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carolina or rubiginosus

Scary big Wasp - Polistes Polistes? - Polistes wasp - Polistes - female metricus? carolina? - Polistes thread-waisted wasp with dark wings - Polistes what am I? - Polistes - female mg 8787 copy - Polistes  carolina or rubiginosus (Polistes carolina or rubiginosus) - Polistes - 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 (Umbrella Paper Wasps)
No Taxon (Subgenus Fuscopolistes)
No Taxon carolina or rubiginosus
Other Common Names
Red Paper Wasps
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Polistes carolina (Linnaeus, 1767) (=Vespa carolina)
Polistes rubiginosus Lepeletier, 1836 (=P. perplexus, P. generosus)(1)
These two mostly red species often can only be told apart under the microscope and were formerly considered synonymous in older literature. There are two primary structural differences that are reliable, different nesting tendencies, and a few trends in coloration that are useful for some individuals (most useful in males). Note: for the associated comparison images, P. rubiginosus was previously known as P. perplexus.(2)

Malar space and genae - one key difference in females (but not males) is in the density of hairs, or pubescence, on the wasp's malar space and genae, or the "cheek" region. In P. carolina, this region is largely bare apart from scattered, larger hairs (macrosetae). In P. rubiginosus, this region is much more thoroughly covered in fine, short, silvery hairs. For a side-by-side comparison of the two species see here.
Facial hairs on a female P. carolina

Propodeal ridges - a key differences in both males and females is the difference in size and number of ridges on the propodeum, or the rear slope of the thorax. In P. carolina, these ridges are either fine or entirely absent, resulting in an overall smooth appearance. In P. rubiginosus, these ridges are consistently coarser, resulting in a more ribbed appearance. For a side-by-side comparison of the two species see here.
Photos displaying ridging in P. carolina (left) P. rubiginosus (right), best viewed at full size.

Nesting - Nesting trends are not necessarily diagnostic but may give some useful clues. More typically, P. carolina nests in open areas such as the eaves of buildings. On the other hand, P. rubiginosus often nests in hollowed out spaces, such as hollow tree trunks, outdoor pottery, and birdhouses.
Open nesting in P. carolina (left) and enclosed nesting in P. rubiginosus (right)

Coloration - Coloration only works in separating males and certain color-extreme females. For P. carolina males, the scutum, or central shield-like plate of the thorax, is almost entirely red, lacking any black markings (caution: sometimes dark internal tissue may shine through the red cuticle, giving a false impression of dark coloration). In P. rubiginosus males, the scutum is consistently and conspicuously black-marked. Female coloration overlaps considerably, with both species often being entirely, or nearly so, red. Color-extremes of female P. carolina may be noted for more prominent yellow markings, often including a single yellowish ring on the first abdominal segment. Blackish markings are typically absent or so restricted to sutures between plates of the exoskeleton, a restricted mark around the ocelli, and occasionally a faint line down the center of the scutum. Color-extremes of female P. rubiginosus may be noted for more prominent black markings, particularly on the thorax, where the scutum often has black markings around the exterior and interior, outlining two variably-sized, occasionally connected red lines. Yellow markings are typically absent, with light markings restricted to the propodeal valves and tarsi.
Male P. carolina (left) and P. rubiginosus (right)
Color-extreme female P. carolina (left) and P. rubiginosus (right)
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Works Cited
1.Unravelling cryptic species diversity in eastern Nearctic paper wasps, Polistes (Fuscopolistes), using male genitalia...
Buck M., Cobb T.P., Stahlhut J.K., Hanner R.H. 2012. Zootaxa 3502: 1-48.
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].