Which wasp is which?

27 April, 2008

Question: What type of wasp is this? They are making a nest under the capping of a fence in our back yard in Perth? I don’t think they are the European Wasp.

European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominulus

Photographer/Copyright: Mr Wayne Henry

Answer: You are correct that while your wasp looks superficially like the well known introduced European Wasp (Vespula germanica), it is actually Polistes dominulus, commonly known as the European or Yellow Paper Wasp.

European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominulus

European Paper Wasps, Polistes dominulus 
Photographer/Copyright: Mr Wayne Henry

While the yellow and black Paper Wasp resembles the European wasp in colour, there are several key differences between the two species. The Paper Wasp has a more slender body and its longer hind legs hang down and trail behind it during flight. Paper Wasps fly relatively slowly and hover when patrolling an area, while European Wasps fly very swiftly. These wasps can also be easily distinguished from each other by the colour of their antennae (feelers) on their heads. The antennae of European Wasps are totally black; the antennae of Paper Wasps are orange-brown in colour and only black at the base.

European Wasp

A European Wasp, Vespula germanica 
Photographer/Copyright: Otto Rogge

The European Paper Wasp has proved to be an efficient colonizer in the United States. From its detection there in the early 1980s it seems to have spread from coast to coast in 20 years.

European Paper Wasps are also thought to be causing decreases in native American species of Polistes. In America the over wintering queens commence nest construction earlier than the native species and so get a head start on foraging and establishing their nests. The new queens and subsequent worker wasps also take a wider range of food items to feed to their wasp larva, thereby providing them with an additional advantage over the local native species in America.

In Australia the European Paper Wasp was introduced from overseas and was first found in Western Australia at Fremantle in 1977. Since then it has become established throughout the metropolitan area and can be expected to spread into other areas. Some people see this wasp as beneficial as it preys on pest caterpillars, but there may be unexpected consequences of its introduction on our native invertebrate fauna.

European Paper Wasps will vigorously defend their colony if they believe it is threatened, and they are capable of stinging repeatedly. Anyone with a known or suspected allergy to bees or wasps should treat these, and any other wasp or bee species, with respect.

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