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Polistes sp wasp.jpg
Polistes sp with nest
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Suborder: Apocrita
Superfamily: Vespoidea
Family: Vespidae
Subfamily: Polistinae


The Polistinae are eusocial wasps closely related to the more familiar yellowjackets, but placed in their own subfamily, containing four tribes; with some 1100 species total, it is the second most diverse subfamily within Vespidae, and while most species are tropical or subtropical, they include some of the most frequently-encountered large wasps in temperate regions. They are also known as paper wasps, which is a misleading term since other wasps (including yellowjackets) also build nests out of paper, and because some Epiponine wasps (e.g., Polybia emaciata) build theirs out of mud [1], nonetheless, the name "paper wasp" seems to apply mostly, but not exclusively, to the Polistinae, especially the Polistini. The brood cells are arranged in a hexagonal array, similar to the comb structure in a honey bee nest. At least one Epiponine species (Brachygastra mellifica) stores honey in the comb, one of the only insects other than bees to store honey.

Polistes africanus

Characteristics of Polistinae are:

  • The queens (reproductive females) are morphologically similar to workers, though sometimes slightly larger or differently colored.
  • The abdomen is spindle-shaped, often petiolate.
  • The antennae of males are curled.
  • The nest is sometimes open (the nests of vespines are typically enclosed in several layers of paper).

Colony life cycle[edit]

Nest of a Polistes

Polistine wasps found colonies in one of two ways. In some species, nests are founded by a small number of reproductive females, possibly a single one. One of the foundresses eventually acquires dominance over the other and is the sole reproducer. The nest is open (not enclosed by an envelope) and contains a single comb.

In the other group, called "swarm-founding", the nest is founded by a large number of workers and a few queens. It is usually protected by an envelope, like a vespine nest.

Selected species of Polistinae[edit]

South American Epiponine nest

Tribe Polistini

Tribe Mischocyttarini

Tribe Epiponini

  • Genus Synoeca
    • S. cyanea
    • S. chalybea
    • S. septentrionalis
    • S. surinama
    • S. virginea

Tribe Ropalidiini


  1. ^ O’Donnell S and Jeanne R.L. 2002. The nest as fortress: defensive behavior of Polybia emaciata, a mud-nesting eusocial wasp. 5 pp. Journal of Insect Science, 2:3.

External links[edit]