You say dominula, I say dominulus

Meet the European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominulus.  Or is it Polistes dominula? Most biologists I know refer to this common Holarctic insect as P. dominulus, but I’ve just learned via that the common spelling is a grammatical misunderstanding of the original latin:

So it’s P. dominula.  Damn taxonomists.

photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon 20D
ISO 100, f/13, 1/250 sec, flash diffused through tracing paper

4 thoughts on “You say dominula, I say dominulus”

  1. Yeah, I just learned about this one, too. Indeed, I should have caught it earlier. But let’s not curse the taxonomists, most of whom have a rather poor handle on Latin grammar, and themselves suffer from the interminable linguistic hegemony of the ancient Roman Empire! (Better than phylocode though, eh?)

    Most Latin words ending in -ulus, -ulum, -ula are diminutive nouns, maybe even all of them in the classical language. There are a few exceptions though in taxonomic Latin, such as the specific epithet of Paratrechina parvula, a diminutive of a diminutive, if you will. Parvus means small, so parvulus means, roughly, itty-bitty!

  2. I once read a translation of “dominulus” as “builder of a small home in the city,” which accurately describes the paper wasps near me.

  3. Marc "Teleutotje" Van der Stappen

    On page 311 of the determinationguide

    Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification No.5 (February 2008) BUCK ET AL.
    Identification Atlas of the Vespidae (Hymenoptera,
    Aculeata) of the northeastern Nearctic region

    you can find, at the start of the discussion of the wasp, the following comment:

    74. Polistes dominula (Christ, 1791)
    Figs B10.1, 3, 4, 44; C74.1–8.
    NOMENCLATURAL NOTE. J.M. Carpenter (pers.
    comm.) kindly pointed out to us that the correct
    gender ending for this species is dominula.
    “Dominula” is the diminutive form of the Latin
    noun domina (= mistress) and therefore indeclinable
    (the original combination is Vespa dominula

    The book, put on the internet in February 2008, you can find on the internet as html or as pdf on

    Very nice book by the way …..

  4. Pingback: Las avispas del papel : El Rastreador de Noticias

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