Paper Wasps: A Quick Guide to US Polistes Species

Species of Polistes, commonly known as Paper Wasps, can often be a difficult group to identify to species. A number of species can appear superficially similar, so misidentification by casual observers is rather common. This quick guide is intended to quickly run through matters of diagnosis and similar species for US species. This is not intended to handle all cases, and some traits may not always be visible in photography.

Contents


• Polistes annularis
• Polistes apachus
•Polistes arizonensis
•Polistes aurifer
•Polistes bahamensis
•Polistes bellicosus
•Polistes canadensis
•Polistes carnifex
• Polistes carolina
• Polistes comanchus (comanchus)
• Polistes comanchus navajoe
• Polistes dominula
• Polistes dorsalis (dorsalis)
• Polistes dorsalis californicus
• Polistes dorsalis neotropicus
• Polistes exclamans
• Polistes flavus
• Polistes fuscatus

• Polistes hirsuticornis (P. sp. A)
Polistes instabilis
• Polistes kaibabensis
• Polistes major (major)
• Polistes major castaneicolor
• Polistes major major-castaneicolor
(intermediate)
• Polistes metricus
• Polistes pacificus
• Polistes palmarum

• Polistes parametricus (P. sp. B)
• Polistes rubiginosus (P. perplexus)

P. annularis


Body Color
• Mostly black and red (divided at the abdomen)

Diagnosis
• Bright, nearly-neon orange antennal tips
• Yellow ring between the first 2 abdominal segments
• Abdomen black from segment 2 onward

Similar Species
• P. canadensis: This species is restricted to Arizona and has a longer, narrow first abdominal segment.
• P. fuscatus: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of orange antennal tips.
• P. major castaneicolor: This subspecies is restricted to Arizona and lacks a yellow band on the abdomen.
• P. metricus: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of orange antennal tips. Additionally, the underside of the second abdominal segment is extremely convex. P. metricus generally lacks a yellow apical band, but the presence alone is not diagnostic for P. annularis.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/69p_annularis.html
• Abdominal convexity (of P. metricus): http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-22_23.jpg

P. apachus


Body Color
• Red and yellow (spotted and striped)

Diagnosis
• Antennae entirely dull orange-brown
• Abdomen with distinct yellow spots on each segment, distinctly separate on segment 2
• Generally with two near-parallel yellow lines on the scutum, or upper side of the thorax (absent in the P. apachus "texanus" variety).

Similar Species
• P. aurifer: Red forms of this species are differentiated by the spots on abdominal segment 2 being merged together. Yellow marks on the scutum of the thorax are possible in both.
• P. bellicosus: Southern forms of this species may have yellow spots restricted to segment 2 but generally nothing beyond. These spots typically are smaller than in P. apachus as well.
• P. dorsalis californicus: This species is restricted to California and doesn't overlap with P. apachus.
• P. kaibabensis: This species is easily differentiated by the less discrete, smooth color grading on the abdomen from red to yellow and the lack of spots on abdominal segment 1..
• P. major major-castaneicolor: This subspecies is easily differentiated by the lack of yellow spots on abdominal segment 1.
• P. palmarum: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of yellow spots on abdominal segment 1.

Reference Images
• Overview image: http://bugguide.net/node/view/1204084
• Thorax (scutum): http://bugguide.net/node/view/1417844

P. arizonensis


Body Color
• Red and yellow (striped)

Diagnosis
• Restricted to Arizona
• Bright, nearly-neon orange antennal tips
• Face often with a yellow mark behind the ocelli
• Body mostly red and devoid of black
• Side of thorax with only a couple of restricted yellow spots
• Final (apical) 3 abdominal segments lacking yellow stripes

Similar Species
• P. bahamensis: This species is restricted to the southeastern states on the Atlantic coast.
• P. dorsalis: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of orange antennal tips.
• P. exclamans: This species has more extensive yellow markings on the side of the thorax.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://bugguide.net/node/view/845644

P. aurifer


Body Color
• Mostly black and yellow (spotted, often with stripes as well)
• Red and yellow in some southern specimens (to extremes that are mostly yellow)

Diagnosis
• Antennae dull orange-brown
• Males generally have dark tyloids at the tips of the antennae
• Yellow spots on the abdomen, generally but not always merging with each other and the yellow bands.
• Western US

Similar Species
• P. apachus: Similar to red forms. This species generally has noticeable separation of the abdominal spots on segment 2. Yellow marks on the scutum of the thorax are possible in both.
• P. dominula: This species is differentiated by having bright, nearly-neon antennae and four yellow marks on the scutum of the thorax.
• P. dorsalis californicus: Similar to red forms. Within California, red forms of P. aurifer are only known from the San Diego and Riverside county area.
• P. dorsalis neotropicus: This species is generally separated by the abdominal spots being more toward the sides and fused with the bands.
• P. fuscatus: Similar to dark forms. This species generally has variable red spots on the abdomen instead of yellow spots and occurs in eastern states. Note that P. aurifer often is considered to be a subspecies, P. fuscatus aurifer.
• P. kaibabensis: This species is easily differentiated by the less discrete, smooth color grading on the abdomen from red to yellow and the lack of spots on abdominal segment 1..
• P. major major-castaneicolor: This subspecies is easily differentiated by the lack of yellow spots on abdominal segment 1.
• P. palmarum: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of yellow spots on abdominal segment 1.

Reference Images
• Overview images (dark form): http://bugguide.net/node/view/1366366, http://bugguide.net/node/view/1008904
• Red form (southern): http://bugguide.net/node/view/176247
• Xanthic (yellow) form: http://bugguide.net/node/view/1391270
• Red-marked dark form: http://bugguide.net/node/view/1109062

P. bahamensis


Body Color
• Red and yellow (striped)

Diagnosis
• Restricted to southeastern states on the Atlantic coast (i.e. Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina)
• Bright, nearly-neon orange antennal tips
• Side of thorax with restricted yellow spot 
• Coxae1 black without yellow markings
• Body generally with extensive dark markings

Similar Species
• P. arizonensis: This species is restricted to Arizona.
• P. dorsalis: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of orange antennal tips.
• P. exclamans: This species has more extensive yellow markings on the side of the thorax.
• P. instabilis: This species is restricted to the southern tip of Texas.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://bugguide.net/node/view/1146096

P. bellicosus


Body Color
• Red and yellow (striped, rarely with a single pair of yellow spots on segment 2)
• Dark markings variable

Diagnosis
• Antennae bilaterally divided between dull orange-brown and dark coloration
• Entirely red hind femora
• Clypeus ("upper lip" facial plate) extensively marked with yellow (at least 50%)
• Generally a single yellow spot on the side of the thorax

Similar Species
• P. apachus: This species is generally differentiated by having yellow spots on all abdominal segments.
• P. arizonensis: This species is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. aurifer: Red forms are generally differentiated by having yellow spots on all abdominal segments, usually fused with each other and/or the yellow bands.
• P. bahamensis: This species is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. dorsalis: This species is differentiated by the presence of dark markings on the hind femora and the generally smaller size. P. dorsalis dorsalis has more restricted yellow markings on the clypeus.
• P. exclamans: This species is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. hirsuticornis: More rarely encountered. This species is differentiated by the presence of bristly hairs on the antennae, absense of propodeal fovea, and shiny body.
• P. instabilis: This species is restricted to the southern tip of Texas.

• P. major major-castaneicolor: This subspecies is easily differentiated by the greater yellow markings on the tip of the abdomen. Unlike P. bellicosus, this subspecies always lacks yellow spots on abdominal segment 2.
• P. palmarum: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of yellow spots on abdominal segment 1. Unlike P. bellicosus, this species always lacks yellow spots on abdominal segment 2.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/71p_bellicosus.html
• Red-thorax form: http://bugguide.net/node/view/1419424
• Southern spotted form: http://bugguide.net/node/view/174075

P. canadensis


Body Color
• Mostly red

Diagnosis
• Restricted to Arizona
• Bright, nearly-neon orange antennal tips
• First abdominal segment noticeably long and narrow

Similar Species
• P. annularis: This species is easily differentiated by lacking the narrow first abdominal segment and having a yellow band on the abdomen between segments 1 and 2.
• P. carolina: This species is easily differentiated by lacking orange antennal tips and lacking the narrow first abdominal segment.
• P. major castaneicolor: This subspecies is restricted to Arizona and lacks the narrow first abdominal segment.
• P. rubiginosus: This species is easily differentiated by lacking orange antennal tips and lacking the narrow first abdominal segment.

Reference Images
• Overview image: http://bugguide.net/node/view/1415695

P. carnifex


Body Color
• Yellow and black (striped)
• Yellow and red (striped)

Diagnosis
• Restricted to Arizona through Texas
• Very large (the largest US species)
• Antennae distinctly bright orange (or with bright orange tips?)
• Abdomen with thick, mostly straight yellow bands
• Long oculomalar space (distance between the eyes and mandibles)
• Pronotum (anterior region of thorax) yellow

Similar Species
• P. major (major): This species is highly similar to red forms of P. carnifex but is noticeably smaller. This species is most reliably differentiated by having a shorter oculomalar space and, by inspection, appears to only have antennae with orange restricted to the tips.

Reference Images
• Overview image: https://bugguide.net/node/view/716676
• Red form: https://bugguide.net/node/view/659297

P. carolina


Body Color
• Red

Diagnosis
• Antennae bilaterally divided between dull orange-brown and darker coloration
• Body lacking any prominent markings (if any, generally more yellow)
•  Gena ("cheek" plates) mostly lacking hairs
•  Propodeum (posterior region of the thorax) smooth, lacking prominent ridges
• Dark mark around ocelli restricted

Similar Species
• P. canadensis: This species is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. major castaneicolor: This species is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. fuscatus: Red forms of this species are differentiated by having the dark mark around the ocelli extending to the antennal bases and by having dark antennae.
• P. hirsuticornis: More rarely encountered. This species is differentiated by the presence of bristly hairs on the antennae, absense of propodeal fovea, and shiny body.
• P. rubiginosus: This species is differentiated by having silvery hairs on the gena and coarse ridges on the propodeum. If the body is marked, with black.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/72p_carolina.html
• Gena:http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-20_21.jpg
• Propodeum: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-37_38.jpg

P. comanchus (comanchus)


Body Color
• Black with abdomen red and yellow

Diagnosis
• Restricted to Texas
• Bright, nearly-neon orange antennal tips
• Thorax lacking red markings
• Second abdominal segment red

Similar Species
• P. comanchuis navajoe: This subspecies is restricted to Arizona. The thorax is marked with red, and the second abdominal segment is black.
• P. kaibabensis: This species is restricted to Arizona and Utah and is easily differentiated by the red head and thorax.

Reference Images
• Overview image: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1397361

P. comanchus navajoe


Body Color
• Black with abdomen yellow

Diagnosis
• Restricted to Arizona
• Bright, nearly-neon orange antennal tips
• Thorax marked with red
• Second abdominal segment black

Similar Species
• P. comanchuis comanchus: This subspecies is restricted to Texas. The thorax lacks red marks, and the second abdominal segment is red.
• P. kaibabensis: This species is restricted to Arizona and Utah and is easily differentiated by the red head and thorax.

Reference Images
• Overview image: https://bugguide.net/node/view/581897

P. dominula


Body Color
• Black and yellow (striped)

Diagnosis
• Antennae distinctly bright orange
• Scutum of thorax with 4 yellow marks at the "corners"
• Abdomen striped yellow with two yellow spots on the second segment

Similar Species
• P. aurifer: Black and yellow forms are easily differentiated by the lack of orange antennae.

Reference Images
• Overview image: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1451271

P. dorsalis (dorsalis)


Body Color
• Red and yellow (striped)
• Black (occasionally)

Diagnosis
• Very small (the smallest species in the US)
• Antennae dull orange-brown with dark markings
• Clypeus marked with yellow at least at the margin
• Thorax often with black markings
• Thorax with 1-2 restricted yellow markings on the side
• Propodeum with two yellow stripes
• Hind femora with dark markings
• Males have a tubercle (bump) on the underside of the abdomen.

Similar Species
• P. arizonensis: This species is restricted to Arizona and is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. bahamensis: This species is restricted to the southeastern states on the Atlantic coast and is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. bellicosus: This species is differentiated by the lack of dark markings on the hind femora and often has more yellow on the clypeus. This species is also larger than P. dorsalis.
• P. exclamans: This species is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. instabilis: This species is restricted to the southeastern tip of Texas and is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. parametricus: This species is differentiated from dark forms of P. dorsalis dorsalis by lacking the abdominal tubercle. Males also have darker tyloids at the antennal tips.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/75p_dorsalis.html
• Dark form: https://bugguide.net/node/view/240670
• Antennal tyloids: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-32_33.jpg
• Abdominal tubercle: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-31.jpg

P. dorsalis californicus


Body Color
• Red and yellow, striped (or with abdomen mostly yellow)

Diagnosis
• Restricted to California
• Very small (the smallest species in the US)
• Antennae dull orange-brown with dark markings
• Clypeus generally entirely yellow
• Thorax with restricted yellow markings on the side
• Propodeum with two yellow stripes
• Hind femora often lacking dark markings
• Abdomen with small, lateral, yellow spots
• Males have a tubercle (bump) on the underside of the abdomen.

Similar Species
• P. apachus: This species is differentiated by more distinct spots on the abdomen and does not overlap with P. dorsalis californicus.
• P. aurifer: Red forms of this species in California are only known from the San Diego and Riverside county area and often have merged spots on the second abdominal segment.
• P. bellicosus: This species has more restricted yellow markings and isn't known to overlap.
• P. carnifex: Red forms are easily differentiated by their orange antennal tips and aren't known to overlap.
• P. dorsalis neotropicus: Red forms are primarily differentiated by range and their entirely yellow propodeum.
• P. kaibabensis: This species is easily differentiated by the less discrete, smooth color grading on the abdomen from red to yellow and the presence of contrasting orange antennal tips.
• P. major (major): This species is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. major major-castaneicolor: This subspecies is larger and has a straight yellow band on abdominal segment 1.
• P. palmarum: This species is larger and has a straight yellow band on abdominal segment 1.

Reference Images
• Overview images: https://bugguide.net/node/view/89611

P. dorsalis neotropicus


Body Color
• Black and yellow (spotted)
• Red and yellow (spotted)

Diagnosis
• Occurs in the US mostly in Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado
• Very small (the smallest species in the US)
• Antennae dull orange-brown with dark markings
• Clypeus marked with yellow at least at the margin (often completely yellow)
• Thorax with restricted yellow markings on the side
• Propodeum (posterior region of the thorax) entirely yellow
• Hind femora often lacking dark markings
• Abdomen often with small, lateral, yellow spots
• Males have a tubercle (bump) on the underside of the abdomen.

Similar Species
• P. aurifer: This species is generally separated by the abdominal spots extending more toward the middle of the segments and separated with the bands.
• P. dorsalis californicus: Red forms are primarily differentiated by range and their two thin yellow stripes on the propodeum.

Reference Images
• Overview image: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1449483
• Red form: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1178233

P. exclamans


Body Color
• Red and yellow (striped)

Diagnosis
• Bright, nearly-neon orange antennal tips
• Face with extensive yellow coloration and with a linear mark behind the ocelli
• Side of thorax with copious yellow spots
• Coxae1 yellow

Similar Species
• P. arizonensis: This species is restricted to Arizona.
• P. bahamensis: This species is restricted to the southeastern states on the Atlantic coast and is differentiated by its black coxae.
• P. bellicosus: This species is differentiated by the lack of dark markings on the hind femora and often has more yellow on the clypeus.
• P. dorsalis: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of orange antennal tips and the restricted yellow spots on the side of the thorax.
• P. instabilis: This species is restricted to the southeastern tip of Texas and is easily differentiated by the lack of yellow bands on the apical abdominal segments.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/76p_exclamans.html

P. flavus


Body Color
• Golden to golden orange

Diagnosis
• Antennae bright orange
• Red markings restricted and often lighter towards orange

Similar Species
• P. aurifer: Yellow forms generally have stronger, more contrasting red markings and more red on the femora.
• P. carolina: This species is reddish to orange but never golden.
• P. rubiginosus: This species is reddish to orange but never golden.

Reference Images
• Overview image: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1132553

P. fuscatus


Body Color
• Black and red (spotted)
• Black and yellow (striped), often with red spots
• Red
• Black
• Note: Highly variable! This species can resemble many other very different US species.

Diagnosis
• Dark antennae
• Males have dark tyloids at the tips of the antennae
• Dark markings around the ocelli extend down to the mark at the antennal bases
• Some form of red markings generally on abdominal segment 2, sometimes beyond
• Eastern US

Similar Species
• P. annularis: Red and black forms are easily differentiated by the orange antennal tips.
• P. aurifer: Similar to dark, spotted forms. This species generally has variable yellow spots on the abdomen instead of red spots and is a western species. Note that P. aurifer often is considered to be a subspecies, P. fuscatus aurifer.
• P. carolina: This species can be differentiated from red forms by having a restricted dark mark around the ocelli not extending to the antennal bases and by having dull-orange undersides of the antennae.
• P. dominula: This species is easily differentiated by its orange antennae and lack of red markings.
• P. dorsalis (dorsalis): Both red-and-yellow forms and dark forms of each species can be similar. This species is differentiated by having a tubercle on the underside of the abdomen and by having dull orange-brown antennal tips, most noticeable in males.
• P. hirsuticornis: More rarely encountered. This species is differentiated by the presence of bristly hairs on the antennae, absense of propodeal fovea, and shiny body.
• P. major castaneicolor : This species is easily differentiated by having orange antennal tips.
• P. metricus: This species can be differentiated from red-and-black forms by having a restricted dark mark around the ocelli not extending to the antennal bases. Additionally, abdominal segment 2 is strongly convex with no red markings will be beyond this segment.
• P. pacificus: This species is similar to dark forms of P. fuscatus but does not overlap with this form due to being restricted to the southern tip of Texas.
• P. parametricus: This species is very similar to dark, unstriped forms of P. fuscatus and is differentiated by the sparser punctae on the undersides of the apical abdominal segments. This species often can be differentiated by the lack of red markings on abdominal segment 2 and by the entirely red, unmarked clypeus in females.
• P. rubiginosus: This species can be differentiated from red forms by having a restricted dark mark around the ocelli not extending to the antennal bases and by having dull-orange undersides of the antennae.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/77p_fuscatus.html
• Antennal tyloids: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-32_33.jpg
• Abdominal convexity (of P. metricus): http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-22_23.jpg


P. hirsuticornis (P. sp. A)


Body Color
• Red and black
• Red and yellow (striped)
• Black

Diagnosis
• Antennae with prominent hairs
• Antennae bilaterally divided between dull orange-brown and dark coloration
• Body notably shiny
• Pronotum (anterior region of thorax) without fovea (folding)
• Note: Newly described species, range and variability still under study

Similar Species
• P. bellicosus: This species is differentiated by the lack of bristly hairs on the antennae and presence of propodeal fovea. Additionally, the body is more dull and less shiny.
• P. carolina: This species is differentiated by the lack of bristly hairs on the antennae and presence of propodeal fovea. Additionally, the body is more dull and less shiny.
• P. fuscatus: This species is differentiated by the lack of bristly hairs on the antennae and presence of propodeal fovea. Additionally, the body is more dull and less shiny.
• P. metricus: This species is differentiated by the lack of bristly hairs on the antennae and presence of propodeal fovea. Additionally, the body is more dull and less shiny.
• P. rubiginosus: This species is differentiated by the lack of bristly hairs on the antennae and presence of propodeal fovea. Additionally, the body is more dull and less shiny.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/80p_spa.html
• Antennal hairs: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-18_19.jpg
• Pronotal fovea lacking: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-14_15.jpg
• Shiny body: https://bugguide.net/node/view/980772

P. instabilis


Body Color
• Red and yellow (striped)

Diagnosis
• Restricted to the southern tip of Texas
• Bright, nearly-neon orange antennal tips
• Face with a yellow mark behind the ocelli
• Side of thorax with 1 restricted yellow spot
• Final (apical) 2 abdominal segments lacking yellow stripes

Similar Species
• P. arizonensis: This species is restricted to Arizona and having one more abdominal segment lacking a stripe.
• P. bahamensis: This species is restricted to the southeastern states on the Atlantic coast and is differentiated by having yellow stripes on all abdominal segments.
• P. bellicosus: This species is differentiated by the lack of orange antennal tips and by having yellow stripes on all abdominal segments.
• P. dorsalis: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of orange antennal tips and by having yellow stripes on all abdominal segments.
• P. exclamans: This species is easily differentiated by having yellow stripes on all abdominal segments and having copious yellow markings on the side of the thorax.

Reference Images
• Overview image: https://bugguide.net/node/view/239051

P. kaibabensis


Body Color
• Red with tip of abdomen yellow

Diagnosis
• Restricted to Arizona and Utah
• Bright, nearly-neon orange antennal tips
• Thorax lacking red markings
• Second abdominal segment red

Similar Species
• P. apachusThis species is easily differentiated by the more discrete, non-graded red and yellow markings on the abdomen and the presence of spots on abdominal segment 1.
• P. aurifer: Red forms of this species are easily differentiated by the more discrete, non-graded red and yellow markings on the abdomen and the presence of spots on abdominal segment 1.
• P. comanchuis comanchus: This subspecies is restricted to Texas and is easily differentiated by the black thorax.
• P. comanchuis navajoe: This subspecies is restricted to Arizona and is easily differentiated by the black thorax.
• P. dorsalis californicus: This subspecies is easily differentiated by the more discrete, non-graded red and yellow markings on the abdomen and lack of contrasting antennal tips.
• P. major major-castaneicolor: This subspecies is easily differentiated by the more discrete, non-graded red and yellow markings on the abdomen.
• P. palmarum: This species is easily differentiated by the more discrete, non-graded red and yellow markings on the abdomen.

Reference Images
• Overview image: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1436035

P. major (major)


Body Color
• Yellow and red (striped)

Diagnosis
• Antennae distinctly bright orange or with bright orange tips
• Very large (though not so much as P. carnifex)
• Abdomen with thick, mostly straight yellow bands
• Short oculomalar space (distance between the eyes and mandibles)
• Pronotum (anterior region of thorax) yellow

Similar Species
• P. carnifex: This species is highly similar to red forms of P. carnifex but is noticeably larger. This species is most reliably differentiated by having a longer oculomalar space and, by inspection, appears to often have antennae with orange not restricted to the tips.

Reference Images
• Overview image: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1264380

P. major castaneicolor


Body Color
• Red

Diagnosis
• Antennae distinctly bright orange or with bright orange tips
• Body entirely red apart from some dark markings
• Abdomen variable between red and dark

Similar Species
• P. annularis: This species is easily differentiated by the yellow apical band on the abdomen.
• P. canadensis: This species is restricted to Arizona and has a longer, narrow first abdominal segment.
• P. carolina: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of orange antennal tips.
• P. fuscatus: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of orange antennal tips.
• P. rubiginosus: This species is easily differentiated by the lack of orange antennal tips.

Reference Images
• Overview image: https://bugguide.net/node/view/269565


P. major major-castaneicolor (intermediate)


Body Color
• Red with yellow abdomen

Diagnosis
• Antennae distinctly bright orange or with bright orange tips
• Head and thorax red
• Abdomen mostly yellow
• Recorded in far-south Arizona near Baja California

Similar Species
• P. apachus: This species is easily differentiated by the presence of yellow spots on abdominal segment 2.
• P. aurifer: Red forms of this species are easily differentiated by the presence of yellow spots on abdominal segment 2.
• P. bellicosus: This species is easily differentiated by the lower degree of yellow markings on the abdomen, particularly the segments at the tip.
• P. dorsalis californicus: This species is differentiated by its smaller size and and somewhat hexagonal, "horseshoe"-shaped yellow marks on abdominal segment 1.
• P. kaibabensis: This species is easily differentiated by the less discrete, smooth color grading on the abdomen from red to yellow.
• P. palmarum : Differences are unclear, though P. palmarum does not appear to overlap with the subspecies of P. major. The two formerly were considered to be different subspecies of P. major.

P. metricus


Body Color
• Mostly black and red (divided at the abdomen)

Diagnosis
• Antennae dull orange-brown with dark markings (males with the underside entirely orange-brown)
• Dark markings around the ocelli restricted
• Abdomen black without red markings beyond segment 2
• Abdominal segment 2 highly convex

Similar Species
• P. annularis: This species is easily differentiated by having orange antennal tips. Additionally, the underside of the second abdominal segment is less convex. P. metricus generally lacks a yellow apical band, but the presence alone is not diagnostic for P. annularis.
• P. fuscatus: Red-and-black forms of species is differentiated by having dark markings around the ocelli extending down to the antennal bases and often has red markings beyond abdominal segment 2. Males can be differentiated by having dark tyloids at the tips instead of orange.
• P. hirsuticornis: More rarely encountered. This species is differentiated by the presence of bristly hairs on the antennae, absense of propodeal fovea, and shiny body.
• P. major castaneicolor :This species is easily differentiated by having orange antennal tips.
• P. parametricus: This species is generally darker, and males can be distinguished by having dark apical tyloids on the antennae.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/78p_metricus.html
• Abdominal convexity: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-22_23.jpg

P. pacificus


Body Color
• Black and yellow striped

Diagnosis
•  Restricted to the southern tip of Texas (rare)
• Antennae generally dark
• Body mostly black with yellow stripes (rarely red markings)

Similar Species
• P. fuscatus: Dark forms occur towards the New England states and do not overlap in range.
• P. parametricus: This species occurs towards the New England states and do not overlap in range. Additionally, this species can be distinguished by its prominently red head.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://boldsystems.org/index.php/Taxbrowser_Taxonpage?taxid=153463

P. palmarum

(P. major palmarum, P. major slevini)
Body Color
• Red with yellow abdomen

Diagnosis
• Antennae with bright orange at least at the tips
• Restricted to the southern tip of California (mostly from Baja California)
• Head and thorax red
• Abdomen mostly yellow

Similar Species
• P. apachus: This species is easily differentiated by the presence of yellow spots on abdominal segment 2.
• P. aurifer: Red forms of this species are easily differentiated by the presence of yellow spots on abdominal segment 2.
• P. bellicosus: This species is easily differentiated by the lower degree of yellow markings on the abdomen, particularly the segments at the tip.
• P. dorsalis californicus: This species is differentiated by its smaller size and and somewhat hexagonal, "horseshoe"-shaped yellow marks on abdominal segment 1.
• P. kaibabensis: This species is easily differentiated by the smoother, less discrete color grading on the abdomen from red to yellow.
• P. major major-castaneicolor : Differences are unclear, though P. palmarum does not appear to overlap with the subspecies of P. major. The two formerly were considered to be different subspecies of P. major.

Reference Images
• Overview image: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/5626410


P. parametricus (P. sp. B)


Body Color
• Black, often with restricted red markings

Diagnosis
• Antennae dark
• Clypeus ("upper lip" facial plate) entirely red
• Body often mostly black

Similar Species
• P. dorsalis dorsalis: Dark forms are differentiated by having an abdominal tubercle.
• P. fuscatus: Dark, unstriped forms are differentiated by having more punctae (indentions) on the undersides of the apical abdominal segments. This species often can be differentiated by having red markings on abdominal segment 2 and by often having dark markings on the clypeus in females.
• P. metricus: This species generally has more red on the thorax, and males can be distinguished by having orange apical tyloids on the antennae.
• P. pacificus: This species is restricted to the southern tip of Texas and does not overlap with the known range of P. parametricus.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/81p_spb.html

P. rubiginosus (P. perplexus)


Body Color
• Red

Diagnosis
• Antennae bilaterally divided between dull orange-brown and darker coloration
• Body lacking any prominent markings (if any, generally more yellow)
•  Gena ("cheek" plates) with prominent silvery hairs
•  Propodeum (posterior region of the thorax) with prominent ridges
• Dark mark around ocelli restricted

Similar Species
• P. canadensis: This species is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. carolina: This species is differentiated by lacking silvery hairs on the gena and coarse ridges on the propodeum. If the body is marked, with yellow.
• P. major castaneicolor: This species is easily differentiated by its orange antennal tips.
• P. fuscatus: Red forms of this species are differentiated by having the dark mark around the ocelli extending to the antennal bases and by having dark antennae.
• P. hirsuticornis: More rarely encountered. This species is differentiated by the presence of bristly hairs on the antennae, absense of propodeal fovea, and shiny body.

Reference Images
• Overview images: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/79p_perplexus.html
• Gena:http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-20_21.jpg
• Propodeum: http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca/bmc_05/bmc05images/keys/b10-37_38.jpg

Acknowledgements


Notes are based on the work of Dr. Matthias Buck and are an attempt to translate his work from the realm of taxonomy into the common vernacular. Images cited from http://cjai.biologicalsurvey.ca are property of Drs. M. Buck, S.A. Marshall, and D.K.B. Cheung and are referenced as simply the best examples of numerous traits that exist in digital format. Images cited from BugGuide are property of the respective BugGuide uploaders unless otherwise specified.

Posted by jonathan142 jonathan142, October 27, 2017 02:48

Comments

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Jonathan - Terrific work! Explanations and examples - just what we needed. Thank you so very much - it's a new bookmark!

Posted by itmndeborah almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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This is a GREAT guide! Tagging some other folks that may be interested in this too:
@cgritz @kimberlietx @gcwarbler @susanna_h

Posted by sambiology almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Awesome!!! Definitely bookmarking! Your efforts are always greatly appreciated here on iNat!

Posted by kimberlietx almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Excellent, bookmarking for future reference! Thanks!

Posted by cgritz almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Posted by kimberlietx almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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It would be way above my pay grade to memorize this stuff..(-; ..so many thanks to Jon for creating something easy to read!

Posted by susanna_h almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Wonderful! Thanks Jonathan!

Posted by greglasley almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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As this probably will be the best way to communicate with multiple wasp identifiers at once, I thought I'd drop the info of a couple of projects I've started related to the paper wasps. Both are open, so anyone can contribute both with identification and adding to the projects.

Red Wasps - Polistes carolina or Polistes rubiginosus - This project groups observations of both species that can't be identified further. The goal is for these observations to all be moved to Research Grade at the genus level.

US Polistes Identification Effort - This project is mainly to move paper wasp observations from an incorrect consensus to a correct consensus without having to mass-tag several individuals repeatedly. I've prepared a bit of a list by saving some of the more obvious ones as favorites and will be adding them myself. This is a bit different from most projects as the goal is actually to be removed from the project.

Posted by jonathan142 almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Highlighting this as some of the best curation on iNat -- experts dedicated to a particular taxon or region make iNat more and more better. :-D

Posted by sambiology almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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@jonathan142 If you need some manpower to mark observations as RG at Genus or whatever, I'm glad to help! You've done so much for us that I'd love to give back some time to you!

Posted by kimberlietx almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Terrific guide, thanks.

I also appreciate your comment on what to photograph: "Generally, a shot of the antennae, face, side, and above should contain most of the traits (if the wasps cooperate)."

I find that the wasps often seem unafraid when approached slowly with my iPhone 5S. Because I get most of my wasp pictures when the wasps are feeding on the pollen of various plants, they seem quite peaceful. For these wasps, the problem is less with lack of cooperation from the wasps and more with the general difficulty of working with the iPhone camera which, though handy, is very slow and difficult to work with in many lighting conditions.

Posted by cwd912nb almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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@cwd912nb Bill, I'm very impressed that you get the shots you do with an iphone. Great little camera for some shots, but I just never use it for wildlife/nature because I just can't get anything decent. It sure would be handy and easy to do that, but you folks who can pull that off are incredible!!! Great job!

Posted by greglasley almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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What a great page. Thanks for letting me know about it.

Posted by finatic over 1 year ago (Flag)
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Thanks to some observations submitted by @mlodinow (and some old sketches by Snelling), I finally have some info to add on P. palmarum. I've linked to one of his images as there don't appear to be photographs existing elsewhere. I've also expanded the info on distinguishing P. carnifex and P. major major after additional literature review (also summarized in a separate journal entry as this is most useful through Latin American countries).

Posted by jonathan142 over 1 year ago (Flag)
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Hugely valuable, many thanks.

Posted by gcsnelling over 1 year ago (Flag)
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Wow! I love this info' It was posted months back on one of my Umbrella Wasp. I have been gathering info from jonathan142 when he leaves feedback. I have been using that and this info. I am hoping to get it figured out. Thank you for this very informative documentation of wasps.

Posted by walkingstick2 over 1 year ago (Flag)
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This is amazing!

Posted by lordofbotany about 1 year ago (Flag)

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