Genus Polistes - Umbrella Paper Wasps
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)
Other Common Names
Umbrella Wasps, Typical Paper Wasps
Common Paper Wasps (variably used to refer to the genus or to particular species like P. exclamans or P. fuscatus)
Explanation of Names
transliterated from the Greek πολιστης ('founder of a city')
24 spp. in our area(1)
, >90 in the New World(2)
, ~220 total(3)
Large social wasps with long legs, usually brown, yellow markings typically less extensive than yellow jackets and hornets (Vespinae). Build distinctive paper nests attached to a surface by a stalk. No outer covering of cells as in the Vespinae. Key
to the 11 northeastern spp.(1)
; updated key to eastern spp. of Polistes (Fuscopolistes)(3)
Females have non-curled antennae, 6 gastral segments, and variable facial markings. Males have curly, pointed antennae, 7 gastral segments, and yellow faces (at the exclusion of P. annularis, whose males have red faces just like females).
Overview of Subgenera
Polistes may be fairly easily identified to subgenus in photographed specimens by the following traits:
have dark antennae with the apical 4 or so segments bright orange and a narrow, slightly elongate first abdominal segment. Species included in this subgenus in our area include P. annularis
, P. arizonensis
, P. canadensis
, P. comanchus
, P. bahamensis
, P. exclamans
, P. instabilis
, and P. kaibabensis
P. (Epicnemus) have wholly dark antennae and a somewhat elongate first abdominal segment. Species are neotropical and mostly dark bodied. The only species in this subgenus in our area is P. pacificus in south Texas, which is primarily black and yellow.
have primarily dull or dark antennae, lacking contrasting tips (at most, a couple segments may be lighter) and a broader first abdominal segment (as long as wide, in dorsal view). Species included in this subgenus in our area include P. apachus
, P. aurifer
, P. bellicosus
, P. carolina
, P. dorsalis
, P. flavus
, P. fuscatus
, P. hirsuticornis
, P. metricus
, P. parametricus
, and rubiginosus
have bright orange antennae lacking extensive dark markings, a wider first abdominal segment, a long oculomalar length of greater than 1/3 the height of the eye, males with a pointed clypeus. The only species in this subgenus in our area is P. carnifex
in south Texas, which is known for its extensive yellow markings, similar to P. major major
have bright orange antennae (with dark markings in P. major
), a wider first abdominal segment, a long oculomalar length of less than 1/3 the height of the eye, and males with a straight-edged clypeus. Species included in this subgenus in our area include P. major
(the nominate subspecies of which is known for its extensive yellow markings, similar to P. carnifex
) and P. palmarum
in our area have bright orange antennae and strongly contrasted black-and-yellow markings. The only species in this subgenus in our area is P. dominula
Early spring to late fall (in warm areas year-round). Only workers early in season--males appear in 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, all females are potential breeders. 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, or more. A young queen is the sole survivor of the colony.
Paper wasps are not as defensive of nests as hornets or yellowjackets. They often build nests under eaves, though a few species build concealed nests inside existing cavities. They are considered to be a beneficial to gardeners as they feed on herbivorous insects.
is an ichneumonid genus that is a parasitoid of Polistes
Several species in the genus Xenos
are obligate parasites on genus Polistes
. Stylopization can cause a number of deformations, but the most characteristic is the protruding of pupae through the wasp's gastral segments.
is one of several genera affected by the deformed wing virus. It is known to be spread from the mite, Varroa descructor
, to honeybees. Indirect spillover to other hymenopteran genera, such as Polistes
, has been documented, but the exact means is still under investigation as of Santamaria et al., 2017
|1.||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].
|2.||Vespidae (Insecta: Hymenoptera) of Puerto Rico, West Indies|
Carpenter J.M., Genaro J.A. 2011. Insecta Mundi 0202: 1-35.