Polistes dominula

Polistes dominula

Taxobox | name = European paper wasp

image_width = 250px
image_caption = "Polistes dominula"
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Arthropoda
classis = Insecta
ordo = Hymenoptera
familia = Vespidae
subfamilia = Polistinae
genus = "Polistes"
species = "P. dominula"
binomial = "Polistes dominula"
binomial_authority = Christ, 1791
synonyms = "Polistes gallicus" auctorum

"Polistes dominula" (typically misspelled as "dominulus"), sometimes referred to as the European paper wasp, [cite book|title=Guide to Colorado Insects|last=Cranshaw|first=Whitney|coauthor=Boris Kondratieff|publisher=Big Earth Publishing|year=2006|isbn=1565795210|pages=77] is one of the more common and well-known species of social wasps in Europe. It is considered an invasive species in the United States.


"P. dominula" is frequently mistakenly referred to as "Polistes gallicus" (which is a separate species). It was originally described in 1791 as "Vespa dominula". However, "dominula", is a noun meaning "little mistress" [Brown, R.W. (1954) Composition of Scientific Words. G.W. King Printing, Washington, D.C. 882 pp.] , and following the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, species epithets which are nouns do not change when a species is placed in a different genus. Authors unaware that "dominula" was a noun have misspelled the species name as "dominulus" for decades, and virtually every existing piece of literature uses this misspelling.


Nests are begun by overwintered foundresses, who spend about a month in the spring constructing a nest and provisioning offspring, the first of which will become daughter workers in the growing colony. Males are produced later, and when they start to appear, a few daughters may mate and leave their nest, to become foundresses the next season. The switch from production of workers to production of future foundresses ("gynes") is not utterly abrupt, therefore, as has been considered the case for other species of "Polistes".

The colony disperses in the late summer, with only males and future foundresses produced instead of workers, and individuals frequently cluster in groups (called a hibernaculum) to overwinter. Hibernation does not usually take place on former nest sites.

Dominance hierarchy system

Morphologically, there is little difference between the foundress and subordinate reproductive members of the colony. However, several studies have shown that behavioural differentiation occurs, [cite journal | quotes=no|title=The dynamics of colony organisation in the primitively eusocial wasp "Polistes dominulus" Christ|author=Theraulaz G., Gervet J. et al|journal=Ethology |volume=91|pages=177–202|year=1992] cite journal | quotes=no|author=Pardi|year=1993|title=from table compiled in Ito Y.: "Behaviour and Social Evolution of Wasps: The Communal Aggregation Hypothesis"|pages=46] the role the individual female taking determined by social interaction within the colony. Typically, the alpha female dominates all other individuals of a colony, and this female lays the majority of eggs, and partakes in differential oophagy. The alpha female devotes much of her time to social interaction, in comparison to subordinates that are much more involved in foraging and brood care. [| quotes=no|title=Effects of removal of alpha individuals from a "Polistes dominulus" Christ. Wasp society: Changes in behavioural patterns resulting from hierarchical changes|author=Theraulaz G., Pratte M. & Gervet J.|journal=Insectes Sociaux|volume=5|pages=169–179|year=1989]

These behavioural divisions are not permanent; if an alpha female is removed from a nest then another female (usually the second-most dominant, beta female) assumes the role and behavioural profile of the removed dominant. Indeed, individuals alternate between different profiles of behaviour within their own dominance rank position.

Some studies seem to indicate that the dominant female, through its behaviour, suppresses the ovarian development of subordinates. Abdominal wagging is thought to serve as a dominance signal between dominant foundresses and subordinates, but studies by Roseler and Roseler (1989) showed that ovariectomised dominants failed to restrict subordinate reproduction whilst still retaining dominance.

There are also evidently some factors present in the interactions of females on the nest that can influence which daughters become workers and which become gynes; despite some minor physiological differences (primarily in the fat body), "gyne-destined" females produced late in the colony cycle can be induced to become workers if placed on nests that are at an earlier stage of colony development, and the converse is also true. This indicates a significant degree of flexibility in the caste system of this species.

Nestmate recognition

Dominant individuals of "P. dominula" have differing cuticular profile to workers, [cite journal | quotes=no|title=Cuticular hydrocarbons, social organisation and ovarian development in a polistine wasp: "Polistes dominulus"|author=Bonavita-Cougourdan A., Theraulaz G., Bagneres A.G., Roux M., Pratte M., Provost E., Clement J.L|journal=Comp. Biochem. Physiol. B Biochem. Mol. Biol|volume=100|pages=667–680|year=1991|doi=10.1016/0305-0491(91)90272-F] and the frequent observations of the dominant female stroking its gasters across the nest surface, combined with its staying on the nest for longer times than subordinates, suggests that the dominant individual may contribute more to the nest odour.

Invasive species status in the United States

In the United States, "Polistes dominula" nests earlier in the spring, in a wider variety of nest sites, is more aggressive, and feeds on a larger variety of insects (native US species feed almost entirely on caterpillars). Most entomologists consider it to be an invasive species. This wasp can be mistaken for a yellowjacket, as it is black strongly marked with yellow, in a pattern very reminiscent of a yellowjacket, and quite different from the native North American species of "Polistes".

This species was introduced into the United States in 1968 in the New Jersey Pine Barrens and spread throughout most of the country during the 1980s and 90s, in some cases partially replacing native species. Another introduction was discovered in the late 1970s in Cambridge, Newton and Somerville, Massachusetts. The first wave consisted of solitary-founding but socially-nesting individuals, then a wave of social founders (several females found a new nest together). In warmer regions there have been reports of "supercolonizers" most of whom enlarge their natal nests in successive years, rather than dispersing.

ee also

*Polistes gallicus

External links

* [http://www.cirrusimage.com/Bees_wasp_polistes.htm Paper wasp "Polistes dominula" reference photographs, biological notes]
* [http://www.geocities.com/quelea/waspinfo.html "Polistes dominula" facial markings indicating dominance]
* [http://bluebird.htmlplanet.com/paperwasp.htm "The European Paper-Wasp:A New Threat to Cavity-nesting Birds Is Coming!]



*cite journal | quotes=no|title=Intra-specific variation in the comb structure of "Polistes dominulus": parameters, maturation, nest size and cell arrangement|author=Karsai I. & Penzes Z.|journal=Insectes Sociaux|volume=43|pages=277–296|year=1996|doi=10.1007/BF01242929


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