Like other social insects, paper wasps have a caste system composed where some wasps are queens and other are workers. In contrast to the familiar social insect system, however, P. fuscatus colonies can have mulitple queens and the workers are capable of reproduction. Each spring, as overwintering queens emerge from diapause, they must decide whether to found a nest by themselves or with other queens.
The physical characteristics of the P. fuscatus are highly dependent on the geographic location of its habitat. The male is identified by its darkened apical flagellomeres in addition to its darkened dorsal surface of the apical flagellomeres that is common to other species of wasps. Northern females on the other hand are easily identified by the blackening of their entire bodies which may or may not have markings of other colors. The facial and abdominal markings of P. fuscatus are highly variable, including a variety of different patterns, such as small dots, long stripes, clypeus blotches, yellow abdominal dots, upper clypeus stripes, and combinations of both clypeus edge and tip colorations. Furthermore, some wasps have these facial and abdominal patterns in brown and black instead of yellow. These markings colors, however, are often influenced by the geographic location of the wasp. The length of P. fuscatus often ranges between 15 and 21 mm. The fore wing length ranges between 11.5 and 17.0 mm; in general, the fore wing of males is above 13.0 mm, whereas females have a fore wing length above 11.0 mm. Both males and females have rather slender bodies and have a waist that connects the thorax to the abdomen.
P. fuscatus prefers wooded areas for the readily available resources to build the nest, it also is often seen in areas which humans inhabit.