Polistinae

The Polistinae is a subfamily of eusocial wasps belonging to the family Vespidae. They are closely related to the more familiar wasps (“yellowjackets” as they are called in North America) and true hornets of the subfamily Vespinae, containing four tribes. With about 1,100 species total, it is the second-most diverse subfamily within the Vespidae, and while most species are tropical or subtropical, they include some of the most frequently encountered large wasps in temperate regions.

Polistinae
Polistes species with nest
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Vespidae
Subfamily: Polistinae
Tribes

Polistini
Mischocyttarini
Ropalidiini
Epiponini

The Polistinae are also known as paper wasps, which is a misleading term, since other wasps (including the wasps in the subfamily Vespinae) also build nests out of paper, and because some epiponine wasps (e.g., Polybia emaciata) build theirs out of mud,[1] nonetheless, the name "paper wasp" seems to apply mostly, but not exclusively, to the Polistinae, especially the Polistini.

Many polistines, such as Polistes fuscatus, Polistes annularis, and Polistes exclamans, make their nests out of paper. Polistes annularis suspends its paper nests from cliff overhangs via a pedicel, whose free fatty acids induce the necrophobic response in ants and causes them to avoid the pedicel rather than cross and prey on the nest’s inhabitants.[2] Polistes metricus foragers take off from their nests as if they already know how long their trip is. For short flights, they exit the nest flying horizontally, while for long flights they exit the nest flying straight up into a high altitude before pursuing their direction.[3] Polistine brood cells are arranged in a hexagonal array, similar to the comb structure in a honey bee nest. Some species of the epiponine genera Polybia and Brachygastra store honey in the comb, among the few insects other than bees to store honey (also some ants store honey in their bodies).

Polistes africanus

Characteristics

Characteristics of the Polistinae are:

  • The queens (reproductive females) are morphologically similar to workers, though sometimes slightly larger or differently colored.
  • The abdomen is spindle-shaped, often petiolate.
  • The antennae of males are curled.
  • The nest is sometimes open (the nests of vespines are always enclosed in several layers of paper).

Colony life cycle

Nest of a Polistes sp.

Polistine wasps found colonies in one of two ways. In some species, nests are founded by a small number of reproductive females, possibly a single one. One of the foundresses eventually acquires dominance over the other and is the sole reproducer. The nest is open (not enclosed by an envelope) and contains a single comb.

In the other group, called "swarm-founding", the nest is founded by a large number of workers and a few queens. It is usually protected by an envelope, like a vespine nest.

Selected species of Polistinae

South American epiponine nest

Tribe Polistini

Tribe Mischocyttarini

  • Genus Mischocyttarus
Nest of Polybia honey-making wasps

Tribe Epiponini

Tribe Ropalidiini

References

  1. O'Donnell, S; Jeanne, R.L. (2002). "The nest as fortress: defensive behavior of Polybia emaciata, a mud-nesting eusocial wasp" (PDF). Journal of Insect Science. 2 (3): 1–5. doi:10.1673/031.002.0301. PMC 355903. PMID 15455037.
  2. Espelie, Karl (1990). "Surface lipids of the social wasp Polistes annularis (L.) and its nest and nest pedicel". Journal of Chemical Ecology. 16: 1841–1852. doi:10.1007/bf01020498. PMID 24263988.
  3. Dew, Heather (1978). "Foraging flights of two species of Polistes wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)". Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society.
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