European paper wasp
Polistes dominula

The European paper wasp (Polistes dominula) is one of the most common and well-known species of social wasps in the genus Polistes. Its diet is more diverse than those of most Polistes species—many genera of insects versus mainly caterpillars in other Polistes—giving it superior survivability compared to other wasp species during a shortage of resources.

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The dominant females are the principal egg layers, while the subordinate females ("auxiliaries") or workers primarily forage and do not lay eggs. This hierarchy is not permanent, though; when the queen is removed from the nest, the second-most dominant female takes over the role of the previous queen. Dominance in females is determined by the severity of the scatteredness in the coloration of the clypeus (face), whereas dominance in males is shown by the variation of spots of their abdomens. P. dominula is common and cosmopolitan due to their exceptional survival features such as productive colony cycle, short development time, and higher ability to endure predator attacks.

These wasps have a lek-based mating system. Unlike most social insects, 35% of P. dominula wasps in a colony are unrelated. It is considered an invasive species in Canada and the United States.

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Cooperative breeder






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Little variation occurs among individuals of P. dominula; the wing lengths of males range{white-space:nowrap}.mw-parser-output.frac.num,.mw-parser-output.frac.den{font-size:80%;line-height:0;vertical-align:super}.mw-parser-output.frac.den{vertical-align:sub}{border:0;clip:rect(0,0,0,0);clip-path:polygon(0px 0px,0px 0px,0px 0px);height:1px;margin:-1px;overflow:hidden;padding:0;position:absolute;width:1px}9.5 to 13.0 millimetres (3⁄8 to 1⁄2 in), while those of females range from 8.5 to 12.0 millimetres (5⁄16 to 1⁄2 in). Its body is colored entirely yellow and black, similar to that of Vespula germanica, one of the most common and aggressive wasps in its native range. The female mandible is black and sometimes has a yellow spot. Females have a black subantennal mark that rarely has a pair of small, yellow spots. The female vertex sometimes has a pair of small, yellow spots behind the hind ocelli. Females have yellow, comma-shaped scutal spots.



The native range of P. dominula covers much of southern Europe and North Africa, and temperate parts of Asia as far east as China. It has also been introduced to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and North and South America. Since the mid-1980s, the population of P. dominula has expanded to rather cooler regions, especially towards northern Europe. Global warming is speculated to have raised temperatures of certain areas, allowing P. dominula to expand to originally cooler regions.

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The first North American occurrence of P. dominula was reported in Massachusetts in the late 1970s, and by 1995, this species had been documented throughout the northeastern USA. However, the species is also likely present in additional states, but has just not yet been reported. Although detailed mechanisms of the species' dispersal are still unknown, some number of individuals, including the foundresses, may have hidden inside transportable items such as shipping crates, trailers, boats, or other human-made structures used during international trading between countries.

P. dominula generally lives in temperate, terrestrial habitats such as chaparral, forest, and grassland biomes. They also have the propensity to colonize nearby human civilizations because man-made structures can act as great shelters and also are located close to the resources such as food.

Behavioral adaptations of P. dominula have allowed it to expand outside its native range and invade the United States and Canada. While most Polistes species in the United States feed only on caterpillars, P. dominula eats many different types of insects. It also nests in areas with better protection, so is able to avoid predation that has affected many other Polistes species. Much of North America has a very similar ecology and habitat to that of Europe, and this has allowed a faster and more successful colonization. P. dominula was also compared to and found to be more productive than Polistes fuscatus, which is indigenous to the United States and Canada. P. dominula produces workers about a week earlier and forages earlier in the day than P. fuscatus. It is a concern for cherry and grape growers in British Columbia, as it injures the fruit by biting off the skin. It also spreads yeast and fungi that harm fruit and can be a nuisance to workers and pickers at harvest.

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Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Mating Habits

Overwintering founding queens, or foundresses, spend about a month in the spring constructing a nest and provisioning offspring, the first of which become daughter workers in the growing colony. One or more foundresses begin the colonies in the spring. If multiple foundresses are present, the one that lays the most eggs will be the dominant queen. The remaining foundresses will be subordinate and do work to help the colony.

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Males are produced later, and when they start to appear, a few daughters may mate and leave their nest to become foundresses the next season. The switch from production of workers to production of future foundresses (gynes) is not utterly abrupt, as has been considered the case for other species of Polistes. Males are often distinguished from female wasps by their curled antennae and lack of a stinger.

The colony disperses in the late summer, with only males and future foundresses produced instead of workers, and individuals frequently clustering in groups (called a hibernaculum) to overwinter. Hibernation does not usually take place on former nest sites.

Social hierarchies established within the colony can also influence individual P. dominula's longevity. Queens live longer than the males or the workers because the workers protect the queens from predators. The queen starts laying eggs in late March or early April, immediately after the "founding phase" of the newly built nest. Then, the colony disperses in the late summer, with only males and future foundresses produced instead of workers. Although individuals frequently cluster in groups (to overwinter), neither most nonreproductive males nor nonreproductive females survive the winter because their lifespans are shorter than a year (around 11 months) and they best survive during warm temperatures. Queens may survive the winter by hibernating.

P. dominula wasps have a lek-based mating system. Males compete intensely for dominant positions on the lek, while females are scrupulous when choosing their mates. Males form aggregations on the uppermost portions of structures such as fences, walls, roof peaks, and trees. Males often fight with other males in mid-air or on the structure. Males that lose will fly away from the lek. Females fly through leks or perch near lekking areas to observe males before making choices on mates. Females use the highly conspicuous abdominal spots on males, which are highly variable in size and shape, to aid in mate choice. Males with smaller, more elliptically shaped spots are more dominant over other males and preferred by females compared to males that have larger, more irregularly shaped spots.

Social insect males are often seen as mating machines, with an undiscriminating eagerness to mate. However, males encounter costs of unsuccessful mating in terms of energy investment. Therefore, P. dominula males are able to recognize female castes and preferentially choose reproductive females to workers, regardless of health or age. Males are able to differentiate castes through perceiving differences in chemical signals and physiological status. While males are able to discriminate between castes, they are not capable of discriminating between health, as males showed a strong preference for gynes, both healthy and parasite-castrated, compared to workers, because males distinguish females by CHC profiles, which are very similar between healthy and unhealthy gynes. Therefore, males are not able to evaluate the true reproductive potential of the females they encounter.

In response to the males being sexually aggressive, females of P. dominula demonstrate ways to weed out the low-quality males. Females are typically larger and more dominant than males, so females exert strong choice by rejecting males. One way they reject males is to express aggressive behaviors such as biting, darting, or stinging to stop the male from copulating with her. Another way is to remain still while the male mounts, but move her abdomen to prevent the male's genitalia entering her body. Females are also known to mate with multiple males, especially with non-nest mates. They fly over to different males' nests to assess the best-quality males and generally copulate with the resident males. That males are resident males often implies that they are large, sexually active and aggressive – providing better protection for her and the brood.

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1. European paper wasp Wikipedia article -

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