least one species (P. carolina and/or P. annularis), both sexes overwinter in the nest, in hollow trees or logs. This needs to be investigated.

Not as aggressive as Hornets, Yellowjackets. May be considered beneficial to gardeners because of predation on herbivorous insects.

Guide TBA--PC (life cycle, overwintering colonies).
Males have antennae with curved tips.

Parasitoids include Pachysomoides (Ichneumonidae).

North Carolina State Univ. Entomology lists for that state, with number pinned: annularis (54), carolina (47), dorsalis (107), exclamans (44), fuscatus aurifer (8), f. bellicosus (56), f. fuscatus (29), metricus (50)
Print References
Arnett, p. 591 (1)
Salsbury, p. 279 has photos of P. exclamans, carolinus (a), and metricus. (3)
Milne, pp. 834-835, fig. 442 (4)
Brimley, p. 441, lists, for North Carolina: P. canadensis annularis (statewide, males hibernate), crinitus (local), fuscatus (statewide, sbsp. bellicous, fuscatus, metricus, rubiginosus, variatus), and P. minor. That taxonomy is old. (5)
Arnett and Jacques, #285, P. exclamans (6)
Swan and Papp, pp. 544-555, figs. 1186-1187 (7)
Drees, p. 284, figs. 348-350, P. carolina and P. metricus (8)
Powell and Hogue, p. 340, fig. 440, P. fuscatus (9)
Borror and White, p. 348 (10)
Internet References
Cirrus Digital Imaging: P. fuscatus, P. dominulus
North Carolina State Univ.--notes on control, if needed.
Works Cited
1.American Insects: A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico
Ross H. Arnett. 2000. CRC Press.
2.Identification Atlas of the Vespidae (Hymenoptera, Aculeata) of the Northeastern Nearctic Region
Matthias Buck, Stephen A. Marshall, and David K. B. Cheung. 2008. Biological Survey of Canada [Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification].
3.Insects in Kansas
Glenn A. Salsbury and Stephan C. White. 2000. Kansas Dept. of Agriculture.
4.National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders
Lorus and Margery Milne. 1980. Knopf.
5.Insects of North Carolina
C.S. Brimley. 1938. North Carolina Department of Agriculture.
6.Simon & Schuster's Guide to Insects
Dr. Ross H. Arnett, Dr. Richard L. Jacques. 1981. Fireside.
7.The Common Insects of North America
Lester A. Swan, Charles S. Papp. 1972. Harper & Row.
8.A Field Guide to Common Texas Insects
Bastiaan M. Drees, John A. Jackman. 1998. Gulf Publishing.
9.California Insects
Jerry A. Powell, Charles L. Hogue. 1989. University of California Press.
10.A Field Guide to Insects
Richard E. White, Donald J. Borror, Roger Tory Peterson. 1998. Houghton Mifflin Co.