the general name for insects of the subfamilies Polybiinae, Polistinae, and Vespinae of the family Vespidae.
Polybiine wasps live mainly in Central and South America. Two genera are found in Africa, and there is one genus in South Asia. The wasps live in communities consisting of one or more fertile females and a large number of infertile females (workers). They build papery nests made of horizontal honeycombs with hexagonal cells that open below, in which the young develop. Like bees, they manufacture honey in their nests.
The subfamilies Polistinae and Vespinae are distributed on all continents. In the USSR they comprise about 25 species. The nests of Polistinae consist of one honeycomb and do not have a protective sheath; those of Vespinae consist of several honeycombs surrounded by a general protective sheath of several layers of paper. The wasps rear the larvae of killed insects.
The families of social wasps living in the temperate zone are annual; those dwelling in tropical regions are perennial. The wasps are usually beneficial, because they destroy many harmful insects. Some species, such as the European hornet (Vespa crab-ro), may interfere with beekeeping.