Polistes Common Names (And Other Curiosities)

By nature, common names are always going to involve some disagreements. In some cases, several species may share a common name. In other cases, the common name of one species may be mis-applied to another species. Accepted common names also may not always exist within the common vernacular. These are some of the issues that are already mentioned on iNaturalist's Curator Guide as a portion of the policies governing the platform. To summarize the guidelines, common names used on iNaturalist should meet several criteria: be actual names in use by more than one person, be as specific as possible, follow appropriate capitalization guidelines, and not be needlessly duplicated unless species truly share a specific common name.

One of the things that I often do while curating taxa is verification of common names to make sure they meet local requirements. For instance, I recently ended up having to purge several mass-duplicated Spanish names (10-30+ pages per name), including a large number of species that were simply noted as avispa (wasp). Over the past year or so, I've particularly been researching common names for members of the genus Polistes to make sure that we're actually using the best common names as default names. I've included what material I've been able to procude thus far on the genus below.

NOTE: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, the following names are in use, either locally or in the literature. I have included a few notes on a few names that do not appear to be in use but would follow guidelines existing elsewhere in the scientific community. If any common names are missing, please let me know so this listing can be updated.

Polistes

• Umbrella Paper Wasps - This common name is the most specific and, to my knowledge, is only applied to this genus. The name originates from the typical overhanging structure of the nests, which often are curved much like an umbrella.

• Umbrella Wasps - This is technically a truncated name but nonetheless used heavily. I would opt for using the fuller common name as the default simply for the sake of completion.

• Paper Wasps - This common name technically applies to other members of the subfamily such as Mischocyttarus and Ropalidia so really is not specific enough to warrant use at the genus-level. Use would also be duplication of the common name of a higher taxon, which goes against guidelines.

P. annularis

• Ringed Paper Wasp - This common name is based on the specific epithet (meaning ringed). This common name is preferable due to not having overlapping use.

• Jack Spaniard Paper Wasp - This is an expanded form of the common name that's used in some circles to better note the taxonomic placement of the species.

• Jack Spaniard Wasp - This common name is sometimes applied to various members of the canadensis-group, including P. lanio and P. crinitus and doesn't appear to apply to one species in particular. Jack Spaniard, also known as Spanish Jack, was a Chickamauga, a Cherokee siding with the British in the Revolutionary War. His legacy is variably as a patriot or an outlaw and, as such, was associated with the likes of Belle Starr . How this name became applied to these species of wasps is still a mystery to me.

P. apachus

• Apache Paper Wasp - The primary common name is based on the specific epithet of the species. Of interest, the species is native to Texas and was in range of the Apache tribe.

• Apache Wasp - This is technically a truncated name but nonetheless used heavily. I would opt for using the fuller common name as the default simply for the sake of completion.

• Texas Paper Wasp - This common name is based on the range of the species. This common name should not be the default as it may need to be applied to P. texanus (currently synonymized as a form of P. apachus) in the future if the work of Dr. Buck (et al.) verify it to be a separate species.

P. arizonensis

• Arizona Paper Wasp - Due to the very restricted range, this common name doesn't show up too often but is valid nonetheless. This common name is simply based on the range of the species and the specific epithet.

P. aurifer

• Golden Paper Wasp - This name is based on the specific epithet (meaning golden) and the tendency of this species to be heavily marked in yellow. This is one of the few common names of this genus held as authorized common names by the Entomological Society of America.

• Dark Paper Wasp - Though occasionally noted, this common name seems to be more carried over from P. fuscatus so probably shouldn't be applied here.

P. bahamensis

• Bahaman Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use but is based on the specific epithet and range. This would be a logical addition for the sake of communication.

P. bellicosus

• No common name - Rather regrettably, I can find no true common name for this widespread species. Several experts in the genus note that no legitimate common name exists.

• Warlike Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use but is based on the translation of its specific epithet. This name had been in use on iNaturalist for a while but didn't seem to be used outside of the network and those citing the network. This name might should be avoided due to somewhat vespiphobic application.

• Cherokee Paper Wasp - This name is not in use currently but would be a nice addition to the species named in honor of our native tribes. This would also serve to simultaneously elevate and honor both this species and a tribe that, oddly, doesn't seem to have many species named after it. Also of note, the Cherokee tribe lived in many of the same modern-day states that P. bellicosus inhabits. This seems to me the perfect name for the species.

P. canadensis

• Red Paper Wasp - This is one of several species that occasionally gets this name applied. This is based on the almost purely red coloration of the species. The only US occurrence is in Arizona, where it simply comes in from Mexico. If a new, unique, more appropriate name were to be created, I would suggest Red Mexican Paper Wasp.

P. carolina

• Fine-backed Red Paper Wasp - This is an emended form of the common name to separate this species from P. rubiginosus and is based on the diagnostic ridging on the propodeum (the rear portion of the thorax). This emendation probably should be used with all common names for this species.

• Red Paper Wasp - This is one of several species that occasionally gets this name applied. This is based on the almost purely red coloration of the species. The other primary species to use this name, P. rubiginosus, shares both this and the other common names due to their long history of being synonymized until their recent separation. No common name appears to apply to one and not the other, and the history in the literature really can't be trusted for this reason. This common name also frequently is used in association with other fuscatus-group paper wasps such as P. metricus.

• Red Wasp - This is technically a truncated name but nonetheless used heavily. I would opt for using the fuller common name as the default simply for the sake of completion. There's the additional issue that there are also two yellowjacket species that can go by this name, so it seems best to opt for a name that's just a bit less overused.

• Orange Paper Wasp - This name was cited in a key produced by the CDC, but the name appears to be in very restricted use.

• Mahogany Paper Wasp - I've seen this name used more infrequently, but the name may be a bit more accurate to the coloration. I only opt against using this as the default common name since Red Paper Wasp is in such heavy use.

P. carnifex

• Executioner Paper Wasp - This is an expanded form of the common name that's used in some circles to better note the taxonomic placement of the species. I generally prefer this form to separate it from less related wasps.

• Executioner Wasp - This name is based on the translation of the specific epithet, which is based on the rather intense pain from being stung of this species.

P. chinensis

• Asian Paper Wasp - This name is based on the native range of this species. This appears to be the best common name for the sake of not excluding rather decent amounts of its original range.

• Chinese Paper Wasp - This name is based on the specific epithet and a portion of the species' range. This name can be shared by at least one other species.

• Japanese Paper Wasp - This name is based on a portion of the species' range. This name can be shared by at least one other species.

P. comanchus

• Comanche Paper Wasp - This name is based on the specific epithet of the species. Of interest, the subspecies P. c. comanchus is native to western Texas and was in range of the Comanche tribe.

• Navajo Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use but is based on its specific epithet. The subspecies P. c. navajoe is native to Arizona and was in range of the Navajo Nation. The name currently is already used by Mischocyttarus navajo, which also occurs in Arizona. This could possibly be remedied should the latter instead be emended to the Navajo Long-waisted Paper Wasp.

P. cubensis

• Cuban Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use but is based on the specific epithet and range. This would be a logical addition for the sake of communication.

P. crinitus

• Caribbean Paper Wasp - This common name is based on the range of the species. This is one of the most common species throughout the Caribbean Islands.

• Jack Spaniard Wasp - This common name is sometimes applied to various members of the canadensis-group, including P. annularis and P. lanio and doesn't appear to apply to one species in particular. How this name became applied to these species of wasps is still a mystery to me.

P. dominicus

• Dominican Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use but is based on the specific epithet and range. This would be a logical addition for the sake of communication.

P. dominula

• European Paper Wasp - This common name is primarily used in the US to refer to this introduced species. This is one of the few common names of this genus held as authorized common names by the Entomological Society of America. Within Europe, this is one of several cryptic species, so this common name is of less use there.

P. dorsalis

• No common name - Rather regrettably, I can find no true common name for this widespread species. As far as casual identifications go, this may be one of several species that gets lumped under the Common Paper Wasp name. This is rather problematic as that name is shared by P. exclamans and P. fuscatus already.

• Hunter's Little Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in official use. While not a true common name, this may be the closest there is to one based on taxonomic history. After being split from P. fuscatus, the species temporarily was known as P. hunteri. In Spanish, the species is known as la avispa menor de papel (en: smaller or lesser paper wasp)

P. erythrocephalis

• Red-headed Paper Wasp - This name is based on the specific epithet (red head) and the appearance of this species. The body coloration is entirely black apart from its distinct red head.

P. exclamans

• Guinea Paper Wasp - This is one of the common names cited by Dr. Matthias Buck (et al.). As the name definitely is not based on the Guinea in West Africa or on New Guinea in Oceania, my only suspicion on the name is that it comes from the Guinea in Gloucester County or Caroline County, both within Virginia.

• Guinea Wasp - This technically appears to be a truncated name but nonetheless used somewhat frequently. I would opt for using the fuller common name as the default simply for the sake of completion.

• Common Paper Wasp - This is one of several species to use this common name and one of two to occur within the same range within the US.

• Zebra Paper Wasp - This name was cited in a key produced by the CDC, but the name appears to be in very restricted use.

P. flavus

• Yellow Paper Wasp - This is one of several species to use this common name. This name is based on the specific epithet (meaning yellow) and the appearance of the species.

P. fuscatus

• Dark Paper Wasp - This common name is based on the specific epithet (meaning dark or smoky) and the appearance of the species.

• Northern Paper Wasp - Insofar as I can tell, this common name was applied to either a single subspecies or a group of subspecies from the northern states. I would opt for focusing on a more fully inclusive default name.

• Golden Paper Wasp - Insofar as I can tell, this common name was applied to a single subspecies, now understood as the distinct P. aurifer. This name probably should not be associated with both species, particularly as P. fuscatus often does not have such extensive golden markings and as the Entomological Society of America has assigned this as the authorized common name exclusively for P. aurifer.

P. gallicus

• French Paper Wasp - This is an expanded form of the common name that's used in some circles to better note the taxonomic placement of the species.

• French Wasp - This common name is based on the specific epithet (meaning French) and the epicenter of this species' occurrence.

P. gigas

• Giant Brown Paper Wasp - This common name is based on the specific epithet (meaning giant) and the general color of the species.

P. humilis

• Australian Paper Wasp - This common name is based on the range of this species. While a number of other species occur within its range, this is easily the most common species within its range.

• Common Paper Wasp - Within Australia, this species sometimes is known by this name due to its prominence. This common name, however, is shared among a number of different species within widely different ranges and, thus, really is not a helpful common name.

• Tasmanian Paper Wasp - This common name is based on an old synonym for the species, Polistes tasmaniensis, which was only applied to the nominate subspecies. The history appears to be that specimens found on Tasmania, an island just south of Australia, were thought to be a separate species until compared to those on the mainland. This common name is mostly used in new Zealand.

P. instabilis

• Unstable Paper Wasp - This common name is based on the specific epithet of the species and its behavior. This species is often noted as being rather twitchy. The common name in Spanish translates as the "Guitar Paper Wasp" and also refers to this behavior. Personally, I would have preferred the name Crazy Paper Wasp, but I wasn't asked when the existing name was applied.

P. jokahamae

• Dark-waist Paper Wasp - This name is based on the coloration of this species. In comparison to most of the other species within its range, this species is almost uniquely characterized by the darker markings on the first abdominal segment.

P. lanio

Jack Spaniard Wasp - This common name is sometimes applied to various members of the canadensis-group, including P. annularis and P. crinitus and doesn't appear to apply to one species in particular. Jack Spaniard, also known as Spanish Jack, was a Chickamauga, a Cherokee siding with the British in the Revolutionary War. His legacy is variably as a patriot or an outlaw and, as such, was associated with the likes of Belle Starr. How this name became applied to these species of wasps is still a mystery to me.

P. major

• Horse's Paper Wasp - This is an expanded form of the common name that's used in some circles to better note the taxonomic placement of the species.

• Horse's Wasp - This name comes from the common name used in the islands of the Caribbean. I've been unable to find a definitive origin, but I suspect that it's a reference to the large size of this species.

• Yellow Horse's Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use for subspecies P. m. major but is an expansion based on separating this subspecies by color.

• Red Paper Wasp - This is one of several species that occasionally gets this name applied, specifically to subspecies P. m. castaneicolor. This is based on the almost purely red coloration of the species. The only US occurrence is in Arizona, where it simply comes in from Mexico. If a new, unique, more appropriate name were to be created, I would suggest Red Sonoran Paper Wasp.

• Red Horse's Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use for subspecies P. m. castaneicolor but is based on a combination of the species' common name with the modifier of the distinct color of this subspecies.

P. metricus

• Metric Paper Wasp - This common name is based on the specific epithet (meaning meter or measure) and can apply to physical measurement or poetic meter. This version is in slightly lesser usage but is preferable due to not being partially in Latin.

• Metricus Paper Wasp - This is an oddity among common names as it's literally the specific epithet without any sort of translation. The specific epithet simply means meter or measure and can apply to physical measurement or poetic meter.

• Red Paper Wasp - This appears to be a mis-application of the name in the far southeast states. I would suggest against adding yet another synonym to this common name.

P. mexicanus

• Mexican Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use but is based on the specific epithet and range. This would be a logical addition for the sake of communication. However, this name is already used for Mischocyttarus mexicanus. This could possibly be remedied should the latter instead be emended to the Mexican Long-waisted Paper Wasp. Additionally, numerous other species occur within their range in Mexico, and confusion would likely be inevitable with both names.

P. myersi

• Myers' Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use but is based on the specific epithet. The species may well have been named in honor of John Golding Myers, a British entomologist and hymenoterist who did work throughout the world, including South America where this species occurs. This would be a logical addition for the sake of communication.

• Myers' Variegated Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use but is based on the specific epithet. This name additionally notes the immense similarity to P. versicolor, of which P. m. myersi used to be considered a synonym.

• Curaçao Paper Wasp - This common name is in rare use for subspecies P. m. curassavicus and is based on the specific epithet and range. This species only occurs on the "ABC" Islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao and was originally described on Curaçao.

P. olivaceus

• Yellow Oriental Paper Wasp - This name is based on the bold yellow coloration of the species and its native range throughout Asia.

• Macao Paper Wasp - This name is based on the occurrence of this species in China as well as one of the species' junior synonyms, P. macaensis. This is one of the few common names of this genus held as authorized common names by the Entomological Society of America.

P. palmarum

• Palm Paper Wasp - This name is based on the specific epithet of the species, which in turn is based on the tendency of this species to make nests in the vicinity of palm trees.

P. peruvianus

• Peruvian Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use but is based on the specific epithet and range. This would be a logical addition for the sake of communication.

P. rubiginosus

• Coarse-backed Red Paper Wasp - This is an emended form of the common name to separate this species from P. carolina and is based on the diagnostic ridging on the propodeum (the rear portion of the thorax). This emendation probably should be used with all common names for this species.

• Red Paper Wasp - This is one of several species that occasionally gets this name applied. This is based on the almost purely red coloration of the species. The other primary species to use this name, P. carolina, shares both this and the other common names due to their long history of being synonymized until their recent separation. No common name appears to apply to one and not the other, and the history in the literature really can't be trusted for this reason. This common name also frequently is used in association with other fuscatus-group paper wasps such as P. metricus.

• Red Wasp - This is technically a truncated name but nonetheless used heavily. I would opt for using the fuller common name as the default simply for the sake of completion. There's the additional issue that there are also two yellowjacket species that can go by this name, so it seems best to opt for a name that's just a bit less overused.

• Orange Paper Wasp - This name was cited in a key produced by the CDC, but the name appears to be in very restricted use.

• Mahogany Paper Wasp - I've seen this name used more infrequently, but the name may be a bit more accurate to the coloration. I only opt against using this as the default common name since Red Paper Wasp is in such heavy use.

P. stigma

• Tropical Paper Wasp - This common name is based on the range of this species throughout the tropical regions of Asia, particularly including southern China, India, and Indonesia.

P. variabilis

• Yellow-zoned Paper Wasp - This common name is based on the yellow markings on the back of the thorax and the front of the abdomen that look sort of like a single yellow band.

P. versicolor

• Variegated Paper Wasp - This name is based on the specific epithet (meaning variegated, diverse in coloration, or irregularly patched). This is a much more accurate name than the more frequently published name and better captures the yellow spots on its black abdomen. It's also simply a less irksome name. Sadly, it's not used nearly as frequently.

• Yellow Paper Wasp - This common name is based on the prominent yellow spots on the abdomen. This is one of the few common names that simply irks me since there are a number of yellow paper wasps across the globe (with at least 2-3 others having this as a valid common name).

P. weyrauchorum

• Weyrauch's Paper Wasp - This name does not appear to be in use but is based on the specific epithet. This species was named after Wolfgang Karl Weyrauch, a hymenopterist who named and described a number of species within this genus.

Publicado por jonathan142 jonathan142, 15 de junio de 2018

Comentarios

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Reviewed - Thanks!
Guinea still makes me do a double-take though.

Publicado por susanna_h hace más de 2 años (Marca)
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Another spectacular and descriptive journal entry, Jonathan.

Publicado por sambiology hace más de 2 años (Marca)
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I've rarely come across "umbrella paper wasp" in literature. Always seems to be "umbrella wasp". But I prefer the first, too. And, yes, too bad that P. dorsalis doesn't have a common name.

Publicado por colinpurrington hace más de 2 años (Marca)
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@jonathan142 this is an impressive amount of detective work. You have done justice by Polistes sp. as a curator, enthusiast, and professional. Have you ever considered submitting these names to the Entomological Society of America? I know they have submission forms for common names, and I think it would be a shame for you to have put in all of this literary research just for iNaturalist.

Publicado por bobby23 hace alrededor de 2 años (Marca)
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I may attempt submissions at some point, though acceptance would probably rely on species-level ecological importance versus the genus as a whole. Probably the first ones I would want to submit to ESA are better names for the P. carolina / P. rubiginosus duo (maybe Fine-back Red Paper Wasp and Coarse-back Red Paper Wasp, respectively, as those are simple emendations). However, even if ESA were to reject submissions as authorized names, they can still be used as colloquial names by the community.

Publicado por jonathan142 hace alrededor de 2 años (Marca)
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I've added notes on the red paper wasp emendations based on discussion elsewhere. I've also added an alternative name for P. versicolor as the original was just a bad common name on numerous accounts.

Publicado por jonathan142 hace alrededor de 2 años (Marca)
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Is the species authority for P. weyrauchorum Weyrauch? If so what year? Some sources claim Willink, 1964. https://eol.org/pages/984028, https://www.gbif.org/species/1310577.

Publicado por peterwchen hace 4 meses (Marca)
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I think I can answer my own question. Wolfgang Karl Weyrauch has several species named after him, even though he was not the first one to describe those species. So yes P. weyrauchorum authority is Willink, 1964.

Publicado por peterwchen hace 4 meses (Marca)
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That's indeed the case for P. weyrauchorum. For most honorific names, they're given by someone other than the one being honored (so like how Willink named the species after Weyrauch in honor of his extensive work in the genus). That's similar to the proposed name of Hunter's Little Paper Wasp for P. dorsalis (=P. hunteri).

I've also just added a name proposal that came to me last night that I hope to get some traction on (though I'll certainly reiterate that this name would need to fall into organic use before any application to the taxon on iNat). I have to say, I've pretty much fallen in love with the idea of a species being called the Cherokee Paper Wasp.

Publicado por jonathan142 hace 2 meses (Marca)

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