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)
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)
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
First published in 1802 by Pierre André Latreille
Explanation of Names
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.
For an online key to the 11 species occurring in the northeast see the Identification Atlas of the Vespidae of the northeastern Nearctic region
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.
OVERVIEW OF SPECIES
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.
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
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)
Cirrus Digital Imaging: P. fuscatus
, P. dominulus
--several species shown
--photos of different life stages
North Carolina State Univ.
--notes on control, if needed.
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)