Polistes wasps commonly have been called paper or paper-making wasps. This name is not appropriate since yellow jackets and hornets also construct nests of paperlike material. Ebeling (1975) proposes they be called umbrella wasps because their nest has the shape of an inverted umbrella.
Nests are usually small (when compared to yellow jacket or hornet nests), containing up to about 250 wasps. The nest consists of a single comb with no paper envelope around it.
A good account of the life cycle of Polistes is given by Evans and West-Eberhard (1970). Mated females over winter in sheltered areas. All females are potential queens -there is no worker caste. Which one actually becomes the queen, or nest initiator, seems to depend on which one begins laying eggs and building cells first. The other females take the subservient role of foraging for food and feeding the young.
Evans and West-Eberhard (1970) consider why one female becomes the dominant egg layer when more than one female begins laying eggs at the same time. It seems a contest is begun with females laying eggs and eating the eggs of the other, replacing eaten eggs with those of her own. The one which out-eats the others become the dominant female.
Nests are often built under the eaves of homes and while these wasps are not particularly aggressive, their proximity to living areas threaten many people. Nests are easily destroyed by spraying at night. Knocking down the nest without spraying is worthless since the wasps will only rebuild it.