occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Polistes fuscatus occurs in temperate North America, from British Columbia east to the Atlantic, and south to West Virginia.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
- Evans, H. 1963. Wasp Farm. Ithaca: Cornel University Press.
- Milne, L. 1980. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. New York: Knopf.
The length of P. fuscatus ranges from 15 to 21 mm . These wasps are very slender and have a waist connecting the thorax and the abdomen. They are a dark reddish-brown color, and the body is segmented by yellow bands. Their pointed heads distinguish them from yellow jackets. In males, the tips of the antennae are strongly curved, and there is more yellow marking the front of the head.
Females of these wasps have a venomous sting.
Range length: 15 to 21 mm.
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; venomous
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes shaped differently
Polistes fuscatus nests in woodlands and savannas. It is fairly common around human habitations, especially where exposed wood is present and can be used for nest material.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest
Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural
Adult P. fuscatus feed mainly on plant nectar. The species is considered insectivores because it kills caterpillars and other small insects in order to provide food for developing larvae. Foragers collect various prey insects to feed to the larvae. The wasp then malaxates, or softens the food and in doing so absorbs most of the liquid in the food. This solid portion is given to older larvae and the liquid is regurgitated to be fed to younger larvae.
Animal Foods: insects
Plant Foods: nectar
Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food
Primary Diet: omnivore
Wasps feed on the nectar of plants and in doing so, they transfer pollen from one plant to another, aiding in plant reproduction. They are thus essential to ensure that plants reproduce. To the extent that these wasps fall prey to other animals, they affect the survival and reproduction of those predators. Polistes fuscatus also affects species upon which it preys in order to feed larvae.
Ecosystem Impact: pollinates
Polistes fuscatus is eusocial but its social organization is not as rigorous as other eusocial organisms. Whereas in some other eusocial insects, guard polymorphs have developed that specialize in nest defense (e.g. soldier termites), paper wasps have only workers and queens. These two classes work together to fend off nest predators and parasites.
Two trends have been found in the study of anti-predator adaptions in P. fuscatus. The first is that the queen is the most aggressive defender of the nest and the second is that aggression in both workers and queens increases with the passage of time. These two adaptations reveal the incomplete eusocial nature of P. fuscatus. The queen is the most aggressive because she has a huge reproductive investment in the nest. The workers become more aggressive with time since their investment increases with time.
- Judd, T. 2000. Division of labour in colony defence against vertebrate predators by the social wasp *Polistes fuscatus*. Animal Behavior, 60: 55.
Life History and Behavior
Communication and Perception
As social wasps, P. fuscatus must have communication avenues for nest and hierarchy building and for defense. In order to establish dominance, a queen adopts a series of threatening postures that cause her underlings to subordinate themselves.
A chemical producing gland towards the posterior portion of the wasp produces a chemical that separates eggs laid by the queen from eggs laid by workers. The queen uses this chemical to decide which eggs to eat and which eggs to allow to grow.
Outsiders, even conspecifics, are not well-received in an existing nest and are quickly removed. As an outsider cannot be discerned visually or through tactile sensation, P. fuscatus relies on chemical cues. Pheromones are released by the wasps and the pheromones are specific to each nest. The specific chemicals are acquired upon birth by the wasps. It is extremely difficult for an individual to become accepted into a neighboring colony, unless it establishes a new colny of its own.
Communication Channels: visual ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; chemical
- Gamboa, G., T. Grudzien, K. Espelie, E. Bura. 1996. Kin recognition pheromones in social wasps: combining chemical and behavioral evidence. Animal Behavior, 51: 625-629.
Polistes fuscatus queens lay fertilized eggs into individual cells within the nest. The larvae which subsequently hatch from these eggs are fed and protected by the queen and subordinate females until they are ready to pupate. The larvae are then covered with a silky covering. The first generation emerges from pupation as into smaller, infertile females. These are the true workers of the colony. Later in the life of the nest, males and fertile female offspring are produced. The fertile female offspring are the next generation of queens. They survive the winter and start new nests the following year.
Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis
- Lyon, W., G. Wegner. 2001. "Paper Wasps and Hornets" (On-line). Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheets. Accessed 10/11/01 at http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2077.html.
The lifespan of P. fuscatus is approximately one year, or the time it takes a queen to develop and to mate. Larvae from that are laid during the summer are well fed because of abundant food, and are capable of becoming queens. These eggs hatch before fall and the resulting offspring hibernate during fall and winter. The new queens emerge in the spring to begin nests and lay eggs. By fall, after laying eggs that will develop into new queens, these queens die. All accompanying workers and males die with the queen.
Status: wild: 1 years.
- Unknown, 2001. "Paper Wasps" (On-line). MSN Encarta Premium. Accessed October 11, 2001 at http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761582488/Paper_Wasp.html#p7.
Males and females mate at the end of the summer, after the nest has been abandoned. Venom from females acts as an attractant for males, drawing them from at least 2 meters away.
Mating System: cooperative breeder ; eusocial
The mating season for P. fuscatus is during the spring and summer. Fertile females are hatched towards the end of summer and they mate with males. With the onset of winter, the old queen, workers, and males die and the young females enter hibernation. They emerge in spring to build nests and produce offspring.
Breeding season: Breeding occus in spring and summer.
Key Reproductive Features: semelparous ; seasonal breeding ; sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous
Parental Investment: female parental care
- Evans, H. 1963. Wasp Farm. Ithaca: Cornel University Press.
- Turillazzi, S., M. West-Eberhard. 1996. Natural History and Evolution of Paper-Wasps. New York: Oxford Science Publications.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Polistes fuscatus
Public Records: 53
Specimens with Barcodes: 110
Species With Barcodes: 1
Barcode data: Polistes fuscatus
There are 56 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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Download FASTA File
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Polistes fuscatus is one of the most common wasps in North America and the one that is very well studied due to its steady population sizes, therefore there is no cause to worry about the status of this species.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
Due to the proximity of the wasps to humans and their habitation in houses and other buildings, they can prove hazardous. They can inflict stings on domestic animals in places such as barns where they may have nests. Humans are also at risk of aggravating these insects and suffering from stings.
Negative Impacts: injures humans (bites or stings); household pest
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Polistes fuscatus feeds on various garden insects. The wasps feed on caterpillars and these insects also serve as major sources of food for the eggs. Organic gardeners benefit greatly from these wasps because they eliminate the need for pesticides.
Positive Impacts: controls pest population
- 1995. Paper Wasps (Polistes species). Organic Gardening, 42: 22.
Polistes fuscatus can be found in temperate North America, from British Columbia and Quebec to Florida and West Virginia. It is the native "paper wasp" most common in the American Midwest. This species is mainly present in woodlands because the wasps require wood to construct their nests. It is also quite common to find P. fuscatus around human habitations.
Polistes fuscatus engages in a hierarchical social system centered on one queen, that determines much of their behavior.
Polistes fuscatus can reach a length of 15–21 millimetres (0.59–0.83 in). The basic colour is black or dark brown-reddish, with transversal yellow markings on the abdomen. This species is highly variable in colours and markings, especially in the facial patterns. Females bear a venomous sting. These paper wasps show a characteristic flight, with their long slender legs dangling below their bodies. The adults primarily feed on nectar, their main source of energy. However, they also prey on caterpillars, grasshoppers and small insects, which are used to feed to the larvae until they pupate.
The life cycle lasts approximately one year. In early spring the new queen emerging from hibernation starts a new colony, building an umbrella-shaped nest made of a papery material and suspended from a single stalk. The queen lays eggs into individual cells. The first generation is composed of infertile female workers. In the next generation there are multiple queens with communal nests, but the other fertile females accept the dominance of a single female and raise offspring cooperatively. Later in summer, the next year's queens are produced, and they mate with males. The newly-mated queens hibernate in winter, while old founding queens, workers (sterile females) and males die.
Polistes fuscatus has highly variable facial patterns from member to member. Recent research has discovered that paper wasps of this species can recognize and remember the faces of other members of their own species, with facial recognition abilities comparable to humans and chimps.
This ability is likely tied to their social structure, enabling them to recognize their respective ranking in the hierarchy. This hierarchy is important in determining how food, work, and reproduction are divided within the colony. Variability in the yellow facial and abdominal markings is important in determining individual identity. Polistes fuscatus will become physical aggressive towards individuals who had their markings experimentally altered, which has also been shown in Polistes dominula.
Polistes fuscatus is an eusocial organism that has a hierarchical social system usually centered around one queen. Although this species is classified as eusocial, its social organization is not as evolved as other eusocial organisms. Queen initiated interactions can be placed into two broad categories: (1) solicitations and (2) non-solicitations. Solicitations include “receipt of water, nectar, pulp, or prey from returned Foragers,” while non-solicitations include, “antennation, lunging/bumping, chasing, grappling, and biting” (156). Queens spend substantially less time off of the nest compared to workers. Workers vary significantly in time spent off the nest, which correlates with foraging efforts. More dominant workers spend less time off of the nest compared with less dominant workers. Other eusocial insects, such as soldier termites, have developed guard polymorphs that specialize in nest defense. Paper wasps on the other hand, have only workers and queens who defend the nest together. The queen is the most aggressive defender of the nest since she has the most reproductive investment. In some cases, Polistes fuscatus has been shown to share nests with a closely related species, Polistes metricus.
A queen will establish dominance over other fertile females by eating their eggs and staying physically aggressive. These other females usually become the subordinates of the queen, but sometimes they become co-foundresses of the colony. The queen may occasionally allow the subordinates to lay eggs themselves to encourage subordinates to remain with the nest and aid in construction and brood rearing. These subordinate eggs are advantageous to the nest if the laid eggs are female, since females assist in the protection and rearing of the queen’s brood. Male eggs, on the other hand, provide little reproductive benefit to the queen.
The mating season for Polistes fuscatus is during the spring and summer, after the nest has been abandoned. Venom is released by females that contains a sex pheromone that induces copulatory behavior in males. The continual release of the venom causes males to try to copulate with females when they are unreceptive on the nest, interrupting the activities of the colony. After mating has occurred, the queen will lay an initial generation of infertile female workers. Later in the life of the nest, males and fertile female offspring are produced.
The eggs capable of becoming queens are laid during the summer. Laying these eggs during the summer ensures that the larvae are well-fed due to the abundance of food. These eggs hatch before fall and the resulting offspring hibernate during fall and winter. The new queens or co-foundresses emerge in the spring to begin new nests and lay eggs. After laying eggs that will later develop into new queens, the old queens die along with all accompanying workers and males. As opposed to other eusocial insects such as vespid wasps, Polistes fuscatus have not been found to preferentially mate with their siblings or have sibling recognition mechanisms to aid in kin selection during reproduction. This is surprising since there are many advantages of inbreeding for haplo-diploid organisms.
According to Fisher’s theory of sex ratio selection, when competition for mates is population wide, parents will evolve to invest equally in both sexes. However in eusocial hierarchies, there is often conflict between the workers and the queen to best promote their genes within the colony. The Queens favors a 1:1 sex ratio, but the workers favor female progeny because they share approximately 75% of their genes with their sisters, provided that the queen only mated once. In Polistes fuscatus, the sex ratio is usually 1:1 for several reasons. First, males generally leave the nest to scout for mates soon after they reach adulthood, promoting population competition for mates. Second, the number of workers within a colony is relatively small, generally less than 40, making it less likely for a worker to confront the queen. Also since colonies are annual and workers are reared by the queen’s subordinate foundresses, the queen can manipulate how much food they receive as larvae. Polistes fuscatus queens likely mate with multiple males so that the relatedness of workers is less than if they all shared the same father’s genes. Finally, in the second generation of the queens offspring, males are usually reared earlier than reproductive females. Thus when the workers have the opportunity to bias the sex ratio, there are few male larvae present. Additionally, the males have usually completed part of their development, giving them a higher reproductive value than new eggs. Thus the costs of destroying male larvae or replacing the male larvae with their own eggs is not worth the investment.
- Global species
- Polistes fuscatus on Animal Diversity
- Polistes fuscatus on Biology.ualberta
- "Like Humans, the Paper Wasp Has a Special Talent for Learning Faces"
- National Geographic
- Tibbetts, Elizabeth A. (22 July 2002). "Visual signals of individual identity in the wasp Polistes fuscatus". The Royal Society: Biological Sciences. 1499 269: 1423–1428. doi:10.1098/rspb.2002.2031.
- Tibbetts, Elizabeth A; James Dale (2004). "A socially enforced signal of quality in a paper wasp". Nature 432: 218–222. doi:10.1038/nature02949.
- Reeve, Hudson K.; George J. Gamboa (1987). "Queen Regulation of Worker Foraging in Paper Wasps: A Social Feedback Control System (Polistes fuscatus, Hymenoptera: Vespidae)". Behaviour 102 (3-4): 147–167.
- Klahn, J. (May 19, 1988). . "Intraspecific Comb Usurpation in the Social Wasp Polistes fuscatus". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 23 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1007/bf00303051. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
- Noonan, Katherine (March 24, 1978). . "Sex Ratio of Parental Investment in Colonies of the Social Wasp Polistes fuscatus". Science, New Series 199 (4335): 1354–1356. doi:10.1126/science.199.4335.1354. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
- Gamboa, George J. "Nest Sharing and Maintenance of Multiple Nests by the Paper Wasp, Polistes Metricus." Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 54.1 (1981): 153-55. Print
- Downing, Holly (2004). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 77 (3): 288–291 http://www.jstor.org/stable/25086218
|url=missing title (help). Retrieved 16 September 2013.
- Post, David; Robert Jeanne (1983). "Venom: Source of a Sex Pheromone in the Social Wasp Polistes fuscatus (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)". Journal of Chemical Ecology 9 (2): 259–266. doi:10.1007/bf00988043.
- Larch, Christine; George Gamboa (1981). "Investigation of Mating Preference for Nestmates in the Paper Wasp Polistes fuscatus (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)". Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 54 (4): 811–814. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
- Krebs, John; Nicholas Davies & Stuart West (2012). An Introduction to Behavioral Ecology (4 ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-1416-5.
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