Paper Wasp, Polistes sp.
Vespidae or Hornet Family

Adult female

Medium-sized, thin gangly wasp, with a very narrow "wasp waist" and long legs. Reddish brown with black markings and yellow band on the top of the abdomen. Dark brown wings, black eyes. Live in relatively small colonies where all females are able to reproduce, but most help raise the dominant female's offspring. Colonies build and inhabit characteristic paper nests that they build, with downfacing cells in a single layer attached by a single slender stalk to the underside of a branch, cliff, roofline, or porch or shed ceiling. Workers guarding the nest sit on the outside. Adults feed mainly on nectar, but they also sting and kill caterpillars to feed to their larvae. They may be seen in the spring foraging for fibers for the nest, chewing on exposed wood for example. In summer they may be seen drinking from flowers or hunting caterpillars. Although nests are often unwelcome in human-frequented areas, the wasps are generally peaceful, unless the nest is attacked. One summer a colony built a nest over the entrance to my cellar and we eyed each other nervously every time I had to go down there; however, we passed the summer with no hostilities initiated.

Reproductive females overwinter in hidden places and emerge in spring to start a nest. Nests are started by either a single foundress or a group of sisters, although generally only one female gets to lay eggs. The first offspring are workers who take over the work of the nest. Late in the season new reproductive females, biologically equpped with antifreeze and fat deposits for the winter, will emerge along with males to mate with them. Except in mild southern areas, nests do not survive the winter.

Common in Wildwood. Has nested under the roof of the outdoor classroom.

The gangly waspy shape and the red / black /yellow color scheme make the genus easy to identify. Eleven species of Polistes live in the Northeast and many of those could be visiting Wildwood. Although some of these species are distinctive in appearance, most cannot be told apart except by careful examination of the color and shape of particular parts of their anatomy. This is best not attemped while they are alive. To make matters even more difficult, color varies within each species.




Flora & Fauna Home

Wildwood Home