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Paper Wasp (Polistes spp)


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



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Paper Wasps come in a variety of colors and patterns, but all of these social wasps act as guards when protecting their home.



Updated: 08/23/2019; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Paper Wasps are part of the Vespid Wasp family. They form nests by chewing wood, forming a sort of paper mash with their saliva. The color of the nest can vary from gray to brown, depending on the type of wood pulp that is used to build it. This paper mash is formed into round cells that eventually house eggs with their food rations. Paper wasps sting other insects, paralyzing them, and bring them back to the nest. The paralyzed insects are stored in a cell with a fertilized egg. Once the egg hatches, the wasp larva eat the living, immobile insect. It will then pupate and emerge as a winged adult.

Paper wasps build their nests any place that looks like a good sheltered area: in dense shrubs, on building corners, and in trees. They are generally easy-going and do not tend to chase after people that are just passing by, but they can and do sting if they feel their nest is under threat. When approaching a nest for observation, the first wasps to notice turn and face the threat directly. What looks like a staring contest is a warning to back away. When other wasps around the nest engage in this defensive behavior, they are increasing awareness of the threat to each other. That is a good sign to move along.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Insect stinger icon
Striped or banded insect icon




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: spp
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Polistes spp
Other Name(s): Umbrella Wasp
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 12mm to 20mm (0.47" to 0.78")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: red, yellow, black
Descriptors: banded, striped, flying, stinging, colorful, mulitcolored
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Range Between 12mm and 20mm
Lo: 12mm
Md: 16mm
Hi: 20mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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State of Delware graphic
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State of New Jersey graphic
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State of South Carolina graphic
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State of Tennessee graphic
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State of Utah graphic
State of Virginia graphic
State of Washington graphic
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State of Wyoming graphic
Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
Canadian territory of British Columbia graphic
Canadian territory of Manitoba graphic
Canadian territory of New Brunswick graphic
Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
Canadian territory of Ontario graphic
Canadian territory of Quebec graphic
Canadian territory of Saskatchewan graphic
Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the 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 Paper Wasp. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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