|Polistes aurifer queen on her nest|
Although paper wasps and other social wasps have the reputation for being aggressive, this species (and perhaps the entire genus, ~19 species) and the related Mischocyttarus is relatively gentle and nonaggressive. One key difference I have observed is that the colonies of P. aurifer remain relatively small and may have up to 300 cells per nest and comparatively few individuals. I have personally not seen a nest larger than my fist. For comparison, honeybee colonies can have upwards of 100,000 cells and 50,000 individuals in a hive. Bald faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) and other aerial yellowjackets build nests the size of a large watermelon with 700+ individuals while true hornets (genera Vespa) build nests in similar proportions. Yellowjackets in the genus Vespula can have underground or otherwise sheltered colonies that attain massive size with over 15,000 cells and several thousand individuals. Dolichovespula, Vespa, and Vespula are much more numerous, defensive, and potentially aggressive than Mischocyttarus and Polistes.
|Polistes aurifer (L) and P. dominula (R)|
A common European invader to much of the United States, the European paper wasp (Polistes dominula, pictured above on the right) has nests that look nearly identical to the nests of P. aurifer except for occasionally attaining nest sizes similar to bald faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata). This species is slightly more aggressive, and often shares habitat with P. aurifer (which in my case is under the eves of my roof). They can be told apart by their patterns, higher contrasting patterns of P. dominula while the abdomen of P. aurifer is mostly a dull yellow. I would also like to add the observation that the antennae differ in color, P. aurifer antennae fade to black at the ends while P. dominula antennae are black at the base. Markings on the thorax of Polistes dominula are also diagnostic.
|Polistes aurifer ♂|
Males lack stingers, like all other male Hymenoptera, and are produced towards the end of summer or the beginning of fall. They will mate with new females and die. Newly mated females will hibernate in a protected location through winter and build new nests in the spring, sometimes competing with other females over who will be the dominant layer. This appears to result in lost limbs of laying females, a consequence of retaining genetic superiority.
|Polistes aurifer eggs|