Wasp Surprises


Nearly a month ago Cara Giaimo surprised me with a primer on bee vomit, and today she has done it again with an appreciation of wasps, whose ranking on the favored insect list is somewhere more tolerated than mosquitoes and less creepy than cockroaches. The bees we provided a new home for are doing well, and while their honey is something we look forward to, pollination is our primary motivator. I have been watching wasps build a home in the tree closest to our home–see it in the upper center of the tree in the photo above–and wondering whether to leave them in peace. Maybe so, for reasons outlined here:


Paul Hobson/Nature Picture Library/Alamy

There Are Wasps in the Yard. You’d Better Get to Know Them.

They buzz. They hover. Sometimes they sting. But how much do you really know about these insects that can menace our summers?


Uwe Grün/Alamy

Wasps get a bad rap. And sometimes, they deserve it. Bumblebees don’t swarm your barbecue the moment you pour the lemonade. Butterflies won’t nest by the hundreds in your rafters, then sting you for the crime of walking by.


Mark Lehigh/Alamy

But they’re not all “murder hornets,” and there’s another side to these so-called pests. Wasps have a place in the whirl of summer life. They raise families, stage complex battle royals and make paper with their own spit. Some even help us by hunting caterpillars and other crop-munching bugs.

They’re also your neighbors. As you’re mowing, gardening or dining al fresco this summer, you’ll probably meet some of them. Here’s how to appreciate — and not tick off — these creatures we share the season with.


A German yellowjacket with a chunk of salmon to bring back to the nest. Ernest Cooper/Alamy

Uninvited guests have arrived at your picnic. They’re striped and kind of stocky, with black dots on their faces. They’re German yellowjackets, and they will not leave you alone.

There is method in their madness. Are they hovering around your ham sandwich? They’re looking for protein to bring to larvae back at the nest. Trying to hijack your soda can? They want to slurp up the sugar, which powers their surprisingly zippy flight. Beer or wine is even more tempting, because it reminds them of their favorite treat, fermenting fruit.

“They seem like they’re trying to ruin our day,” said Jennifer Jandt, a zoologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand who has studied the species for years.“In actuality, they’re just foraging.”

Why are there so many of them at this time of year? Like ants and honeybees, German yellowjackets are social insects. Each colony is founded by a single queen, who starts laying eggs in late spring and doesn’t stop until her death, in autumn. Most of these eggs become workers, who spend the summer feeding their proliferating population of younger siblings: grabbing live caterpillars, bits of roadkill or your tuna salad, then chewing it into mincemeat for the next generation..

Read the whole article here. 

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