Paper wasps are the most familiar of Missouri's social wasps. Their tan, papery nests are easy to identify: a single layer of hexagonal cells, arranged side-by-side like a honeycomb, and suspended by a single stalk from some overhanging shelter (such as the eaves of a house or other building). The wasps themselves look something like skinny yellow jackets. They are black or brown, often with rusty or yellowish markings, and fly with their legs dangling.
Paper wasps are commonly seen chewing bits of wood from untreated wooden fences, park benches, and so on, which they mix with saliva and use to build their remarkable paper nests.
There are about 24 species in genus Polistes in North America north of Mexico.
Habitat and Conservation
Each colony is started by one or a few overwintered females, usually in April. Only one egg-laying queen is typically present, although apparently any of the workers in a colony could produce eggs.
The first offspring are usually worker females. For most of the summer, the colony is a community of mother and daughters all working together. Males and new queens are produced in mid- to late-summer.
In late fall, all individuals except for a single fertilized queen die in the freezing weather. Each fertilized queen passes the winter in a protected site such as under tree bark or inside building walls. Sometimes, a warm spell in winter will make them active again; this is why you might see a wasp flying around on a warm day in February.