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Identification Atlas of the Vespidae (Hymenoptera, Aculeata) of the northeastern Nearctic region
CJAI 05, February 19, 2008
doi: 10.3752/cjai.2008.05

Matthias Buck, Stephen A. Marshall, and David K.B. Cheung

Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1


1. Introduction

The family Vespidae includes some of the most common and conspicuous of all wasps so that the word “wasp” is often used to refer to common yellowjackets or paper wasps – the social species within the Vespidae – rather than members of other, much more diverse families of Hymenoptera. Besides the two social subfamilies (Vespinae, Polistinae) the North American Vespidae also include the less familiar solitary subfamilies Eumeninae (mason or potter wasps), Masarinae (pollen wasps) and Euparagiinae. Because of their sociality and (in some cases) their relevance as pest species, social Vespidae have received much attention. The fairly extensive literature on Vespinae and Polistinae can easily distract from the fact that overall the family is not very well studied, and that both the Polistinae and Eumeninae still hold significant unresolved taxonomic problems. The need for further taxonomic work is underlined by the lack of adequate keys. There are no published keys for some of the most common and diverse genera in the subfamily, and only partial keys to others. In some cases existing keys are outdated because closely related, similar species are not separated or newly introduced exotic species are not considered. There is also a need to base species identifications on a broader base of characters and to illustrate characters used by previous authors.

Our objectives in developing this “Atlas” were to review the taxonomy of northeastern Vespidae, wherever possible adding new diagnostic characters for difficult taxa, and to provide a novel, comprehensive, analytic, yet user-friendly identification tool and a taxonomic reference work of use to both professionals and skilled amateurs. The scientific terminology is fully explained in a glossary and morphological characters are extensively illustrated. Keys and species treatments are extensively illustrated, showing diagnostic characters as well as standard aspects of both sexes of every species, including castes for social species.

The emphasis of this publication is taxonomic, but some new morphological discoveries are included because of their relevance to taxonomy and species identification. Nesting habits and prey records are summarized briefly for all species. New observations are provided for some species whose biology was previously unknown.

The present work should reduce the ‘taxonomic impediment’ to identification of northeastern Vespidae, thereby facilitating future scientific studies on the taxonomy, biology, and behaviour of these interesting wasps. We hope that the ready availability of user-friendly identification tools will entice more amateurs to study local vespid faunas, thus filling significant gaps in our knowledge of distribution and biology.

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