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European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the European Paper Wasp

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Image Credit: Dave E., taken in Swaledale, IA
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Image Credit: Dave E., taken in Swaledale, IA
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Image Credit: Dave E., taken in Swaledale, IA
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Image Credit: Jessica M. from MA
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The non-aggressive European Paper Wasp has started replacing native species in some states and provinces.

Updated: 08/10/2023; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Inadvertently brought to North America sometime in or before the 1980's, the European Paper Wasp has since become a common species everywhere. Though it is exotic, its presence is actually considered a good control for problem insects though it tends to replace native species in many areas. Aside from disturbing the nest, this species is considered non-aggressive and does not seek out targets. It is capable of stinging, and will do just that if the nest is under threat. Otherwise, it is not likely to bother people, even at outdoor cookouts. People have actually set up nest boxes for this species in order to benefit from their insect management while removing worry about unknown nesting locations.

This social wasp builds nests using wood pulp and saliva, forming spheres with visible hexagonal cells for eggs. Once a cell is filled with a fertilized egg, it is given an orb-like white cap. When larvae hatch, they are fed chewed up pieces of caterpillars by worker wasps. Workers hunt all kinds of garden pests like cabbageworms, tent caterpillars, hornworms, and sawflies for the growing offspring. New nests are built each year, and activity is highest during the daytime.

The resemblance between European Paper Wasps and yellowjackets is close, and the two different insects are easily mistaken for each other. Orange antennae and a more compact body and abdomen help distinguish this non-aggressive wasp from the larger, very aggressive yellowjacket. Nests also look different in that aggressive yellowjackets cover theirs with a layer of paper while European Paper Wasps leave the cells exposed.

European Paper Wasp adults drink flower nectar and occasionally rotting fruit, but they do not care for sugary drinks, so this is not an insect that ruins picnics. European Paper Wasps are not interested in commercial lures and bait that attracts and kills other types of wasps either. If a nest is discovered in an area where it can be left alone, allowing it to remain helps reduce the number of pest insects.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
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Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Hymenoptera
        Family: Vespidae
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          Genus: Polistes
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            Species: dominula

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Polistes dominula
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 18mm to 22mm (0.70" to 0.86")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; yellow
Descriptors: stinging; flying; paper nests; yellowjacket-like; orange antennae

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 18mm (0.7in) and 22mm (0.9in)
Lo: 18mm
Md: 20mm
Hi: 22mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the European Paper Wasp may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the European Paper Wasp. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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