Common name(s): This group is sometimes collectively known as the "lesser paper wasps"
Parapolybia varia in Hong Kong are mostly brown with yellow markings and two vertical yellow lines on the thorax. A very similar and equally common species is Parapolybia nodosa, which looks almost identical but has brown with white markings and no stripes on the thorax. (Note that the above-mentioned colour differences apply only to specimens of these two species in Hong Kong, since Parapolybia nodosa in other areas such as Taiwan are often marked with yellow instead. The colouration of Parapolybia species in general is extremely variable.)
Parapolybia varia is a small wasp, usually ranging from 11 to 17 mm in total length.
This is a very common species of paper wasp in Hong Kong, and also one of Hong Kong's most common social wasps. Along with its near relative Parapolybia nodosa, it can be found almost anywhere, and is commonly seen scavenging around rubbish bins.
Parapolybia varia nests start small, but can grow to magnificent sizes if the location and weather are favourable and the colony strong. The nest is often more vertically-orientated than that of its close relative Parapolybia indica. Some large nests can ta0ke on rather unique shapes. At its peak, such a nest can contain hundreds of individuals. However, most nests are usually smaller. The typical nest site ranges from one to ten feet above ground, in small trees, dense shrubs or ornamental bushes. It does sometimes, however, build outside apartment windows, hanging from air-conditioning units, and sometimes even indoors. The nests shown below were built in urban areas, hidden away in the foliage two to three feet above ground.
While one of the most common social wasps in Hong Kong, Parapolybia varia is one of the rarer species in Singapore! I have collected two specimens so far, one from Sentosa in March 2006 and one from Mount Faber in September 2006. I have seen a number of specimens in Mount Faber and the Botanic Gardens, but it seems to be restricted only to places with abundant secondary forest, unlike in Hong Kong where it is most common in Urban areas. Individuals of this species in Singapore also appear much smaller than their Hong Kong counterparts, with more abundant yellow markings..