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HYMENOPTERA, Vespidae (Stephens) - (Vespoidea) --  <Images> & <Juveniles>


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Description & Statistics


          Vespidae. -- The paper wasps, hornets and yellow jackets construct nests with cells of paper.  They are social insects with a queen that is the only overwintering form.  The workers are for food gathering and defense, while the males serve only to mate with the females.


          Papermaking wasps are included in this family, which often live in large colonies consisting of a queen, males and workers.  Generally they feed the brood with masticated portions of animal matter and at times with fruit juices, nectar and honeydew.  Animal food consists principally of the body contents of caterpillars and other soft bodied insects.  The family is considered important in the natural control of injurious insects, particularly the exposed foliage feeders.


          The "Spanish Jack," a species of Polistes, is accredited for markedly reducing the population of several pests in certain islands of the West Indies and has been intentionally colonized on several islands.  Bartlett (1938) mentioned that several species of Vespidae, the most numerous of which is P. crinitus var. americanus F., are largely responsible for holding Laphygma frugiperda S. & A. in control in Puerto Rico.  R. B. Friend observed the females of P. pallipes Lep. cutting open the leaf mines of the birch leaf miner, Fenusa pumila Klug., and feeding on the larvae (Clausen 1940/1962).  Not all Polistes are beneficial because the food range is sufficiently wide to include various insects that are beneficial.  An instance is the extensive attack of P. orientalis F. on honeybees in Egypt (Clausen 1940/1962).


          Stenogaster spp. in the Philippines feed their young with a milky-white jelly made from the chewed-up bodies of tiny midges taken from spider webs (Williams 1923).  Wheeler & Taylor (1921) found Vespa arctica Roh. to be a permanent social parasite in the nest of V. diabolica Sauss., where her brood is reared by the workers.             


          Vespidae is a moderately sized family that is widespread but especially numerous in temperate climates.  Important morphological characters include the long slender antennae, curved but not curled (as in Pompilidae).  The pronotum extends laterally to the tegulae; wings with usually long discoidal (M-4) cell.  They are medium sized (9-25 mm), dark, but marked with yellow, white or red.  Wings are usually folded longitudinally when the insect is at rest.


          The adults are predaceous on any exposed insect larvae.  In social species, the macerated body contents are carried back to their nests, constructed of paper, mud or sand, to serve as food for developing broods.  Other species are solitary, constructing nests of various types, and usually provisioning them with lepidopterous larvae.  The subfamily Masarinae stores pollen and nectar in their nests.  Few vespids have been manipulated to enhance their effectiveness as predators, their main value being in natural occurring biological control.


          Six subfamilies are Eumeninae, Euparagiinae, Masarinae, Polistinae, Stenogastrinae & Vespinae, several of which are treated as separate families by some authorities (ie., Masaridae, Eumenidae and Vespidae) ( Brothers & Finnamore 1993).  They reported that all of these were cosmopolitan but mainly tropical.  They also noted that adults are predominantly black or brown but are often marked with yellow or white.  Most species are solitary, but many are social.  In solitary species the larva is usually predatory on other insects, especially caterpillars, in a cell constructed and provisioned by the adult female.  The larva is sometimes given a mixture of pollen and nectar instead.  In social species adult females feed on masticated insects or rarely on glandular secretions.  A few are cleptoparasitic in the nests of social insects.  Pupation is within the cell.  Brothers & Finnamore (1993) noted. 315 species in 31 genera in North America.


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References:   Please refer to  <biology.ref.htm>, [Additional references may be found at: MELVYL Library ]


Naumann, M. G.  1968.  Univ. Kansas Sci. Bull. 48:  929-1003.


Carpenter, J.M. & J.M. Cumming. 1985. A character analysis of the North American potter wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae;  Eumeninae). Journal of Natural History 19: 877-916.


Cowan, D.P. 1991. The solitary and presocial Vespidae. pp. 33-73 In K.G. Ross &;R.W. Matthews, eds. The Social Biology of Wasps. Cornell Univ. Press.


Duncan, C.  1939.  Stanford Univ. Publ., Univ. Ser. Biol. Sci. 8:  1-272.


Eberhard, M. J. W.  1969.  Univ. Mich. Mus. Zool. Misc. Publ. 140:  1-101.


Hunt, J. H., I. Baker, & H. G. Baker. 1982. Similarity of amino acids in nectar and larval saliva: the nutritional basis for trophallaxis in social wasps. Evolution 36: 1318-1322


Pickett, K. M. & J. M. Carpenter.  2010.  Simultaneous analysis and the origins of sociality in the Vespidae (Insecta: Hymenoptera).  Arthropod Systematics & Phylogeny 68(1):  3-33.