Polistes dominula (European paper wasp)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Habitat List
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- Growth Stages
- List of Symptoms/Signs
- Biology and Ecology
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Detection and Inspection
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Polistes dominula (Christ, 1791)
Preferred Common Name
- European paper wasp
Other Scientific Names
- Polistes dominulus
- Vespa dominula Christ 1791
International Common Names
- English: paper wasp
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Metazoa
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Subphylum: Uniramia
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Hymenoptera
- Family: Vespidae
- Genus: Polistes
- Species: Polistes dominula
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
P. dominula is a primitively eusocial paper wasp from Mediterranean Europe (Weiner et al., 2012). It is referred to as the European paper wasp due to its native range and the fact that the nests are constructed of saliva and paper.
Despite the plethora of literature documenting this species as P. dominulus, it is stated that the species was originally described as Vespa dominula in 1791 by Johann Ludwig Christ, and that ‘dominula’ should be retained even though the species is now in a different genus (Polistes), following the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (Royal BC Museum, 2011).
Bruschini et al. (2007) showed that venom volatiles can be used as a taxonomic tool in Polistes wasps. They compared P. dominula, P. gallicus and P. nimphus and found that venom volatile composition was species-specific and could be used as a systematic tool.
Other authors (such as Ozbay and Akbayin, 1993) have shown that eight body variables can be used to distinguish between Vespidae species; for example, clypeus length, clypeus width, oculomalar space and length of tibia III could be used to discriminate between Polistes gallicus, Vespidae germanica and P. dominula buncharensis.
DescriptionTop of page
Matthias et al. (2008) should be consulted for a description of P. dominula, but the following provides an introduction and is mainly based on this publication, unless otherwise stated:
In addition to compound eyes, adults have numerous ocelli (simple eyes) in a triangular formation (Royal BC Museum, 2011).
The antennae are mostly yellow and the body is black and yellow. A hard exoskeleton covers the head, mesosoma and metasoma. There is a yellow postocular stripe, often narrowed, and the female mandible is black, sometimes with a yellow spot.
DistributionTop of page
P. dominula originates from Mediterranean Europe (Weiner et al., 2012). It has been introduced to South Africa (Eardley et al., 2009) and North America (e.g. Borkent and Cannings, 2004). It was first introduced to the USA in Massachusetts, in the 1970s (according to Matthias et al., 2008), and first recorded in Michigan in 1995 (Judd and Carpenter, 1996).
According to Matthias et al. (2008), P. dominula is present from central and southern Europe to Mongolia and China, south to northern Africa, Israel, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India, and introduced in Western Australia. However, individual records for this distribution could only be found for Europe and Iran, thus the rest of the statement is considered unverified and not included in the distribution table. The authors also stated that the species continues to spread and ‘should already be present in Quebec, and will soon be found in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.’
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 10 Jan 2020
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Iran||Present||Zanjan province, north-west Iran|
|Spain||Present||Original citation: Madero and Montero Tinaut Ranera (1987)|
|Canada||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Nova Scotia||Present||First record|
|-Massachusetts||Present||Introduced||First recorded in N. America in the 1970s|
|-Michigan||Present||Introduced||First record in 1996|
|-Missouri||Present||First record in central USA|
|-Pennsylvania||Present||First record in the state|
|-South Dakota||Present||First record|
|-Washington||Present||Widespread in Yakima County|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
IntroductionsTop of page
HabitatTop of page
P. dominula lives in a wide range of habitats within temperate climates, including woodland, shrubland, grassland and agricultural, urban and suburban areas (Stout, 2013).
P. dominula build nests using paper and saliva. Bagriacik (2012) reported that fibres of the nests of this wasp are on average 8.7 um thick and that the nitrogen concentration was 27.42%. Nests consisted of 78% fibre and 22% saliva.
Gamboa et al. (2005) showed that colonies of P. dominula (and P. fuscatus) were most productive in old field habitats, compared to oak forests and oak forest-old field ecotones, and that P. dominula was more productive that P. fuscatus in all habitats tested.
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Secondary/tolerated habitat|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Principal habitat||Natural|
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
Growth StagesTop of page
List of Symptoms/SignsTop of page
|Fruit / external feeding|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
Johnson and Starks (2004) reported no significant reduction in gene diversity and no trace of a genetic bottleneck in the northeastern USA invasion population, even though successful biological invasions of social insects have been associated with genetic bottlenecks previously. Instead, they identified multiple private microsatellite alleles in Massachusetts and New York, suggesting that the population is made up of two introductions.
P. dominula has a lek-based mating system, a lek being an aggregation of males competing for females. Females prefer males with smaller elliptical spots compared to males who have larger, more irregularly shaped spots (Izzo and Tibbetts, 2012).
Intraspecific usurpation is when a resident queen in a wasp colony is ejected from the nest by a usurping queen (Ayasse and Paxton, 2002). P. dominula rarely usurps and the pattern of brood destruction that this wasp displays differs from other Polistes species that frequently carry out intraspecific usurpation (Wensink et al., 2013). Wensink et al. (2013) stated that nest adoption may have shaped the pattern of brood destruction, which is a common alternative reproductive tactic in this species.
Green at al. (2012) studied the effect of temperature on the intrasexual signal in P. dominula. They reported that when pupae were stored under different temperatures, there were differences in the expression of the signal and that it exhibited phenotypic plasticity.
It has been shown that the most active copulating males in experiments had light mesopleura, sternite, fore and middle coxae (Firman and Rusina, 2009). The authors found that most P. dominula females mated only once and that their colouration represented the majority of the females in the population. It was suggested that colour and pattern in both sexes could be a marker of their reproductive strategies and their reproductive success.
Eggs are laid by the queens and the subordinate females generally forage and do not lay eggs, unless the queen is removed from the nest (Royal BC Museum, 2011).
Foundresses (overwintering founding queens) construct a nest and make provisions for offspring for approximately a month in the spring. The first offspring will be daughter workers. If there are several foundresses, the one who lays the most eggs becomes the dominant queen and the rest are subordinates (Queller at al., 2000).
Male wasps are produced later and daughter workers may mate and become foundresses in the next season (gynes) (Royal BC Museum, 2011).
In the late summer, the colony disperses and only males and future foundresses are produced (not workers). A cluster of individuals in a group for overwintering is called a hibernaculum (Royal BC Museum, 2011).
Experiments by Green et al. (2013) indicated that the black clypeal patterns in P. dominula are not an indication of the rank the females achieve within the hierarchy, nor their survival during next founding, despite previous experiments indicating that the patterns provided information about a paper wasp’s competitive ability during agonistic interactions. The authors also found that reproductive success over the nesting season was not correlated with the patterning.
Males and non-reporductive females live during spring, summer and autumn, but do not survive the winter. Reproductive females may survive several seasons (Stout, 2013).
Theraulaz et al. (1988) reported that longevity of female P. dominula is influenced by the social environment found at the time of emergence. The proportion of wasps able to overwinter and to found a nest in the following spring is reduced if the females are separated from the natal colony early on. They also reported that if older larvae are removed from the brood, there was an increase in the proportion of ‘long-lived’ wasps in the brood.
The process of foraging by P. dominula can be divided into four main stages: approach, attack, butchering and balling (Brown et al., 2012). Brown et al. (2012) reported that behavioural variation exists within each stage, but there is a common theme from prey approach to moving the prey back to the nest. The balling stage refers to the construction of a bolus of flesh for moving back to the colony. It was reported that foundresses can carry heavier loads than workers; the authors suggested that this gave the foundresses a foraging advantage during the initial stages of colony development. It was also reported that body mass is significantly positively correlated with load capacity in foundresses. This relationship is not seen in workers or late reproductive wasps and suggests foundresses have an adaptation allowing them to combat early season pressures associated with foundation of a new colony.
Population Size and Structure
A single comb makes up the nest and this is the heart of the colony, where food is stored and immature brood is reared, as well as being the central place where most individuals of the nest spend their time (Baracchi et al., 2010).
Pleometrosis is when one or more queens start a colony together (e.g. Johnson, 2004). Rusina et al. (2006), studying seasonal changes of different colour variations in P. dominula, found that a tendency to display pleometrosis is shown by females of different colour morphs in different years. Colour patterns in populations before and after hibernation are different, and the frequency of colour morphs in autumn populations is similar in different years, in contrast to the frequency in spring, which is unique for each year.
Pleometrosis is important because it has been shown that this can increase colony productivity and have a positive bearing on foundress survival (Tibbetts and Reeve, 2003).
In the structures of most social insects, colonies are made up of related individuals; however, this is not the case for P. dominula, where 35% of the nest mates are unrelated. Despite this, the unrelated individuals submit to the queen and work for her, and this is thus thought to be evidence of altruism (Queller et al., 2000).
Female P. dominula are able to recognize nest mates using the chemicals (cuticular hydrocarbons) on the surface of wasp bodies (Inoue-Murayama et al., 2011).
Colonies of P. dominula are adversely affected by a decrease in prey availability; in particular, nutritional oophagy and larval development are most affected (Mead et al, 1994).
Tibbetts et al. (2011) reported a substantial individual variation in response to cues of the termination of diapause, indicating that this is likely to have an important impact on the fitness of nest-founding females. The timing of activity, post-diapause, was associated with facial patterns that are a signal of quality (though some authors refute this: see Green et al., 2013). Those foundresses that became active at lower temperatures had facial patterns that indicated high quality.
Madero Montero and Tinaut Ranera (1987) reported that numbers of Vespidae, including P. dominula, decreased as altitude increased.
Natural enemiesTop of page
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
Polistes sulicifer (e.g. Ortolani and Cervo, 2004), P. semenowi (e.g. Zacchi et al., 1996) and P. atrimandibularis (e.g. Fanelli et al., 2001) are social parasites of P. dominula. P. sulicifer usurps host nests just prior to the workers emerging (Ortolani and Cervo, 2004). Other parasitoids found in the nests of P. dominula include Elasmus schmitti and Baryscapus elasmi, gregarious parasitoids found in southern Ukraine (Gumovsky et al., 2007).
Smit and Smit (2005) reported Xenos vesparum from the Netherlands for the first time, parasitizing P. dominula.
Xenos vesparum is a strepsipteran endoparasite of P. dominula (Manfredini et al., 2010).
Dani et al. (1994) reported long chain carboxylic acids in the V and VI sternal glands of P. dominula, which are thought to protect the wasps against invertebrate predators. In a later study, Dani et al. (1996) demonstrated that the secretions repelled three ant species: Crematogaster scutellaris, Formica crunicularia and Lasius sp..
Benade et al. (2014) identified two unidentified parisitoid wasps and a parasitic fly (Anacamptomyia sp.) associated with P. dominula and P. marginalis in South Africa.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
Mated daughter workers may mate and leave the nest the following season to set up their own colonies (Royal BC Museum, 2011).
Royal BC Museum (2011) stated that P. dominula was possibly introduced to Vancouver Island (British Columbia, Canada) crossing the continent from the east or on a boat from Asia.
Pathway CausesTop of page
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Impact SummaryTop of page
Economic ImpactTop of page
Environmental ImpactTop of page
P. dominula has been shown to displace P. fuscatus in the USA (Miller et al., 2013).
Social ImpactTop of page
Polistes sp. have the ability to sting humans and therefore when humans and Polistes are in the same environment there is always a risk of attack. Several papers have investigated allergic responses and there are reports to suggest that P. dominula venoms have exclusive allergens, and thus are necessary for diagnosis and therapy in Europe. Until 1996, the American Polistes venom mixture was the only commercially available mixture for diagnosis and therapy; however, this is not as suitable for Italian patients as European Polistes venom is (Severino et al., 2006).
P. dominula also spreads yeast and fungi that harm fruit and may adversely affect people who work in the damaged environments (Royal BC Museum, 2011).
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Highly mobile locally
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Pest and disease transmission
- Induces hypersensitivity
- Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
UsesTop of page
P. dominula is a model species in animal communication studies (Cini et al., 2009), and so there is a wealth of literature on this subject using this social wasp.
Urbini et al. (2006), working in Florence, Italy, reported that P. dominula showed potential as bioindicators. This is due to the fact that the larvae feed on herbivorous insects, the digested residues of which can be found in a semi-solid ball on the floor of the cell during larval metamorphis. Lead accumulates in the larval faeces, which can be used to distinguish different zones with different levels of lead pollution. It was found that the lead concentration in larval faecal masses was directly correlated with vehicle traffic density, the main lead source in Florence at the time of the survey.
Considering the fact that they are not species-specific predators, Nannoni et al. (2001) suggested that P. dominula (as well as P. gallicus and P. nimphus) could be used to control phytophagous insect pests. When the effect of P. dominula was studied on gregarious caterpillars, Hemileuca lucina, it was found that not only did the wasps kill the larvae, but they also indirectly affected larval fitness by slowing larval growth, forcing them into an area of habitat where host plant leaves were of a lower quality (Stamp and Bowers, 1988).
Uses ListTop of page
- Biological control
Detection and InspectionTop of page
Wegner and Jordan (2005) assessed three liquid lures for trapping social wasps, including P. dominula. They compared two citrus-based sodas and an isobutanol-acetic acid mixture, and reported that Polistes and Dolichovespula were found in significantly lower numbers than Vespula. However, they concluded that the citrus products were better than the known wasp attractant for attracting almost all of the wasp species.
In an earlier study by Landolt et al. (1999) in the USA, it was shown that the attractant properties of an isobutanol-acetic acid mixture varied according to location. Females of P. dominula were attracted to the mixture in Oklahoma.
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
P. dominula and P. fuscatus compete in Eastern North America, but one reason for P. dominula’s success compared to P. fuscatus is greater productivity (Gamboa et al., 2004; Weiner at al., 2012; Miller et al, 2013). Weiner et al. (2012) attributed this to more foraging trips made by the foundresses during the pre-worker period, thus probably assisting with quicker rearing of workers.
Gamboa et al. (2004) reported a shorter larval and pupal development time for P. dominula compared to P. fuscatus, leading to the former producing workers earlier than the latter. The authors also reported significantly less parasitism by Strepsiptera of P. dominula in a field site in Rochester, Michigan, USA; as well as significantly greater probability of re-nesting after predation by raccoons; significantly lower usurpation pressures; and possibly longer foraging days.
Successful invasion by P. dominula has also been ascribed, in part, to a lack of natural enemies (Madden et al., 2010; Miller et al., 2013). The high productivity of P. dominula is attributed to the lack of natural enemies to keep it in check (Miller et al., 2013). Miller et al. (2013) showed that P. dominula displaced P. fuscatus rapidly and then this slowed until the two populations stabilized. The decreasing displacement of P. fuscatus by P. dominula was shown to correspond to not only a decline in productivity, but also an increase in Dibrachys cavus infesting P. dominula.
Curtis and Stamp (2006) suggested that the less aggressive response of P. dominula to human presence compared with P. fuscatus may aid its successful invasion in North America.
The optimum temperature for flight by P. dominula is 30-33°C, in contrast to P. fuscatus, which can fly over a broad range of temperatures (Weiner et al., 2012). This is a limiting factor in the invasiveness of the P. dominula. However, temperature also has an important role to play in successful invasion by P. dominula: Weiner et al. (2011) reported thorax temperature of P. fuscatus, while in flight, was less affected by ambient temperature compared to P. fuscatus, and although P. fuscatus reached its relative minimum flight temperatures earlier than P. dominula, the latter maintained higher elevated temperatures for longer.
Other behavioural characteristics leading to successful invasion by P. dominula include a greater tendency to store nectar, which may explain higher survivorship, more flexibility in comb position, and possibly stronger attachment of the comb to substrate (meaning it is less susceptible to bird predation when compared to P. fuscatus; Silagi et al., 2003), a versatile diet, the ability to colonize new environments and a short development time of the immature brood (Cervo et al., 2000).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
In preliminary investigations by Lambardi et al. (2007), to explore the defense mechanisms of P. dominula against the entomopathogens Metarhizium anisopliae and Beauveria bassiana, it was found that polar cuticular substances played an important role in protecting the wasps against infection.
Zhang et al. (2013) studied the repellency effect of essential oils against several pestiferous social wasps, including P. dominula. 17 out of 21 essential oils tested showed significant repellent properties against yellowjackets and paper wasps, mainly P. dominula. It was concluded that these oils and their active compositions have potential in IPM programmes against pestiferous wasps.
ReferencesTop of page
Abbasi R, Mashhadikhan M, Abbasi M, Kiabi B, 2009. Geometric morphometric study of populations of the social wasp, Polistes dominulus (Christ, 1791) from Zanjan province, north-west Iran. New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 36(1):41-46
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Bagriaçik N, 2012. Comparison of the nest materials of Polistes gallicus (L.), Polistes dominulus (Christ) and Polistes nimpha (Christ) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). Archives of Biological Sciences, 64(3):1079-1084. http://archonline.bio.bg.ac.rs/VOL64/SVESKA3/30%20-%20Bagriacik.pdf
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Benadé PC, Veldtman R, Samways MJ, Roets F, 2014. Rapid range expansion of the invasive wasp Polistes dominula (Hymenoptera: Vespidae: Polistinae) and first record of parasitoids on this species and the native Polistes marginalis in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. African Entomology, 22(1):220-225. http://www.bioone.org/loi/afen
Borkent CJ, Cannings RA, 2004. Polistes dominulus (Christ) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae: Polistinae) in British Columbia: first collection records of an invasive European paper wasp in Canada. Journal of the Entomological Society of British Columbia, 101:149-150
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29/09/14 Original text by:
Claire Beverley, CABI, UK
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