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

Calendar
Upcoming Events

National Moth Week photos of insects and people. Here's how to add your images.

Photos of insects and people from the 2019 BugGuide Gathering in Louisiana, July 25-27

Discussion, insects and people from the 2018 gathering in Virginia, July 27-29

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


TaxonomyBrowse
Info
ImagesLinksBooksData

Species Polistes carolina - Fine-backed Red Paper Wasp

Large orange wasp - Polistes carolina Polistes, but...  Perplexed in S Carolina - Polistes carolina - male November wasp - Polistes carolina - male Red Wasp Nest - Polistes carolina Paper Wasp - Polistes carolina polistes sp - Polistes carolina wasp-polistes - Polistes carolina Polistes rubiginosus  - Polistes carolina
Classification
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)
Species carolina (Fine-backed Red Paper Wasp)
Other Common Names
Red Paper Wasp
Red Wasp (a rather ambiguous name shared by a plethora of species)
Explanation of Names
Polistes carolina (Linnaeus 1767)
Range
e. US (NY-FL to KS-e. TX); introduced to Bermuda(1)
Habitat
Woodlands
Season
Summer-fall
See Also
P. rubiginosus (formerly P. perplexus): 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, plus a few trends in coloration that are useful for some individuals (most useful in males).(1)

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)
Internet References
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].