Northern Paper Wasp - Polistes fuscatus
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Also commonly called golden or common paper wasp
Live adult paper wasps photographed in the wild at northern Illinois and NE Pennsylvania, USA.
Northern Paper Wasp
Most paper wasps measure about 2 cm (0.75 in) long and are black, brown, or reddish in color with yellow markings. Paper wasps will defend their nest if attacked. Adults forage for nectar, their source of energy, and for caterpillars and other small insects (e.g. boxelder bug nymphs) to feed the larvae. They are natural enemies of many garden insect pests.

The nests of most species are suspended from a single, central stalk, or pedicle, and have the shape of an upside-down umbrella. Some tropical species make nests that hang in a vertical sheet of cells. Plant and wood fibers are collected by the wasps, mixed with saliva, and chewed into a paper-like material that is formed into the thin cells of the nest. The nests are constructed in protected places, such as under the eaves of buildings or in dense vegetation.

Paper Wasp - Polistes Fuscatus
The colony is founded in early spring, soon after the queens emerge from hibernation. As the colony matures, males and the next year's queens are produced. These queens mate with males and are the only members of the colony to survive through winter. In late summer or fall, the founding queen, workers (sterile females), and males all die. The newly mated queens hibernate, in piles of wood, in vegetation, or in holes. The following spring they emerge and begin the cycle anew.
P. fuscatus at Allegheny Nat'l Forest, near Marienville, Pennsylvania
P. fuscatus at Allegheny Nat'l Forest, near Marienville, Pennsylvania


What do paper wasp larvae eat? Box elder bug nymphs, for one thing. Adult wasps feed on flower nectar, but they also hunt for caterpillars or other small insects to feed their larvae. The wasp pictured above is processing a boxelder bug nymph; she chews the bug while absorbing its liquids, which serves two purposes: it makes the carcass lighter and easier to carry, and the liquid is regurgitated later for young larvae which have not yet made the transition to solid food.
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Order Hymenoptera: Bees, Wasps, & Ants
Hymenoptera (Latin for membrane wing) is a vast assemblage of insects second only to Coleoptera (beetles) in the number of described species. Hymenoptera number some 115,000 species - of which 18,000 live in North America. Hymenopterans inhabit a wide variety of habitats, and show an incredible diversity in size, behavior, structure and color.
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