Polistes


Paper wasps of the genus Polistes are the most widely distributed group of social wasps in the world (virtually worldwide). This is a large and variable genus, with species ranging from small to very large and also differing greatly in colour and pattern.

Polistes wasps generally build a round, open nest with just one comb, usually like the one in the photo below (the nest had been killed off due to fumigation in the area). The colony size varies from around ten to more than a hundred or even a few hundred wasps. However, colonies of Polistes do not usually reach large sizes. The nest site is usually at the base of a tree branch or under thick foliage, although some species in more urban areas are not averse to building under roofs, terraces and other man-made structures. The more adaptable species sometimes even build inside letterboxes, electrical switch rooms and telephone poles! Some species, such as Polistes gigas (the largest species in the world), sometimes build in enclosed spaces such as tree hollows, and will sometimes take advantage of nesting boxes meant for birds.

Most species are not particularly defensive. Some are so tolerant of people that they only attack if the nest is touched, while some will attack viciously if there is any disturbance to the surrounding area. But most species will allow people to approach very closely indeed. Stings from these wasps sometimes result simply because the wasps picked the wrong place to build their nests, and people who are unaware of their presence disturb the nest unintentionally.

Polistes are quite specialized in that many species prey predominantly on caterpillars. I have seen them hunt pest caterpillars on ornamental plants right in Singapore’s urban areas; they are therefore highly beneficial insects.


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