A house of paper

As is hopefully evident, I love insects and find them fascinating. There are certain ones, however, that I would rather not interact with too much. I like to look at them but leave it at that. One of those is the ever-present paper wasp.

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While they can look just like yellow jackets, they are actually a distinct set of wasps. They are distinguished by their distinctive house building technique. They chew up plant material, mixing it with saliva to make a paper like substance. Out of this they make chambered nests. Paper wasp damage on leaves looks like scalloping. Around Colorado, I’ve noticed that they love lilac. If you see your lilacs have scalloped edges, you probably have a paper wasp colony nearby.

IMG_6695.JPGTheir nests are usually tucked into protected areas. This one on in a small space on my rock terrace garden wall. In each chamber they lay an egg. They provision the egg with a drop of sugar water. In the picture below you can see the slightly yellow eggs and the clear drops of water. Once the eggs hatch, the female continues to bring them food.

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The nest is suspended by a stalk which the wasps covers in an ant repellent chemical to keep the nest free of ants. Plus the adults (all females) guard and care for the nest constantly. When the first brood develops into adults, they help the founding female take care of their younger siblings and guard the nest.

Although I am not fond of getting to close to them and many people hire exterminators to get rid of them, paper wasps are actually beneficial in your garden. They are pollinators and are often out earlier than other pollinators. They also attack and kill caterpillars to feed to their developing young. They do sting though so it’s a trade-off.

 

 

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About keviclaire

I recently graduated from the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. My research interests are focused on biological control and how to increase it's use in agriculture and home gardens. I am also an avid gardener and insect photographer. I'm using this blog as a place to share those interests!

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