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Paper Wasps

Polistes exclamans exclamans (Viereck), Common paper wasp
Polistes fuscatus aurifer Saussure, Golden paper wasp
Polistes macaensis (Fabricius), Macao paper wasp
Polistes olivaceus (De Geer), Redbrown paper wasp
Author Hosts Distribution Damage Biology Eggs Larvae Pupae Adults Management References


Julian R. Yates III

Extension Urban Entomologist

College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources

University of Hawaii at Manoa


Wasps are commonly seen around homes, feeding on other insect pests, especially caterpillars; in this respect they can be considered beneficial. Their diet also includes meat, plant and fruit juices, and honeydew, and one may observe them drinking water from a leaky faucet, puddle or other source. In recreational areas, they will forage in rubbish cannisters.




Inflicts a potent sting.


Paper wasps are often mistaken for a close relative, the yellowjacket wasp. The paper wasp abdomen is spindle-shaped and tapers at both ends, whereas the yellowjacket abdomen is broad at both ends, similar to that of the honey bee. Paper wasps are slender in appearance and are approximately 8.6 cm long; yellowjackets are robust and are about 1.3 cm in length.

Paper wasps are social insects, since individuals of the same species cooperate in caring for the young, labor is divided between reproductives and workers, and generations overlap in such a way that offspring assist their parents in contributing to colony labor. The paper wasp nest is open-faced, single-layered, and shaped like an inverted umbrella. These nests are constructed above ground and can be found hanging from eaves, branches of trees and shrubs, flowering plants, garage ceilings, fences, attics of homes, and other protected areas. The nest material is made up of a mixture of masticated wood and the salivary secretions of the female wasps. The nest is started by a mated female queen wasp who builds a small number of cells and into which she deposits an egg. The eggs will hatch and the emerging larvae will continue to develop and grow within the cell. The queen will forage for food outside the nest and bring back the food to the growing larvae until such time as pupation occurs. All emerging adults will be female workers with undeveloped reproductive organs. These new female workers will then assume the responsibility of the feeding of all other larvae and further construction of the nest, while the queen will then devote all her time to egg-laying. Paper wasps' nests seldom exceed 200 insects. Duration of a colony can be for approximately six to seven months and is primarily dependent upon the reproductive capacity of the queen.


No hatching data are available for P. exclamans, but based on data for paper wasps in similar tropical areas, the eggs are presumed to hatch in about two weeks.


Fed insects (caterpillars, etc.) and nectar by the queen. These larvae transform into adults in about two months from the time of egg laying.


The pupal period is approximately two weeks.


Males and sterile females assume the function of workers to maintain the colony. With this support, the queen becomes an egg-laying entity.


Control methods for paper wasps should be directed at the nest, not at the foraging adults. Mechanical destruction of the nest can be dangerous, since such activity will aggravate adults, often causing them to pursue and sting anyone nearby. Stings have been reported to be painful, and if one is allergic to insect venoms, medical attention should be sought immediately.


Two larval parasites of paper wasps have been recorded in Hawaii: Pachysomodes stupidus (Cresson) (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae) was reported from P. exclamans larvae in September 1970; Elamus polistis Burks (Hymenoptera: Elasmidae) was recovered from Polistis sp. in December 1986. Literature lists P. exclamans and P. fuscatus as larval hosts.


Most pesticides that are effective against bees will also give good control of wasps. Although insecticidal dusts are effective, applying them to paper wasp nests can be cumbersome without the proper equipment and safety apparel and because of the nest location. Dusts can also irritate the adults. If the dust has been successfully applied, kill can be expected within 24 hours. Aerosol sprays are also available. These devices are capable of reaching nests 20 feet away. When all adults have been killed, the nest should be knocked down and disposed of to prevent its reuse by other wasps, since insecticidal dusts may remain effective for only a few weeks.

Any insecticide or formulation should be applied in the early morning or evening when adult wasps are gathered on the nest and are less active.


Evans, H. E. and M. J. W. Eberhard. 1970. The wasps. The University of Michigan press, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Mallis, A. 1982. Handbook of pest control. Franzak & Foster Company, Cleveland, Ohio.

Vector Control Branch. 1982. Vector control manual. Hawaii State Health Department, Honolulu.

Notes and Exhibitions. 1971. Pro. Hawaiian Entomol. Soc.21(1):20.


Ibid. 1986. 27:15.






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