Types of Paper Wasps: Pictures and Identification

Identifying a paper wasp as a common residential visitor that provides potential benefits and harms to areas of the yard where it nests is basically all that the average homeowner need know in order to make a decision on whether the nest stays or goes.

So, for example, the video shows a group of wasps crawling around some live wasp larvae on a flat or umbrella shaped nest. Those are paper wasps. It’s also interesting to notice that the wasps are flapping their wings quickly in order to keep the nest cool during the heat of the day.

Removing the nest while it is being built, rather than waiting for nest to be completed and filled with wasps removes most of the threat to family members. Looking under the porch awnings and removing the nests with a broom during the spring should be enough to discourage the queen and drones from rebuilding.

Either way, it is necessary to remove the nest in order to remove the wasps.

Specialists watch paper wasp behavior and attempt to describe and explain their sociability. Typically people assume that a nest consists of a queen, drones and workers. One paper wasp research called Benefits of foundress associations in the paper wasp Polistes dominulus: increased productivity and survival, but no assurance of fitness returns, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology was interested in nest behavior when two queens were present. The paper concluded that sociality extends beyond that tradition concept of nest population.

Successful Polistes dominulus nests can be started by one or more nest founding queens (foundresses). Consequently, there is much interest in the specific benefits that induce cooperation among foundresses. Here, we experimentally demonstrate one major benefit of cooperation, namely that multiple foundresses increase colony productivity. This increase is close to the value predicted by subtracting the productivity of undisturbed single-foundress colonies from the productivity of undisturbed multiplefoundress colonies. However, we found no evidence that an associating foundress’ contribution to colony growth is preserved if she disappears (assured fitness returns).

The picture presentation provides some additional basic information covering representative species of North American paper wasps.

Paper Wasp Pictures

picture of a male Paper Wasp
Insect enthusiasts take the paper wasp world a step further, documenting the nineteen different native species, their ranges and behaviors.

Face color, for example, provides a gender identification clue across most species. Males, like the one pictured, have yellow faces. Females have red faces.

picture of a European paper wasp on a pine tree, types of paper wasps
The European paper wasp (Polistes dominula) , the most wide ranging of all the types of paper wasps in the United States, was introduced by colonialists, and it has spread across the continent.

Sometimes they can be confused with yellow jackets because of the black and yellow bodies. The presence of a nest will be a good field ID clue because European paper wasps build flat, umbrella shaped nests and yellow jackets are ground nesters.

Two yellow dots on the top of the thorax are also good field identification clues in the absence of a nest.

picture of a Northern Paper Wasp, types of paper wasps
Another very wide ranging species, the Northern Paper Wasp, lives everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains.

If researchers are on the right course, Northern Paper Wasps might all be able to recognize each other. According to a 2011 study called Specialized Face Learning Is Associated with Individual Recognition in Paper Wasps

Polistes fuscatus can differentiate among normal wasp face images more rapidly and accurately than nonface images or manipulated faces. A close relative lacking facial recognition, Polistes metricus, however, lacks specialized face learning. Similar specializations for face learning are found in primates and other mammals, although P. fuscatus represents an independent evolution of specialization.

picture of a polistes comanchus
Polistes comanchus are one of the more specialized species, having a range that covers the desert Southwest.

picture of a Western paper wasp, Polistes aurifer
Polistes flavus also inhabit Southwestern areas. A light yellow color to the body with a distinct pattern on the top of the thorax serve as useful field identification clues.

picture of a Western paper wasp, Polistes aurifer
Staying in the West, Golden paper wasps range from grasslands and eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountain, to the Pacific Coast. Along with the European paper wasp, they are a common Western species.

The picture shows a species with black in the thorax area and yellow abdomen. Like many paper wasp species, color patterns can change with location. Southern areas have species with brown to rust colored abdomens. Some individuals have almost completely yellow bodies.

Paper Wasps Southeast

picture of a paper wasp, polistes exclamens
The separate section on Southeast wasps, including Texas, highlights two inter-related facts.

First, wasp diversity increases as one moves south. Second, southern weather means that in many areas, wasps are present almost year round.

The very colorful Polistes exclamans pictured at the top of this section, are common paper wasps along the southern border and the eastern seaboard.

Note the yellow at the top of the antenna. It’s a good identification clue.

picture of paper wasp, polistes dorsalis

It’s fairly easy to confuse Polistes exclamans and Polistes dorsalis. They both have a series of yellow, black and red stripes on te absomen, and they share similar ranges. Odds are the wasps in the video are Polistes dorsalis.

picture of a Polistes annularis
A look at the orange tips of the antenna is a good starting place to identify a Southeast species of paper wasp, Polistes annularis. Notice also the dark body with one visible yellow stripe on the abdomen.

types of paper wasps in the Southeast United States
Bellicousus is another Southeast species with slight changes in physical appearance depending on location.

Generally the rust to red body with yellow (and black) stripes around the abdomen are the best identification starting points.

types of paper wasps, Red Wasp
As the picture shows, the Red Wasp of the Southeast has the quintessential solid red body. In some instances a few yellow markings can be seen on the abdomen.

types of paper wasps, Polistes metricus
A dark, but definite two toned body color helps distinguish Polistes metricus from the Red Wasp. The picture also shows a strong pattern on the throax. Leg color and antenna color are also slightly different.

Its range extends across much as of the Southeast, further north to the Mid-Atlantic states.

picture of a flower polistes major
Finally, Polistes major is a sub-tropical species with a very limited range. It is mostly found in Florida an a small portion of Georgia. A few specimens also show up in Arizona.