Executioner Wasps – A Quick Guide

Executioner wasps, Polistes carnifex, are found in Central and South America with some sightings recorded in North America. They are social paper wasps living in colonies.

Do executioner wasps have a painful sting?

They are known locally to have a very painful sting. The sting has taken on more status as a result of Coyote Peterson showcasing the sting on his youtube channel. He described the pain as ‘Like ripping flesh off’. This is the source of the nickname for this species as in Latin, the term Carnifex derives from a term for flesh-maker or executioner (source). While not included in Schmidt’s pain index it likely has one of the most painful stings among all wasp species. See the Schmidt pain index here.

What do executioner wasps eat?

Executioner wasps feed on caterpillars and nectar. Adult paper wasps kill caterpillars, chew up bits of their prey into balls, then bring the balls back to their nests as food for their larvae. The adults primarily visit plants to get carbohydrates from the nectar. In the process, they do contribute to the pollination of plants.

Do executioner wasps have teeth?

The mandibles, or jaws, of paper wasps, have teeth-like barbs. In reality they are far more like claws with jutting edges than teeth, altough they are used to bite and tear and are vital for hunting. They also assist in scraping wood for their nests. They are notably larger than mandible ‘teeth’ on other paper wasp species. source

What type of nests do executioner wasps have?

Executioner Wasps are also referred to as paper wasps because of how they build their nests. The wasps chew up wood fibers until the consistency becomes like paper mache. The wasps then use the new paste-paper hybrid to create their nests which are located in trees. When the nests dry, they develop a consistency that is similar to paper. They leave visible scrape marks on wood from where they have used their mandibles to extract the material.

Executioner wasp
Francisco Farriols Sarabia, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

What role do male executioner wasps have?

The males compete for the right to mate. The males form territories in high areas on ridges or above trees. There they fight each other for the right to hold that territory. Females will visit these territories to be inseminated by the most dominant of the males. This behavior ensures that only the strongest male specimens pass on their genes. The sperm from a single wasp will be used by the queen to produce all the female worker wasps in future colonies.

Do executioner wasps have queens?

Like many other social wasp species the colony is founded and dependent on a single queen. The queen will search for a new site to establish a colony. She must begin building the nest alone and she must hunt for food to feed the first brood. Once established she will become an egg-laying machine, producing almost all the eggs in the colony, and may never leave the nest again.