Polistes versicolor (Hymenoptera: Vespidae), an introduced wasp in the Galapagos Islands: its life cycle and ecological impact.
The yellow paper wasp, Polistes versicolor (Olivier) was first recorded in the Galapagos archipelago in 1988. Its life cycle and ecological impacts were studied on two islands 11 yr after it was first discovered. This invasive wasp adapted quickly and was found in most environments. Colony counts and adult wasp monitoring showed a strong preference for drier habitats. Nest activities were seasonally synchronized, nest building followed the rains in the hot season (typically January-May), when insect prey increases, and peaked as temperature and rains started to decline. Next, the number of adult wasps peaked during the cool season when there is barely any rain in the drier zones. In Galapagos, almost half of the prey loads of P. versicolor were lepidopteran larvae, but wasps also carried spiders, beetles, and flies back to the colonies. An estimated average of 329 mg of fresh insect prey was consumed per day for an average colony of 120-150 wasp larvae. The wasps preyed upon native and introduced insects, but likely also affect insectivorous vertebrates as competitors for food. Wasps may also compete with native pollinators as they regularly visited flowers to collect nectar, and have been recorded visiting at least 93 plant species in Galapagos, including 66 endemic and native plants. Colonies were attacked by a predatory moth, Taygete sphecophila (Meyrick) (Lepidoptera: Autostichidae), but colony development was not arrested. High wasp numbers also affect the activities of residents and tourists. A management program for this invasive species in the archipelago is essential.