The golden paper wasp (Polistes aurifer) is found in Western United States from Texas to Montana west to the Pacific Coast. It also inhabits Southern British Columbia and parts of Mexico.
Golden paper wasps are variable in color. Some are mainly black on the thorax with a golden abdomen. Others are reddish and golden with a little bit of black. The legs of golden paper wasps are yellow and the antennae are yellow or reddish.
All golden paper wasps, except inseminated queens, die as winter approaches. The queen overwinters in a sheltered spot such as under bark, in logs or even in house attics. Early in the spring as the days begin to warm the queen emerges and starts a new nest. The golden paper wasp nest resembles a hanging disc composed of a single layer of hexagonal cells. Nests are usually located under eaves or other protected areas and are constructed of “paper” – wood fibers mixed with saliva.
The queen golden paper wasp lays a single egg in each cell. The larvae that emerge from the first group of eggs are fed by the queen. The larvae develop and eventually spin silk over the cell opening and pupate eventually becoming adult wasps. The first worker wasps of the season take over brooding the eggs and building the nests. In late August or September the colony reaches its maximum size.
Adult golden paper wasps feed on nectar. Larvae are fed caterpillars.
Although golden paper wasp nests are hanging discs, A E Liebert noted in “Insectes Sociaux” (2004) that she found golden paper wasp nests underground in cracks in the soil.
This golden paper wasp (feeding on microseris nectar) was photographed last spring above the Ash Creek Lower Campground (Lassen County CA). Golden paper wasps are pollinators as evidenced by all the pollen on this specimen’s body.