Paper Wasp
Polistes exclamans

Paper Wasp, common name for medium- to large-sized wasps that construct nests made of a papery material. The nests consist of a single upside-down layer of brood cells (compartments for the young). There are 22 species of paper wasps in North America and approximately 700 species world-wide. Most are found in the tropics of the western hemisphere.

Most paper wasps measure about 2 cm (0.75") long and are black, brown, or reddish in color with yellow markings. Paper wasps will defend their nest if attacked. Adults forage for nectar, their source of energy, and for caterpillars to feed the larvae (young). They are natural enemies of many garden insect pests. A widespread North American species is the golden paper wasp.

The nests of most species are suspended from a single, central stalk and have the shape of an upside-down umbrella. Some tropical species make nests that hang in a vertical sheet of cells. Plant and wood fibers are collected by the wasps, mixed with saliva, and chewed into a papier-mâché-like material that is formed into cells of the nest. The nests are constructed in protected places, such as under the eaves of buildings or in dense vegetation. Normally a colony of a few to several dozen paper wasps inhabit the nest.

The colony is founded in early spring, soon after the queens emerge from hibernation. As the colony matures, males and the next year's queens are produced. These queens mate with males and are the only member of the colony to survive through winter. In late summer or fall, the queen, workers (unmated females), and males die. The newly mated queens hibernate, typically in piles of wood, in vegetation, or in holes. The following spring they emerge and begin the cycle anew. A similar life cycle is found in bumble bees.

Paper wasps are in the genus Polistes in the family Vespidae, which also includes potter wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets.


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Material © D. N. Searcy