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Subfamily Polistinae - Paper Wasps, Papernest Wasps

FAMILY VESPIDAE 

This page contains pictures and information about the Paper Wasps in subfamily Polistinae that we found in the Brisbane area, Queensland, Australia. They are also known as Papernest Wasps.
 
 
Wasps in this Polistinae subfamily are mostly large in size. Inner margins of their compound eyes emarginated. When rest, their fore wings folded longitudinally.   
 
All the social wasps are in this Polistinae subfamily, although a few members in this subfamily are solitary wasps. In Australia there are two genera in this subfamily, the genus Polistes and Ropalidia. In this subfamily most wasps build paper nest while some build mud nest. 
 
For the social species, they have highly developed social habit. In the nest, there are the queens, males and workers. Only the queen who lays eggs but it is difficult to distinguish between queen and workers except by looking at their behaviour. Their nests  are usually attached to a tree,  rock surface or building. There are different species of Paper Wasps which build different type of nests. 
 
Wasp paper nests can be seen in gardens and backyards. They sting and they will defend their nest aggressively if disturbed. 
 
Paper Wasps make their nests by chewing decayed wood mixing with their saliva. A number of hexagonal shape cup cell grouped together to form a comb. An egg is lay in each cell. The larva develops and pupates inside the cell, emerges and becomes an adult wasp. 
 
wpe1.jpg (26156 bytes) wpeB.jpg (139444 bytes) PWC_9537.jpg (169667 bytes)
Feeding on nectar                                                 Preparing food for Larvae                                      Paper nest
 
Workers forage food, i.e., caterpillars and some other soft body insects to feed the larvae in the nest. Adult wasps feed on nectar from flowers.
 
Australian native Paper Wasps belong to two groups or genera, Polistes and Ropalidia. They can be distinguished by Ropalidia has the knob like segment at its waist.   
 
There are two introduced species of European Paper Wasps belonging to genus Vespula, subfamily Vespinae, which are not common in Brisbane.
 

 
Genus Polistes - Large Paper Wasps
There are different species of Paper Wasps. Those wasps in genus Polistes build inverted mushroom-shaped. They build rather small paper combs nest suspended from a peduncle and not surrounded by an envelope. In Brisbane they are either Polistes tepidus, P. variabilis or P. townsvillensis. They are dark brown in colour with yellow bends on dark brown abdomen. The thorax is black in colour with yellow 'V' markings. Their faces are yellow with large compound eyes.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
Genus Ropalidia - Small Brown Paper Wasps
Wasps in this genus build vertical long nests. They are usually dark dull brown in colours. 
Most species make simple, stalked, uncovered combs similar to the Genus Polistes. Some other species make much larger nests with many combs enclosed in an envelope. Some others nest inside tree hollows. We found quit a number of different species in this genus in Brisbane. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Reference:
1. Insects of Australia, CSIRO, Division of Entomology, Melbourne University Press, 2nd Edition 1991, pp 980.
2. Insects of Australia and New Zealand - R. J. Tillyard, Angus & Robertson, Ltd, Sydney, 1926, p296.
3. Paper Wasp Fact Sheet - by Chris Burwell, Queensland Museum, 2006.
4. What wasp is that? - An interactive identification guide to the Australasian families of Hymenoptera, 2007.
5. Northern Territory Insects, A Comprehensive Guide CD - Graham Brown, 2009.
6. Subfamily Polistinae - Australian Faunal Directory, Australian Biological Resources Study. 
7. The Australian social wasps (Hymenoptera : Vespidae) - Richards, OW (1978),  Australian Journal of Zoology Supplementary Series 26 , 1132. 

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Last updated: August 02, 2012.