Wonder of wasps
The other night we discovered the early stages of a wasp’s nest in my potting shed. I suspected something was afoot back in early April. I kept seeing a wasp every time I was in there. I would catch it flying out through a hole near the roof but I could never see where it was headed to inside the shed. Then the other evening, my husband was taking the camper van cover out of its cardboard box when he noticed something foreign nestled in the folds. A queen wasp had decided to set up home there. As you can see from the picture, the golf ball sized nest broke apart as the cover was taken out of the box. We had left it overnight so we could see what we were dealing with and when we looked at it in the morning old queenie was nowhere to be seen.
Inside the amazing paper construction was a cellular structure, which had been connected to the outer nest layers by a stalk or petiole. It was fascinating. Almost all the stages of the lifecycle were there – from eggs to pupating larvae. The outermost cells contained tiny eggs; the next cells in contained maggot-like grubs that were wriggling around and chomping their jaws (hoping to be fed a few insects); the centre-most cells were covered with a silk cap where the larvae were pupating into adult wasps. It didn’t appear as though any adult wasps had emerged yet (although I don’t think they were far off) so the queen must still have been on her own in this nest. I’m mightily glad we found it early as a mature nest can house hundreds if not thousands of wasps. Check out a ridiculously scary sized one here.
Wasps can be pesky little blighters – gate crashing our summer fun of picnics and barbeques; harassing us for a sip of our drinks and a bite of our sarnies; turning us into flapping, panicking loons. But if you stop and think about them for a second they are, like most things, pretty amazing really. The paper nests they build are a feat in themselves. They are made from wood pulp (chewed up wood and saliva) with pretty, streaky patterns across them. You may have noticed wasps in your garden stripping wood from furniture or fence posts (see photo above). The pupating wasps we found would have emerged as sterile female workers who would have taken over the job of nest building and feeding the larvae, leaving the queen to concentrate on laying more eggs and running the nest. In return the larvae feed a sugary nectar back to the adult wasps. This cycle carries on throughout the summer until, eventually, the queen will lay a batch of new queens and male drone wasps. Once this happens it’s the beginning of the end for the nest. When these have all pupated there will be no more larvae for the adult workers to feed and no more nectar in return. It is at this time that we meet the loose cannon of a wasp – high, frenzied and with no purpose but to satisfy their sugar cravings whilst plaguing our late summer days. By the winter all the wasps (bar the new, fertilised, hibernating queens) will have died. In some ways it might be easy to forgive them their end-of-summer-fling. They’ve worked hard single-mindedly all season, they’re at the end of their days and they’re having one last, big, sweet hurrah. It’s been such a dry, warm spring I suspect we’ll be seeing quite a few punch-drunk wasps later on this summer.