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Recognizing the queens - how paper wasps may be adapting to climate change

By Pamela Sleightholm

This month in Glasgow, Scotland, politicians from all over the world got together to discuss our collective action on climate change.

In the animal kingdom however, there is no debate.

Already, species are showing adaptations to climate change to improve their reproductive fitness, expand their ranges and diets.

One such organism is the northern paper wasp, Polistes fuscatus. With warming temperatures, the wasps have been colonizing areas further north and they use an astonishing ability to improve their chances of creating a healthy colony – they can recognize other wasps’ faces.

Northern paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus) is a common pollinator in Mississauga. Scientists out of Cornell University have shown that they can recognize other wasps' faces. Here a wasp feeds on goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) nectar.

A group of scientists from Cornell University have shown that this is a new trait for the paper wasps, which live in a colony with multiple queens. The queens fight for a place in the group’s hierarchy and are ranked by their strength in battle. Their fellow wasps can recognize the queens, and their order in the hierarchy, by face. The scientists hypothesize that this recognition may have led to improved reproduction because breeding males in the colony can easily recognize the strongest females.

Polistes fuscatus is a native wasp to Southern Ontario, including Mississauga. Many would consider it a pest, but we recognize it for the important pollinating services it provides and now, its incredible ability to adapt to a changing environment.


Miller, S. E., Legan, A. W., Henshaw, M. T., Ostevik, K. L., Samuk, K., Uy, F. M. K., & Sheehan, M. J. (2020, February 11). Evolutionary Dynamics of recent selection on cognitive abilities. PNAS. Retrieved November 7, 2021, from


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