Swarming Paper Wasps

By Chris Williams on March 19, 2015.
close up of paper wasp on nest

Put this recent record-setting cold and snowy winter aside for a moment. In just a short time, paper wasps will be out in force establishing new colonies for the spring. You might have noticed the swarming behavior of the two common species we have in the Northeast (Polistes fuscatus and Polistes dominula) around homes last fall on warmer days in late September or early October. It would appear that the males overwhelmingly prefer to seek out the highest spots and wait for female wasps to stop on by. Indeed, I’ve observed many homes (especially taller multi-gable structures) during this period of time with literally hundreds of wasps flying around. All this flurry of mating activity ends in a few weeks time with the males dying off and newly fertilized females seeking shelter in structures to spend the winter months.

As we’re almost through with March, these overwintering queens may start to become active as the much stronger late winter sun starts to warm up their resting quarters (your attic) so do not be too surprised if these sluggish-acting wasps start gathering at light fixtures or other sources of light such as doors or windows.

Here are a few interesting facts about paper wasp behavior as it relates to new colony formation. Overwintering females all have the ability to produce offspring, but not all do so. Queens emerging from hibernation will jockey for dominance amongst each other.  Dominant females may then start new colonies as a single founding queen or sometimes they do so in pairs.  Non-dominant wasps become subservient to the founding queens and assist in rearing the new offspring.


Photo credit: Jason Milich / Foter / CC BY-ND

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