Northern Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus)
Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Northern Paper Wasp.
Updated: 9/5/2017; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The very social Northern Paper Wasp can make a nest in unusual and unexpected places, requiring only a bit of wood of get started.
Northern Paper Wasps are most commonly found in the Midwest states. They are likely to build nests near humans as that is where a lot of wood can be found (homes, barns, sheds, fences, firewood, landscaping, etc.). The wasps use wood to help create their nest.
The primary queen is first to aggressively defend her nest and her oldest workers will join her in that effort. People and animals that disturb nests may be stung multiple times as wasps do not die after one sting (like honeybees do). Aside from possibly suffering from painful stings, Northern Paper Wasps actually do a great job of removing plant-devouring caterpillars from gardens. The adults eat them and will also use them to feed to their larvae when they hatch. They are so effective at this pest control that they are welcome sights in organic gardens since their presence negates the need for chemical pesticides.
This particular species of paper wasp contains multiple fertile females for a short time, though one queen dominates all of them. She hatches just before winter and quickly mates with males before hibernating. In the spring, she establishes her nest by laying her eggs. Most of these are workers that are sterile. Fertile females and males are usually born in late summer and mate before they overwinter and establish their own nests the next spring. Once these fertile females hatch, though, they quickly come to understand their position in the social ranking. The primary queen eats any eggs that are not her own. She tells them apart by using a chemical to 'tag' her own eggs and she avoids them. This way, she quashes any attempts to usurp her authority while she's still living. She, her workers and any males do not survive past autumn.
A study was done to see what role facial recognition plays in the socialization of this species. Northern Paper Wasps can tell the difference between their own species and other wasps in the same genus (cousins). They become physically aggressive toward them and attack them to protect their nest. It was a novel discovery for an insect species.