Brief Summary

Polistes gallicus (also historically referred to as Polistes foederatus) is a fairly common species of European paper wasp, almost indistinguishable from the European paper wasp, Polistes dominula with which it had long been confused. Nearly every reference to "P. gallicus" prior to 1985 was actually referring to P. dominula; due to the great similarity between species, however, many published studies for which there are no vouchered reference specimens cannot be reliably assigned to either species. Most of the literature that pertains to actual P. gallicus uses the junior synonym, P. foederatus, a name which still occasionally appears in the literature despite the known error.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Polistes gallicus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.

There are 3 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Polistes gallicus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 27
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Polistes gallicus

Polistes gallicus (also historically referred to as Polistes foederatus) is a fairly common European species of paper wasp.[1]Polistes gallicus is a species of wasp found in a variety of weather conditions from the warmer parts of Europe, excluding England, Denmark, and Scandinavia, to the colder areas north of the Alps. The distribution of P. gallicus also extends into northern regions of Africa, through Israel and Iran, even reaching parts of China and Russia.[2] Nests of these social insects are created in these various conditions. A combination of chewed plant fibers and branches are physically protected from effects of nature like rain and weathering by the oral secretion Polistes species use to construct their nests.[3]

Description and identification[edit]

P. gallicus can be spotted due to its distinct markings of bright yellow and black. It’s relatively small in size compared to other native Polistes. Curled antennas are a common characteristic in the genus for males, despite being shorter in length in comparison to wasps of other species. Their faces are also completely yellow in color.[2]

Nest structure can consist of numerous cells, with some nests reporting as many as 500. Bigger nests are more commonly found in southern regions of countries. For example a study of two wasp nests in Cambridge, Massachusetts found a nest constructed inside a stop sign pole was 8 cm high and 5 cm wide. It consisted of 134 cells. A second nest contained a greater number of cells at 153 with the same nest dimensions. The second nest was suspended from a pipe.[2] The nests of P. gallicus tend to be smaller in size than that of comparative Polistes. Nest size also depended on the location, as in more sheltered areas nests tended to be larger. These nests are constructed from a mix of oral secretions and plant fibers to make a paper pulp.[3]

Taxonomy and phylogeny[edit]

Polistes gallicus is a member of the Vespidae family, further classified under the second largest of the subfamilies, Polistinae. This subfamily of paper wasps consists of various social wasps. Within the larger subfamily Polistnae, Polistes are categorized by their independent founding behavior, distinguishing them from swarm founding species.[4] Furthermore, among the 200 species of wasps in the genus Polistes, P. gallicus is classified.[5]

P. gallicus is almost indistinguishable from the European paper wasp, Polistes dominula, with which it had long been confused. Nearly every reference to "P. gallicus" prior to 1985 was actually referring to P. dominula; due to the great similarity between species, however, many published studies for which there are no vouchered reference specimens ca nnot be reliably assigned to either species. Most of the literature that pertains to actual P. gallicus uses the junior synonym, P. foederatus, a name which still occasionally appears in the literature despite the known error.[1] It is also closely related to P. biglumis and P. hellenicus[6]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Due to the extensive range Polistes gallicus resides, this species survives in a variety of climates and habitats. Ideally it prefers to nest in warm and dry areas within these locations. In Italy, nests are typically built in open areas hanging from branches with the cells opened towards the ground. In the colder conditions north of the Alps, metal scraps such as pipes serve as protective enclosures to P. gallicus nests. When it comes to distribution, these wasps are the most abundant Polistes in Spain. P. gallicus also inhabits parts of Paris, although the farther north the more rare this species becomes.[2] It’s conservation status in general has not been evaluated yet although in it's inhabited regions it is common.[7]

Colony cycle[edit]

In the spring, wasps come out of hibernation and several foundresses, potential reproductive females, form nests together.[8] This group effort is not always the case as nests with multiple founders are typical found in southern regions of Germany and also in Italy. However, most P. gallicus colonies in Germany are initiated by a single foundress, as well as in other northern areas of its range.[2] In Africa when the reproductive female leaves the nest accompanied by several other workers, reproduction came occur by swarming.[2] The cells formed are usually in a hexagonal pattern. The foundress then proceed to lay eggs directly in the brood cells that are guarded by the foundress and subordinates. The newly hatched larvae are then fed throughout their development, and each of the season’s first brood of wasps is exclusively female. These new members of the nest are designated worker positions, and serve as subordinates to the foundress.[9]

In early summer, the first workers tend to emerge to pertain to duties such as maintaining the nest and taking care of the brood inside. The females that were assisting in the spring are usually driven off by the foundress at this time, and leave the nest, making room for the new additions. The reproductive phase then follows when the female reproductives emerge. Male reproductives then emerge, leading to the start of the intermediate phase. Worker numbers start dropping due to a decline in brood care as the older individuals start dying and replacements no longer exist.[9]


Dominance Hierarchy[edit]

Hormones play a role in the establishment of dominance hierarchies among Polistes gallicus. Dominant females tend to have more developed ovaries due to higher activity levels of the endocrine system. A larger corpora allata also influences the determination of dominance. A high reproductive capacity is also associated with the dominant female.[8]

Reproductive Suppression[edit]

After a hierarchy is established the dominant wasp is able remain the sole reproducer in the colony due to the inhibition of endocrine activity within the subordinate wasps. Various factors contribute to the possibility of inhibition, which might also lead to differences in endocrine activity. If subordinates happen to lay eggs after the hierarchy is formed, the dominant foundress will eat the eggs to ensure all laid eggs are of her own genes.[8]

Kin selection[edit]

Genetic Relatedness within Colonies[edit]

Colonies of Polistes gallicus have one queen that mates and produces offspring. As a result, the queen to worker male relatedness is 1/2. This is higher than the relatedness of two worker brothers, which is 1/4. On the other hand, workers relatedness to the offspring of other workers is 3/8. This is true if the queen only mates once. However, in the case that the queen mates more than once, workers are actually more related to their brothers than compared to the offspring of other workers.[10]

Kin Recognition and Discrimination[edit]

P. gallicus reacts to chemical signals within Van der Vecht (VVS) organ secretions. VVS was studied and found to be a composition of hydrocarbons. The exact mixture tended to vary among differing colonies and also between the queen and workers, demonstrating worker specificity. Due to the different composition of the VVS chemicals, workers are able to distinguish these differences and respond with varying degrees of aggressiveness to other wasps who also release these chemicals. These chemicals can allow the wasps to interpret these cues about the presence of a related queen in the colony. While workers are able to discriminate VVS of their own queen and other workers, they are also able to distinguish odors when secreted from alien individuals too.[11]

The foundress of the nest has unicellular glands associated with this organ that peaks in activity around the time when workers start emerging. These chemicals are also hypothesized to serve as repellent secretions in order to defend the nest before it is populated.[11]

Worker Queen Conflict[edit]

Due to the differences in relatedness within colonies, conflict over sex ratio arises. It would be beneficial for the queen to produce an equal ratio of sons and daughters due to being equal relatedness in both cases. Fisher’s theory of equal investment supports this 50:50 sex ratio of males and females. This is a stable situation as both males and females have the same expected reproductive success.[12] The queen also has tendencies to eat other worker- laid eggs if she was not successful in preventing workers from laying eggs in the first place, to maintain this balance.[10]

For workers, the production of males by the queen would be more favorable than to let other workers produce progenies. This would lead to an increase relatedness of around 3/4, compared to relatedness of workers and other worker produced males at around 2/5.[10] This might support the worker policing prediction that workers might prevent other workers from laying eggs in support of queen produced progeny when they are multiply mated. [13] In addition, it is seen in colonies with the presence of a queen, workers will not produce males but instead sacrifice their own interests for the better good of colony productivity. There have been indirect evidence supportive of matricide within the colony, and queen death has been noted to be high in P. gallicus.[10]

Interaction with other species[edit]


Strepsiptera belonging to the genus Xenos is known to infect Polistes. ''Xenos vesparum'' in specific. Younger members of the colony are typically the target and most susceptible to parasitism. It is also more difficult to document parasite in adult members due to their departure from the cell. However, parasites are most visible in the neotenic adult or pupal stage. This does not distract from finding of Strepsipteran parasites in all stages of the host, from eggs, to larvae, pupae, and finally the adult stage. Also, nests tended to have more parasites per brood member when there was high parasite prevalence. Xenos tends to infect these wasp either through phoretic transport in which the 1st instarts are able to attach to wasps’ abdomens at flowering patches or by infecting masses by releasing close to combs from an infected wasp. Sometimes in brood with high levels of parasitized larval hosts, there might be an adaptation of the parasite to instead enter the eggs.[14]


Polistes are known to use the sting and venom it can deliver as a means of colony defense. This venom however seems to be costly to produce as Polistes will only release it after the sting in certain situations. Dangerous stimuli must first be perceived before they go out of their way, leaving a nest unattended, to attack.[15] In some situations Polistes gallicus are know to exhibit aggressive behavior twos wasps of a foreign colony.[11] While venom from a basic standpoint is used by solitary species to capture prey, it has served a greater purpose of defense in social colonies against colony vertebrate and invertebrate offenders.[15]

When it comes to alarm systems, Polistes can communicate with others through vibrational and visual signals. Alarm pheromones mixed in with the composition of the venom can be released. However, it has yet to be determined if this release occurs following the act of ejecting venom by the signaling wasps or if it’s due to the actual release of the venom during the sting.[15]

Human importance[edit]

Gains from the Study of Polistes Venom[edit]

Knowing venom chemistry from these species of wasps can lead to human advantages from a pharmaceutical standpoint. The chemical breakdown of venom allows for synthesis of progress in immunology therapy due to the creation of more reliable and effective treatments for people with allergies. The study of the way venom is transacted into victims also allows for study of the composition that allows extension of this to transfer drug molecules through cell membranes. Not only would study of the wasps benefit humans, wasp population can also be regulated for overpopulation due to scientists' ability to create artificial sex attractants.[15]


  1. ^ a b O’Donnell, Sean (1998). "Reproductive caste determination in eusocial wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae )". Annual review of entomology 43 (1): 323–346. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Hathaway, M.A. (1981). "Polistes gallicus in Massachusetts (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)". Directory of Open Access Journals 88 (1-2): 169–173. Retrieved 17 September 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Bagriacik, Nil (2012). "COMPARISON OF THE NEST MATERIALS OF POLISTES GALLICUS (L.), POLISTES DOMINULUS (CHRIST) AND POLISTES NIMPHA (CHRIST) (HYMENOPTERA: VESPIDAE)". Arch. Biol. Sci. 64 (3): 1079–1084. Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  4. ^ Arevalo, Elisabeth; Yong Zhu; James M Carpenter; Joan E Strassman (2004). "The phylogeny of the social wasp subfamily Polistinae: evidence from microsatellite flanking sequences, mitochondrial COI sequence, and morphological characters". BioMedCentral Evolutionary Biology 4 (8). Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  5. ^ Cervo, R. 2006. Polistes wasps and their social parasites: an overview. Annales Zoologici Fennici 43:531–549.
  6. ^ Larch, Rainer; Hannes Baur; Gaston-Denis Guex; Christophe Praz (2004). "A new species of the paper wasp genus Polistes (Hymenoptera, Vespidae, Polistinae) in Europe revealed by morphometrics and molecular analyses". Zookeys 400: 67–118. Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  7. ^ "Polistes Gallicus (Linnaeus, 1767)." Polistes Gallicus. European Environment Agency, n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. <http://eunis.eea.europa.eu/species/216123>
  8. ^ a b c Röseler, Peter-Frank; Ingeborg Röseler; Alain Strambi; Roger Augier (1984). "Influence of Insect Hormones on the Establishment of Dominance Hierarchies among Foundresses of the Paper Wasp, Polistes Gallicus". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 15 (2): 133–142. Retrieved 17 September 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Hudson, K. Reeve (1991). ). "Polistes". In Kenneth G. Ross & Robert W. Mathew. The Social Biology of Wasps.. Cornell University Press. pp. 99–148. ISBN 978-0-8014-9906-7. 
  10. ^ a b c d Strassmann, JE; Nguyen JS; Arévalo E; Cervo R; Zacchi F; et al. (2003). "Worker interest and male production in Polistes gallicus, a Mediterranean social wasp.". Journal of Evolutionary Biology 16 (2): 254–259. Retrieved 18 September 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c Dapporto, Leonardo; Antonio Santini; Francesca R. Dani; Stefano Turillazzi (2007). "Workers of a Polistes Paper Wasp Detect the Presence of Their Queen by Chemical Cues". Chemical Senses 32 (8): 795–802. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  12. ^ Davies, N. B., J. R. Krebs, and Stuart A. West. An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. 978-1-4051-1416-5 pp367-89. Print.
  13. ^ Ratnieks, F.L.W. (August 1988). "Reproductive harmony via mutual policing by workers in eusocial hymenoptera.". The University of Chicago Press for The American Naturalist 132 (2): 217–236. Retrieved 17 September 2014. 
  14. ^ Hughes, D.P.; J. Kathirithamby; L. Beani (2004). "Prevalence of the parasite Strepsiptera in adult Polistes wasps: field collections and literature overview". Ethology, Ecology and Evolution 16 (4): 363–375. Retrieved 21 September 2014. 
  15. ^ a b c d Turillazzi, Stefano (December 2006). "Polistes venom: a multifunctional secretion". Annales Zoologici Fennici. 43 (5-6): 488–499. Retrieved 24 September 2014. 
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