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Local animals in this group:

paper wasps

Polistes

Diversity

The genus Polistes is made up of species commonly known as paper wasps. This genus belongs to the subfamily Polistinae. They are members of the family Vespidae. The genus of Polistes contains over 200 species. There are 11 species that live in the northeast of the United States. This genus of social wasps is one of the most common and widespread groups. (Santos, et al., 2014; Snelling, 1954)

What do they look like?

Paper wasps are often large, long, and slender. Their size ranges between 13-25 millimeters. They have a brownish or reddish color, depending on their species. They often have yellow markings. Males have yellow faces. This genus has less yellow coloring than yellow jackets and hornets. Members of this genus have a venomous sting. (Paulus and Lucky, 2015)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes shaped differently

Where do they live?

Paper wasps are found on every continent except for Antarctica. In North America, they are most common in the eastern and south-central parts of the United States. They are a cosmopolitan genus. (Paulus and Lucky, 2015; Santos, et al., 2014)

Paper wasps are found on every continent except for Antarctica. In North America, they are most common in the eastern and south-central parts of the United States. Since they are found all around the world, they are called a cosmopolitan genus. (Paulus and Lucky, 2015; Santos, et al., 2014)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Paper wasps are commonly found in woodlands and grasslands. They are active from summer to fall. Paper wasps build nests made of a papery material, hence their names. They are found in temperate and terrestrial habitats. They are found in urban, suburban, and rural locations. (Paulus and Lucky, 2015)

Paper wasps are commonly found in woodlands and grasslands. They are found in temperate and terrestrial habitats. They are active from summer to fall. Paper wasps build nests made of a papery material, which is how they got their name. They are found in urban, suburban, and rural locations. (Paulus and Lucky, 2015)

How do they grow?

Paper wasps undergo complete metamorphosis like other bees in the order Hymenoptera. Larvae hatch from an egg, then pass through several stages of growth. Once the larvae have fully matured, they begin the pupal stage. During this phase, pupae transform into adult bees. (Moisset, et al., 2019)

How do they reproduce?

Paper wasps are eusocial, which means that some members do not reproduce and instead care for the young; at least two generations of life stages work; and many members care for the young. Their social organization is not as strict as other eusocial genera. Colonies of paper wasps have only workers and queens. Both types defend the nest from predators and parasites. Colonies of paper wasps have only workers and queens. Both types defend the nest from predators and parasites. (Moisset, et al., 2019; Paulus and Lucky, 2015)

A queen that can reproduce heads each nest. Smaller, infertile female workers maintain nests. Each queen mates a single time. She stores the sperm. Queens lay eggs in individual, special cells. The first laid are female workers. The next laid eggs are unfertilized; these eggs develop into males. Finally, fertilized eggs are laid. With enough food, these eggs will develop into future queens. (Moisset, et al., 2019)

Adult male paper wasps will mate with the foundress queens of other nests. They will not mate with the queen of their own nest. After mating, the male bees will die. The fertilized queen spends the winter and founds a new nest. Nests in the warmest parts of their range may last for multiple seasons. These colonies replace queens with new foundresses as needed. (Moisset, et al., 2019)

Some species of the genus of paper wasps are social parasites. In these species, female bees lay eggs in the nests of other insects. When the larvae hatch, they feed on the eggs and larvae of the insects whose nest they laid eggs in. (Lorenzi, 2006)

How long do they live?

Queens of the genus Polistes live for at least one year. Workers and males have shorter lifespans. (Moisset, et al., 2019)

How do they behave?

Paper wasps are semi-social bees. This means that members of the same generation will share a nest and help raise the younger bees. They are active from spring to late fall in the temperate regions of their range. Young fertilized queens in this region spend the winter in sheltered areas. For example, they can be found in crannies or underneath the bark of trees. Each queen is the only survivor of her colony. Males of the species Polistes annularis also overwinter. Paper wasps are active year-round in the warmer parts of their range. The queens of these regions do not overwinter. They are replaced with new queens when needed. (Lorenzi, 2006; Moisset, et al., 2019)

Three species of the genus Polistes are social parasites. This means that they invade the nests of a host insect and take advantage of the host's resources. They are known as the cuckoo paper wasps. Polistes semenowi, Polistes atrimandibularis, and Polistes sulcifer behave in similar ways. They take advantage of different hosts. The rest of the other 200+ species of paper wasps can be parasites, but they are not always. (Lorenzi, 2006)

The three species of social parasites use chemical mimicry to invade the nests of their hosts. After the host insects have built their nests, parasitic female paper wasps enter. This happens before the eggs of the host have hatched. Females blend into the host colony by assuming the chemical profile of their hosts. The female wasps lay their own eggs, which develop into reproductives or males. They do not produce any workers. Instead, they rely on the workers of the host species. (Lorenzi, 2006)

Paper wasps are not as aggressive as yellow jackets and hornets. (Moisset, et al., 2019)

How do they communicate with each other?

Like other social bees, paper wasps communicate using touch, vision, chemicals called pheromones, and wing vibrations. Bees communicate about the safety of the nest, where food is, and what they should do. Like other bees, paper wasps can see ultraviolet light. (Lorenzi, 2006)

What do they eat?

Paper wasps consume the nectar and gather the pollen of a wide variety of plants. They are predatory to other types of insects like caterpillars. (Moisset, et al., 2019)

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

The three species called the cuckoo paper wasps are mimics. They copy the chemical scent of their host species. By copying the scent, they can invade the host nests. (Lorenzi, 2006)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • mimic
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Paper wasps are important pollinators that play a big role in the survival of their ecosystems. In addition to pollinating, they eat other types of insects. Some species of paper wasps are parasitic towards other species of their genus. (Lorenzi, 2006; Moisset, et al., 2019)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates
Species (or larger taxonomic groups) used as hosts by this species

Do they cause problems?

Paper wasps sting to protect themselves. They attack when their nest is disturbed. Large hives may sting many times in a swarm. Paper wasps are most dangerous to people allergic to bee stings.

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans
  • household pest

How do they interact with us?

Paper wasps are beneficial to humans because they are significant pollinators. They pollinate flowers while seeking out nectar. The large number of insects they eat helps control populations of unwanted insects.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • pollinates crops
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

No special conservation status.

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Contributors

Deena Hauze (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

References

Cervi, R. 2006. Polistes wasps and their social parasites: an overview. Annales Zoologici Fennici, 43(5/6): 531-549. Accessed July 17, 2020 at https://www-jstor-org.ezproxy2.library.colostate.edu/stable/23736760.

Lorenzi, M. 2006. The Result of an Arms Race: the Chemical Strategies of Polistes Social Parasites. Annales Zoologici Fennici, 43(5/6): 550-563. Accessed July 17, 2020 at https://www.jstor.org/stable/23736761.

Moisset, B., M. Buck, C. Entz, M. Quinne, T. Kropiewnicki, A. Schisteff, C. Eiseman, S. Nacko. 2019. "Genus Polistes - Paper Wasps" (On-line). Bug Guide. Accessed July 17, 2020 at https://bugguide.net/node/view/572.

Paulus, L., A. Lucky. 2015. "Common Name: Paper Wasp, Red Wasp" (On-line). Featured Creatures. Accessed July 17, 2020 at http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/MISC/WASPS/Polistes_carolina.htm.

Santos, B., A. Payne, K. Pickett, J. Carpenter. 2014. Phylogeny and historical biogeography of the paper wasp genus Polistes (Hymenoptera: Vespidae): implications for the overwintering hypothesis of social evolution. Cladistics, 31(5): 535-549. Accessed July 19, 2020 at https://doi.org/10.1111/cla.12103.

Snelling, R. 1954. Wasps of the Genus Polistes in California and Arizona (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, 27(4): 151-155. Accessed July 17, 2020 at https://www-jstor-org.ezproxy2.library.colostate.edu/stable/25082120.

 
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Hauze, D. 2020. "Polistes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 14, 2021 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Polistes/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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