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Genus Polistes - Umbrella Paper Wasps

Polistes major castaneicolor - Polistes major - female Wasp - Polistes carolina Paper Wasp - Polistes fuscatus European Paper Wasp  (Polistes dominula) - Polistes dominula Polistes sp. - Polistes dominula Wasp species? - Polistes aurifer Wasp - Polistes Male, Polistes? - Polistes - male
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
Polistes Latreille 1802
'founder of a city'
24 spp. in our area(1), >90 in the New World(2), ~220 total(3)
13-25 mm
key to the 11 northeastern spp.(1); updated key to eastern spp. of Polistes (Fuscopolistes) in(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.
Males have curly antennae and yellow faces (P. annularis males have red faces just like females).
Quick ways for separating Polistes groups in the United States for photographed specimens.
The Polistes canadensis species-group in the United States all have orange tipped antennae and the 1st abdominal segment noticeably longer than wide (in dorsal view). (in this group are P. annularis, P. canadensis, P. comanchus and P. kaibabensis).
The P. exclamans species-group shares these characters with the above group; it contains P. arizonensis, P. bahamensis and P. exclamans (also probably P. instabilis).
P. aurifer is part of the P. fuscatus species-group, which includes most of the remaining species in the United States (the 1st segment is as long as wide in dorsal view, among a few other characters) (the species here are P. apachus, aurifer, bellicosus, carolina, dorsalis, flavus, fuscatus, metricus and perplexus).
The other various groups have fairly easily identifiable species (such as P. dominula, P. major, P. carnifex).

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

♀ Red color variant

♂♀ ♀ Variant with yellow band on abdomen


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.
Life Cycle
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. A young queen is the sole survivor of the colony.
Not as aggressive as Hornets or Yellowjackets. Often build nests under eaves. May be considered beneficial to gardeners (feed on herbivorous insects).
Parasitoids include Pachysomoides (Ichneumonidae)
Works Cited
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.
3.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.