Hunter’s little paper wasp, Polistes dorsalis are typical of paper wasps found in South Florida and elsewhere. They’re semi-social creatures with a strict hierarchy who build single-cone paper nests. Hence the name.
Hunter’s are found throughout the southern two-thirds, roughly of the United States, from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic. They’re also native to Mexico, Central America and a good chunk of the Caribbean. They’re one of 200 species of paper wasps worldwide.
They’re commonly found in open areas, like meadows, or in flatwoods where they buzz about looking for nectar and pollen, but they’re also will build their nests in suburban and urban settings — like your house or mine. Up north, they’re active summer into fall; in South Florida and other warmer parts of their range, they active year round.
Each nest has a queen, who mates once and stores the sperm in her body for later use. Come spring, she’ll build a nest, then begin laying eggs in a particular sequence: first, the female worker bees. Then come unfertilized eggs, which mature into males of the species, and finally eggs who will become future queens if sufficiently fed.
Fertilized queens overwinter, and start nests of their own come spring. Queens live a year; males and workers, less. In warmer places, like South Florida where nests can continue more than one season, the colony will replace a queen who dies, allowing it to perpetuate.
If you’ve seen a wasp’s nest, you know they’re open-ended — you can see the larvae sticking out of the cells — and vulnerable to a host of predators. If you want to know why wasps tend to be so aggressive around their nests, that’s it.
Hunter’s and all paper wasps are members of Vespidae, the family of wasps, yellow jackets and hornets.